Have you ever visited 2 Chainz’ Instagram page? If not, you’re missing out on meal time. There’s seared salmon with lobster & sweet pea risotto & shaved zuchinni, shrimps and grits and more than a dozen meals that’ll have your mouth watering. The man behind these means is Chef Aleem, a magnum cum laude graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts of Atlanta. Before hitting the road with 2 Chainz, this father of three ran a restaurant in College Park. Find out how he got his start, his top struggle meals and hear about Cool Kids Cook, his nonprofit.
What inspired you to jump into the cooking field?
Well, I’d always been interested in cooking since I was young, but I never considered it as a way I would make part of my living. You know what I’m saying? It was just something that attracted me. I started having children, and then my kids’ mom passed away when they were still young, so…I was into a lot of health things back then and I definitely wasn’t going to feed my children fast food. So, it automatically put me in the kitchen to make sure that I was giving them proper, balanced meals. Then a lot of times, for friends of mine, if they had birthdays or they would come over, they were always like, ‘Man, this shit is so good, you should have a restaurant!’ But in my head, I already know that it takes more than being a good cook to run a successful restaurant. So I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I hear you, but…’ — you know, I was more or less involved in things in the street. I had jobs, but I was still hustlin’ or whatever to get money. But then, when she passed away, of course, I changed my game plan. Because, as a man, you always think that if something happened to you, the kids have their mom, but mine turned out with something happened to her, now I gotta be there for them. So I can’t do something that’s going to put me in jail for a long period of time or take me off the street for good.
So how did it go from that to you working with celebrities?
Well, first of all, Atlanta’s a who’s-who city. That’s another reason why I wanted to get a degree, because you know how I look. You don’t really see ‘chef’ if you just try to figure out my occupation by looking at me. So, my point is, to have a degree in a who’s-who city can make you look more marketable – especially a degree with experience. I had to make sure that when I was at school I made sure I worked with some of the top restaurants around, so that I could get real training. It’s real humbling when you get out of school with a degree and you think you’re really about that and then you go to work for the restaurant and you got a lot of Mexicans and Latin people who never went to school that would cook samples around you who got better knife skills, they got better stove skills, better grill skills than you ever had coming out of school. It’s because they’re hands-on in a restaurant. So, me going with celebrities – I had a restaurant that was kind of a carry-out on the south side of town and after the lease was up, people kept telling me, ‘Man, you gotta be somewhere where people can sit down and really enjoy what you do, drink some wine and relax.’ I said, ‘Well shit, okay, if this many people telling me that, then I need to look for a space where I can have seating.’
How did you meet 2 Chainz?
My first real restaurant was in College Park and that’s where 2 Chainz was born and raised as well as where he had his recording studio. We knew mutual people and somehow their people started coming to the restaurant, my people started going down there, you know, just interacting. He noticed that when he ate my food, he didn’t feel bad. So, we used to just joke a lot that ‘When you get big, you gotta make sure you’re eating good.’ Then, I was going to move the restaurant because I needed a bigger demographic. I was gonna move our program downtown and at the same time he was becoming a bigger artist. He bought his tour bus. The tour bus is equipped with a studio and a kitchen. He was like ‘Why don’t you come down and ride with me?’ I said, ‘Let’s say I ride for a few weeks and if the money’s right then we could make it happen.’ That was about three years ago, so you know. And, in between then, other celebrities came in the restaurant and I catered for other groups that celebrities were involved in, so my name started getting a little buzz around. So I’ve been touring with him as his personal chef for the last three years.
How much creative freedom did you have with B.O.A.T.S. II Meal Time Cookbook? Was 2 Chainz hands-on?
He gave me the freedom, but the only thing I was told was to keep it as simple as possible because it’s an insert in a CD cover and it can only be so many pages. I had to pick out the things that coincide with what people saw on the Instagram as well as simple things that are still delicious meals that I would do on the tour bus. Of course, he saw it before it came out. He looked at everything, made sure he liked it, okayed the pictures, okayed the meals, but he allowed me the creative control to decide what it would be.
So what’s that transition like, to go from pretty much being in the kitchen to working with some top-notch celebrities?
It’s a big difference from a restaurant setting because you’re responsible for rent, overhead, employees, set open and close, set menus, that kind of thing, as opposed to when you’re a personal chef with an entertainer, you’re more on their schedule and their time. You get to see the world or the country while you work. You get to experience other parts of the world, other people, other cuisines, so that’s a positive thing — things that I wouldn’t be able to do until later in my life, because of having to earn a living. Because of the one person, you get to meet a lot of other people interested in what you do. Like I said, it’s a pretty positive experience.
Which one do you prefer better?
I mean, I guess when this dies down, I wouldn’t mind being in a restaurant again. It’s a real humbler when you have people who are regulars – you know their name, what they like to eat, you can expect to see them a few times a week – that kind of becomes a family kind of thing, so you kind of miss that. A lot of times with my Instagram, now, people will look at my restaurant like ‘We miss you, man! When you comin’ back? I’ve been trying to duplicate that food!’ Once again, because I like to spend time with my family, when I have down-time from touring I get to be with my family a little more, so that’s positive. I like what I’m doing now, but I wouldn’t mind doing the restaurant thing a little later.
So we’re gonna go off topic for a little bit. What were your top struggle meals growing up?
The government cheese, real cheese, fried bologna, oodles of noodles. Oodles of Noodles – I would put shrimp in it, I would put lunchmeat in it. Back then we used to have something called Steakums, I would make dinner sandwiches with it – I’m talking about onions, cheese, toasted bread, I was on that. Just trying to turn hot dogs into meals. Sardines with crackers. I was on that.
Do you still go back to any of that stuff, or are you on a healthy diet?
I still eat Ramen Noodles. People be like, ‘What the f-ck are you doing?’ They just remind me of when I was young and I still like them. That’s the main thing I eat right now is a pack of Ramen Noodles.
So the fact that you can cook – how does that usually go over with the ladies?
(Laughs). I found that on social media a lot of women let it be known that there’s nothing like a man who can cook and make comments on how I look and shit like that. You know, I definitely see that it is attractive to women.
Would you date a female who can’t cook?
Probably not. If you bring a lot more shit to the table tan cooking, that’s fine, but if you really don’t bring a lot more to the table and you can’t cook, then we got a problem. In other words, if I cook for a living, of course I’m going to sometimes want to have a meal prepared for me. I’m not real critical. People think that because I cook for a living, but I don’t complain about it, I’m not an asshole like that. All jokes aside, women don’t have to be a chef in the kitchen. At least bring something else to the table that’s really good.
So what’s next for you?
When I’m in the city, I’ll do a lot of catering and I’m still 2 Chainz’ personal chef. I have a nonprofit that I’m jumping off now called Cool Kids Cook. I want to just have young people explore the option of culinary as a way to make a living. A lot of times, cooking becomes ‘After everything else fails, I can go work in some restaurant, be a line cooker’, some shit like that where you really have no future. But if you really take this seriously early on, and you’ve had avenues to explore, because culinary’s a lot of things – from being a health inspector, a food inspector, to a restaurant manager. doing things like having young people at catering companies that really can do excellent catering jobs around the city and inspire them and they can really start making money and they can start seeing results from their work. Look at a guy like me, regular – it’s an ‘If I can do it, you can do it’ kind of thing, you know? And also we’re working on a project – a cooking show that is called Well Known. It’s not the run of the mill, today you’re going to make a fried chicken and you take this ingredient – I’m not doing any of that. It’s going to be a combination of visual, music, as well as cooking, because I think they all kind of run with a common thread. . It’s just a different twist on the same thing. It’s a little edgy, so it probably wouldn’t make it on Food Network or something, but it’s still a different, refreshing twist to the same old sh-t.