|COURTESY SHONDELL MUNNERLYN
|Shondell Munnerlyn of Charlotte was the top vote-getter through two rounds of Favorite Chef voting online. The winner of the cooking competition earns $25,000.
Shondell Munnerlyn was reluctant to compete for a chance to prove her culinary chops.
But her children saw opportunity.
Munnerlyn, a contestant for Favorite Chef sponsored by Chef Carla Hall of “Top Chef” and formerly “The Chew,” was talked into competing by her by son Ahmez and daughters Ashonti and Ayanah, whose names make up AAA Delites Bakery and Catering LLC. To her surprise, Munnerlyn topped a field of 89 in the first two rounds of online voting at favchef.com/2023/shondellmunnerlyn and advanced to the final group, which ends voting on July 31. A ballot can be cast once daily for free or multiple times a day for a small fee.
“Actually, it has actually been just a whirlwind for me,” she said. “I reluctantly applied. My children were egging me on to apply for the competition, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if Mommy’s up for that. I don’t think so.’ I [didn’t] know all the details but let me read up a little bit first.”
The winner will be determined by a panel of celebrity chefs and earns $25,000 and a spread in Taste of Home magazine. Munnerlyn wants to use prize to invest in a food truck or a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“I’m looking at it initially as one or the other, but if God sees fit that both happen eventually, then that’s fine,” she said. “My blessing in the whole thing is that I want to be a sole proprietor or sole entrepreneur, and literally, in all honesty, I really want to work for myself.
“I’ve been blessed to have been in the quote-unquote 9 to 5 business atmosphere since 1992, and at this point, I am ecstatic about working for myself. I definitely want to be 100% self-employed.”
What convinced Munnerlyn to try Favorite Chef was the competition’s untimed format for meal preparation, which would give her the leeway to make her presentation at her own pace. As for what she’d prepare, Munnerlyn, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, is leaning toward a meal that honors her Lowcountry heritage.
“I do have a few things in mind,” she said. “I’m kind of keeping them a little under wraps right now simply because you don’t want anybody else to steal your idea before … the grand finale but I do have two main dishes and I’ll say this much – they’re definitely Lowcountry dishes.”
Cooking has always been part of Munnerlyn’s family history. Her maternal grandparents were proficient in the kitchen, and her paternal grandparents were chefs who worked in South Carolina and Florida. Those lessons were passed down through the generations – sometimes without the benefit written recipes.
“I literally have loved the kitchen since I was a little girl,” she said. “I would have to say the love for cooking and baking in my head started at about maybe 10 years old. But I one thing I pride myself in doing is I was a watcher. When my mom would cook, when my grandparents would cook, I would always be in the kitchen. I would always make it my business to stay out of their way because I know and I’m like that to this day. Don’t be in my kitchen – don’t be in my way. And my mom is still like that to this day.”
Munnerlyn’s grassroots campaign to advance in Favorite Chef – fueled in part by her children’s social media savvy and personal outreach to friends – has put her a step closer to the finale. She’s excited to have such support.
“I’m in awe,” she said. “I’m stoked. I think I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it. I am so ecstatic about the whole trajectory of everything that has happened, it’s almost got me at a loss for words because I’ve just been amazed at how it has turned out thus far. And I do so hope and pray that it continues going onward and upward.”