To say vegan chef Jenne Claiborne is having a moment is an understatement. The Sweet Potato Soul blogger was recently appointed as a contributing chef for By Chloe, her vegan meal plan service, So Buddalicious, continues to thrive, and her YouTube channel is inching closer to the big-time triple digit mark.
But, following her plant-based passion hasn’t always been easy. Like anyone else, the New Yorker has experienced serious self-doubt, and at one point even considered quitting and doing something else entirely. Here, she opens up about the career highs and lows—and offers her best advice for others who want to do what they love full-time.
Keep reading for Jenne Claiborne’s career journey and tips for following your passion professionally.
Becoming a vegan chef was definitely not the original plan
“I moved to New York City to become an actress,” Claiborne says. In the meantime, she needed a paying job that also allowed her the freedom to go on auditions. “I got a job at a restaurant because that’s what actors do,” she explains. Claiborne because a vegetarian in 2011 because of her love for animals—which meant that she wasn’t comfortable handling meat. So, she started working at vegan restaurant Peacefood Cafe.
“Before I worked there, I didn’t [fully] understand the difference between vegan and vegetarianism, but working there, I learned so much about the ethics of [eating] animals, so after a year, I became fully vegan myself.”
It might not seem like too much of a shift to go from vegetarian to vegan, but for Claiborne, it majorly shaped her identity and future plans. A month into being a full-time vegan, she started her blog, Sweet Potato Soul, in order to share recipes. “I became a vegan for ethical reasons, but physically I really did feel better. And I loved experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.” Plus, the whole acting thing wasn’t really working out. “I thought, Why don’t I do something with vegan food because I love it so much? A couple weeks later, I was all in.”
Landing her first client
By this point, Claiborne had gotten a new job at Pure Food and Wine, which she says was her favorite restaurant at the time. But even still, she wanted to do something bigger. With a friend, she launched The Nourishing Vegan, a personal chef business that developed original menus and prepped weekly meals for up to six people. “My friend and I thought it would be this easy, fun thing we could do on the side,” Claiborne says. “It was not easy. We were so, so wrong.”
Still, it was fun, and did give her the creative outlet and drive to pursue vegan cooking professionally. “As soon as I landed my first client, I quit my job at Pure Food and Wine,” she says. “I just wanted to do my own thing so badly!”
Almost giving up
Her business continued to grow and a couple years later So Buddalicious, a vegan meal plan service was born. Claiborne was thriving, not only as a vegan chef, but as a chef in New York City—period. Still, there was a moment when she almost gave up. “Last year, my boyfriend and I broke up and I had this time of confusion. Like, what am I going to do next? I just wanted to change my whole life, maybe go back to school and get my master’s.”
She explains that while the breakup played a big role in her quarterlife crisis, it was also because the line between her personal and professional life was so blurred, she had no separation. “I started to judge myself by things like how many Instagram followers I had. And if I didn’t have enough it meant I should be doing something else because something was obviously wrong with me,” she says.
She stuck with it, but learned how to create boundaries so she didn’t define herself solely by her professional wins and loses. “I need separation so if I have a setback at work, I don’t think I suck! I have to have hobbies. I have to be able to say, this is all the work I can do today. Now, I’m going to watch TV.”
Her biggest break yet
A couple months ago, an email from the By Chloe team popped in Claiborne’s inbox. The brand wanted to work with her. “I saw By Chloe in the subject line and I opened it so quick,” she says. “I didn’t even read the whole email before I replied saying, ‘Okay, yeah—I’m in!'”
Now, she’s an official contributing chef, working with Chloe Coscarelli and Samantha Wasser, writing for the By Chloe blog and crafting recipes for the brand. “It’s been so much fun. [Coscarelli and Wasser] are really creative, and the ideas they send sparks my creativity. For National S’mores Day, you know By Chloe isn’t going to want just a typical campfire s’more; they’re going to want a s’more smoothie or pie. It challenges me to think outside the box.”
The partnership is definitely a career high for Claiborne, though it certainly won’t be her last. And for those who want to turn their own passion into a career like she has, she offers this advice: “When I started The Nourishing Vegan four years ago, I wanted everything all at once. I was super frustrated that I only had one client. I wanted to be on The Today Show. I wanted to be working with By Chloe. I thought I should have everything right now. The biggest thing I learned was patience. It not only grounds you, knowing that what you’re doing will pay off, it helps you continue to work toward your goals—which by the way, you should definitely have clear goals.”
Her other driving force is still animal rights—something bigger than money, and even bigger than herself. “I feel a sense of purpose helping people eat vegan and eat less animals. That’s the ultimate important reason for me. I can’t give up! This is my duty.”
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