GTCC culinary graduate N’Gai Dickerson is focused on bringing healthy eating habits to Triad neighborhoods



Published on: December 7, 2021
GTCC culinary graduate N’Gai Dickerson uses his education to help educate others about nutritious eating.

N’Gai Dickerson has cooked for thousands. Now, he’s working to help thousands learn to cook healthy meals for themselves.

These days Dickerson is the chef manager for the American Heart Association (AHA) Mobile Teaching Kitchen chef manager in the Triad. A graduate of Guilford Technical Community College’s culinary school — the school he calls “the best culinary school in the country” —works to bring food literacy to communities in need of healthy, nutritious diets.

“I’m in the field teaching, doing virtual classes, setting up programs. We like to go where people play, pray and work,” said Dickerson. “I like to connect with those individuals so we can have ongoing education. If we were a bee, it would be like we were trying to pollinate.

“We track participants, try to reverse some of the health disparity that is going on. We look for food deserts and try to bring them water.”

Dickerson’s degree path at GTCC was a little different from most. He was 26 when he enrolled and was already a chef at a Triad hotel.

“I was fortunate. I was an executive sous chef. I already had that job, but I wanted to get certified,” said Dickerson, who moved up the ladder to become an executive chef not long after graduating from the GTCC program in 2008.

“My end plan was to become a chef that could balance life and my career. That was one of my goals. Sometimes that balance is off, being a chef. I wanted to prove that it is possible to have that balance. I wanted the best of both worlds.”

When Dickerson was hired by the AHA four years ago to run the Mobile Teaching Kitchen in the Triad, he knew he could have a positive impact, not just because of his knowledge of nutrition and healthy recipes, but because of his background. He was born in Flint, Michigan, and grew up in Mt. Vernon, New York, before his family moved to Winston-Salem as a teenager. Because of his urban upbringing, he understood many of the food challenges inner-city families faced.

“When I walked in here, I wanted to give people the opportunity to feel like they deserve it. A lot of times, people with lower incomes, people from the inner city don’t feel like they deserve the best. We want to build them up as people,” said Dickerson, an American Culinary Federation-certified chef.

He said that changing eating habits isn’t totally about healthy food and recipes. It’s about lifestyle changes.

“You just have to be patient. Sometimes educators, or people who know better, are not patient. These folks didn’t start eating like this in 10 weeks, so it takes more time to change. Some of this is generational,” said Dickerson. “When you have someone like me who grew up in that environment, it’s easier to teach because of that.

“From someone who has been on both ends of this, I think we don’t see the value (in healthy eating) so we buy a 60-inch TV. We don’t see the correlation between health and good, nutritional foods. A lot of it has to do with self-esteem. We have to build their confidence and self-esteem up. That’s what we’ve got to do. It’s not just giving them more opportunities in grocery stores. I think that is important, but there are other things we need to do, too.”

As is the case in most areas of education, COVID-19 changed the way Dickerson reaches the communities he serves. There are many more virtual classes now, he says, instead of the in-person classes he offered by taking the mobile kitchen into neighborhoods. Still, technology has allowed him to continue to spread the word of better nutrition.

For much of the pandemic he was able to turn the mobile teaching kitchen into the real thing, preparing and delivering meals to nearly 3,000 families each week.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to serve our most vulnerable neighbors,” he said of the effort.

For more information on the GTCC culinary program, visit gtcc.edu/academics/academic-programs/programs/business-programs/culinary-arts.php.

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