McCullough blends right ingredients with ‘Chef Jenn’

Small Business Spotlight for The Memphis Daily News

Oct. 21, 2013

Jennifer McCullough, the white chef’s coat behind the brand Chef Jenn, began cooking up a dream in her home kitchen.

The recipe for success would take equal parts culinary expertise and marketing savvy, and since the end of September her selection of gourmet seafood dips can be found in 116 Kroger stores throughout Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

And she isn’t finished yet.

“I’m working on line extensions now,” she said. “I have two products ready to go and others I’m developing that are still seafood-based, entertainment-based.”

It’s a heady and exciting time for McCullough, who grew up in Memphis and attended The Hutchison School for 14 years. She left home for the University of Texas at Austin

and a bachelor’s degree in history, followed by a master’s in educational psychology from the University of Colorado at Denver.

She came of age around great cooks and was always in the kitchen as a child. It was while in Austin, though, that she says she “fell in love with the restaurant culture.”

Back in Memphis, and without a business background but with a passion for food, McCullough began preparing soups in her kitchen and selling them to friends, which evolved into a supper club of premade dinners that families could reheat and serve.

She decided to focus on those “entertainment-based” offerings for customers who were foodies, she said, with experienced palates. She found that as they put all of their efforts into the main course for a dinner party, they were going out to purchase the hors d’oeuvres, and they were looking for a more sophisticated offering than the standard Ro-Tel dip.

“They’re just unique and flavor profiles that people haven’t experienced before, and it just gives people another choice,” she said of her selections.

As demand grew, and the time and ingredients – she was chopping 50-pound bags of onions by hand – threatened to take over, she moved into a commercial kitchen with a manufacturing permit and her clientele included shops such as Palladio Antique and Art, Miss Cordelia’s, Bluff City Coffee and local farmers markets.

She was operating then under an exemption by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the regulation and inspections of the Food and Drug Administration and Tennessee Department of Agriculture. But she had a vision and was being held back by those regulations and by not being able to wholesale or sell across state lines . . . (read more)