Jennifer Welper’s interest in culinary nutrition was sparked by a tragic event: The death of her beloved grandfather. “I was raised on a dairy farm in Minnesota,” the 180th Distinguished Visiting Chef (DVC) told the packed auditorium full of culinary students, many of them on the culinary nutrition/dietetics track. “Meat and potatoes country. My grandfather was only 68, and he died of complications from diabetes and heart failure. Once I arrived at Johnson & Wales, it was a revelation to learn that these diseases are preventable through proper nutrition.”
This profound lesson set Welper on a path to make a difference to others through nutrition, teaching and an unfailingly positive attitude.
As Executive Wellness Chef at the Mayo Clinic, Welper wears many hats, but much of her time is spent teaching cooking classes to give clients the tools to cook healthy food for themselves at home. “I’m very practical — I always try to make these dishes relatable and replicable in a home kitchen.”
At the clinic, Welper prioritizes the idea of mindful eating: “Be aware of what you’re eating, and really take the time to enjoy it.”
If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!”
She also steers clients away from the lure of so-called quick-fix or “miracle” products that promise one-size-fits-all results — while alluring, the effects aren’t lasting. “I try to meet people where they’re at,” she notes.
During her demo, she added full-fat sharp cheddar cheese to her quinoa-sweet potato cakes. Why? “People always want to take cheese out of the equation, but that’s where the love is! I always use the real deal, just less of it.” She favors sharp, full-bodied cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar and feta because she can use less while still boosting overall flavor.
Welper frequently paused to ask questions of the students, mostly to get them to think about their own career aspirations.
“Are you scared to graduate? Why?” When a student answered, “Too many options,” she replied, “But that’s better that NO options. Write a list — the pros and cons of what you want and don’t want career-wise. Don’t worry so much about the future: Every step will get you there!”
One student asked if she would have changed anything about her time at JWU. “I wish I’d relaxed a little,” she responded. She encouraged students to immerse themselves in everything, even outside their major: “I joined the pastry club, because I wanted to try it out!”
Someone asked if she regretted not getting her Registered Dietitian (RD) certification. She paused before answering: “At one point I wanted to get my RD. For me, it was a battle to figure out what I wanted more — ultimately, I realized that I really want to be in the kitchen.”
One question from the back of the room was blunt: “Where’s the money at?” “How hard do you want to work?” came her quick rejoinder. “Seriously, it can’t all be about the money. If that’s more of a focus, though, you can go corporate. But be warned: You’re going to have to pay your dues, and it’s going to take time to move up the ranks.”
She closed her talk on an inspiring note for all the soon-to-be job seekers in the audience: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!”
In addition to the quinoa cakes, Welper demonstrated how to make a flavor-packed tofu roulade studded with panko breadcrumbs and stuffed with a savory mixture of cheddar, roasted poblano peppers, and Roma tomatoes.
Throughout her demo, Welper worked closely with DVC scholarship winner, Max Goldstein, of whom she noted: “See, Max here doesn’t even need me to tell him what to do! He’s such a good right-hand man.” Max’s family surprised him by driving in from New Jersey to cheer him on at the DVC event.
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