BLUFFTON — Michael Kingsley was busy wrangling baked chicken breasts last week for a catering event, lemon and garlic scenting the air of the restaurant.
He’s been at Jeanne’s Kitchen downtown for about two months and is happy to return to his hometown.
“I love Bluffton. I can give back to the community that helped me out when I was younger,” Kingsley said.
His story is a long one, and it begins in Africa. Kingsley was born in Zambia and was adopted by a Bluffton-native couple, who were there doing missionary work. He later reconnected with his birth mother and is happy to report a good relationship.
Kingsley moved with his parents to do mission work in Swaziland, where the culture insisted on nannies to help the household. The women cooked, and he remembers being right there with them.
“The smells,” he said. “I was always interested in what they were doing.”
His family moved back to Bluffton when he was 7 years old.
“A little culture shock,” he said, smiling.
His mom cooked much more while here, so he joined her in the kitchen, too.
“She’s let me stand on a chair by the stove and help,” Kingsley said.
Growing up, he developed a talent for basketball, earning a full ride to University of Findlay. He studied fields other than culinary, as Findlay didn’t offer it, but later realized he needed to pursue it anyway. He graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Pittsburgh Culinary Institute in 2006 and gained experience at restaurants in the Cleveland area.
“What I got a lot out of (school) was just the technical — the right way to do things,” he said. “My mind just goes with new recipes. It didn’t really teach me that.”
The return home to be near family has resulted in being head chef at Jeanne’s Kitchen. He is planning to push the restaurant — which seats about 50 — a bit.
“It’s going to go a little more upscale,” Kingsley said.
“I like to create, and food is all about creativity,” he said. “The best thing, I think, is coming out after Friday dinner and seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces. To know that you’re a part of that …” he trailed off, finishing with a big grin.
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