For Kymberly Wilbon, It All Started With an Easy-Bake Oven

Kymberly Wilbon, the owner/private chef behind The Passion Plate, discusses her Easy-Bake Oven, taking a leap of faith, and her zeal for food.

Illustration by Chris Danger

The owner/private chef behind The Passion Plate discusses her Easy-Bake Oven, taking a leap of faith, and her zeal for food.

How did you get into cooking?

I knew I loved to cook when I got my Easy-Bake Oven. I could have cake in my room and all I needed was a lightbulb. I baked a lot of those cakes. I simultaneously realized that people like cakes and that I’m a people pleaser. It made me feel good to make them happy. Still does. At the beginning, I wasn’t a very good cook when I lived in Cincinnati in the ’80s. Then I moved to New York City to work in fashion and music. I started to bake cakes for people, make food for bands, record executives, Super Bowl parties. They loved the food. And I just loved that they loved it. I’m a glory hound.

What’s your specialty? What dishes are you known for?

I don’t have a style or specialty. I have a way of cooking. I’ve been called the “Queen of the Perfect Bite” for my appetizers. When you eat my food, it’s unexpected. That’s where “S.O.U.L.” comes from: Seasonal, Organic, Unexpected, and Local. You get a bit of sweet, a taste of savory, a little heat, umami in the back of the palate. People say, Ooh, what is that? I didn’t expect that! They tell me that they remember my cooking, that the flavors stay with them.

How long have you been running The Passion Plate?

I’ve been doing this officially since 2014.

Why did you want to start your own business as opposed to working in a restaurant setting?

Because I’m crazy! It just happened on a whim. I flew right into the flame. I didn’t plan it, it just happened. I was a bridal consultant at Bridal & Formal and also working at McCormick & Schmick’s and my friend Lisa Star said, Why don’t you just concentrate on your catering and personal cheffing? I couldn’t do both, so I just jumped. I leap-frogged into the next chapter in my life. I didn’t decide. Fate decided it for me.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned by cooking for people?

That food can be so many different things to so many different people. It can be your boyfriend, your enemy, your grandmother’s love. When I interview clients—from millionaires to the rest of us—about the food they love the most, I find people mostly eat their childhood. Though their palates may have gotten a bit more sophisticated, healthier, what they really want are foods that they loved as a child. At the end of the day, there is nothing like a piece of chocolate cake to give you a hug. People who really know food understand what food can do for you. Food is love.

Are there any lessons from your time in the fashion and music industries that you use now?

Everyone has their go-to. In fashion, you have your trusted little black dress. In music, DJs have that song they know is going to make people throw their hands in the air. In food, you have your go-to favorite meal that you can eat over and over again because it’s easy and comforting. Like your favorite cashmere sweater.

Have you learned any new skills/techniques as a result of the pandemic?

I’ve learned I can grow four arms and two heads. Yes, I can do 15 things at once! Seriously, I’ve learned to be more flexible. I thought I was before, but now I’ve learned what’s worth stressing over and what I need to let go. Pick your battles. The pandemic brought out the best and worst in people, so I try to remember that everyone has a back story that I’m not privy to. I’m still a lovely, high-strung woman, but a bit wiser when it comes to stress.

Anything else you want our readers to know?

Frankly, I’d love everyone to try my food! I want people to know how passionate I am about what I do. I love feeding people and showing love through food. It’s hard work. Every day I want to quit, but the minute I get behind that stove and the water starts boiling and I start sautéing, I know that that is where I’m supposed to be. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s not work if you love what you do. If you have a passion for something, don’t give it up. Go for it. Stick with it. It’ll be worth the blood, sweat, and tears. And burns!

The Passion Plate (at Findlay Kitchen), 1719 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine

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