When Chantel Jackson was in elementary school, she began to watch the school chef who worked at her Tacoma, Washington, boarding school. She was captivated by the magic of cooking, and the smells that came from the kitchen.
Jackson’s observations of Cora Stoneyham, the school chef, led to the school creating a position for Jackson in the kitchen that allowed her to do simple tasks. This time in the kitchen, said Jackson, started her love for cooking.
Years later, Jackson is the food service director at Camp Sealth and operates her own catering company, Thyme Well Spent Catering.
In her role at Camp Sealth, Jackson’s busiest time of year is during the summer, as around 500 campers attend the camp each week. According to Jackson, a bulk of the cooking at the camp involves plenty of prep and cooking in advance.
New challenges have also arisen for Jackson as the food service director, as about 50 to 60 of the children at Camp Sealth each week have dietary restrictions – such as needing gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan options.
Jackson cooks these meals from scratch, as she has found that there are no products available to larger institutions like summer camps that cater to dietary restrictions. However, she is looking to solve this problem.
“I’m actually currently underway in making a whole vegan line of products I can market to camps or institutions,” said Jackson. “My first one is my vegan mac and cheese…I have it to where it’s going to be in a powder form, you just open it up and add your favorite non-dairy milk and you have quick, instant mac and cheese for an institution.”
Jackson’s vegan mac and cheese has made the rounds on social media, as the recipe for the dish has received more than seven million views across social media.
On social media, Jackson has established a large following on her accounts, with more than 70,000 followers on TikTok and 22,000 on Instagram. Michelin-starred chef Wolfgang Puck follows Jackson on TikTok as well.
According to Jackson, she most enjoys the community aspect of social media, adding that she is able to “have the whole world in the palm of my hand.”
“I can be myself,” added Jackson. “That is the most rewarding thing. A lot of times with social media, you know you can get lost in trying to be somebody you’re not and that can cause its own problems. But literally, this is me — crazy, funny, just [a] weirdo. People like me for it.”
In addition to her cooking, Jackson has helped raise funds for children of color to attend Camp Sealth, as she noticed few children of color were attending camp and wanted to know what barriers there were to attending. One of the barriers was finances, said Jackson.
This sparked the formation of Camp Sealth’s Equity Action Fund, which provides funds for attending summer camp. Camp Sealth’s Camp Director, Rick Taylor, donated the initial $10,000 to the fund.
“I was so moved I put the story on TikTok, and that went viral,” said Jackson.
The attention the video on TikTok received garnered another $15,000 in donations, resulting in enough funds to send 40 children to summer camp this year.
Camp Sealth will also host its very first S’more Diversity Family Camp from Oct. 1 to 2, which is now at capacity at 30 families. Currently, more than 40 families are waitlisted.
“[We’ve] gotten support from Sen. Joe Nguyen and others in the community,” said Jackson. “[I’m] looking forward to how we can build this.”
When she’s not cooking at Camp Sealth, Jackson attends to her catering business and also works as a private chef. Over the last ten years, Jackson has cooked for the same two clients each month.
Outside of the kitchen, Jackson also is a singer-songwriter who recently released her own demo Gospel/R&B album, “Co-Independent.”
The idea to create the album came to Jackson when she traveled to Dallas prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and was performing karaoke — one of her favorite activities.
“I’m a karaoke person until the day I die,” said Jackson.
In this particular place, a live band accompanied Jackson while she sang. After performing Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” the band remarked that they were surprised that Jackson didn’t have her own music.
“I always wrote poetry, I’ve always done stuff, so that was my quarantine project,” said Jackson. “I had some savings, so I finished a whole album — co-wrote, pre-produced, pretty much the whole thing with some of my friends. In three months I finished a whole album.”
According to Jackson, “Co-Independent” tells the story of her own life and her relationship with God.
“The way the songs line up, it talks about my life basically being in bad domestic relationships, and then as soon as I was like, ‘You know what, God? I’m going to submit my life to you,’ everything changed,” said Jackson.
Going forward, Jackson would like to move into the rock genre and is especially happy to be on Vashon, as there are many other songwriters and musicians on the island with whom she is able to collaborate.
As people either try her meals or listen to her music, Jackson hopes they will walk away with one thing.
“That they will receive healing in some way,” said Jackson. “That’s the biggest thing to me. Laughter, fun, comfort, and food and music is healing.”
Note: For more information about Jackson’s catering or music, visit thymewellspentinc.com.