As a child, if Jayaun Smith wasn’t jumping off couches trying to imitate wrestlers on WWE, he was fixing his gaze on the swift knife chops of anxious chefs battling it out for the title of Iron Chef America. Captivated by celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri in his early years, the enthusiastic Smith has been steadfast in his own career as a private chef and co-owner of the Crossroads eatery Sauced.
Along with the inspiration of competitive cooking shows, Smith, better known as Chef Jay, credits his success to his mom and grandmother exposing him to different kinds of food at a young age. Smith’s grandma, a native of Mobile, Alabama, also passed along her knowledge of Southern cooking—and let him cook. “They would grocery shop for me, buy me ingredients and let me be in the kitchen, even cooking them breakfast and dinner,” Smith says.
After competing in national cooking competitions in high school, the Kansas City native enrolled in the culinary program at Johnson County Community College in 2014. However, despite his considerable kitchen experience, the ambitious chef says he struggled to have his talents recognized. Professor and chef Aaron Prater saw Smith’s talents and hired him to work in his restaurant, The Sundry.
“Aaron was pushing me the whole time to go ahead and be this person that I wanted to be and to be the face of his restaurant,” Smith says. “I was able to build my confidence during that time.”
Smith was also the head chef at Ruby Jean’s Juicery in 2017. Asked if he ever felt constrained by Ruby’s health-focused menu, Smith says that he “embraced the challenge.” He was also the private chef for several Chiefs players at the time, cooking healthy meals for them.
Smith’s path has been forged by his competitive nature and saying “yes” to opportunities and challenges that were presented to him. He was voted The Pitch’s Best Chef in 2018 and was a contestant on season twenty of Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen. More recently, you may have seen him collaborating with Coca-Cola at a Chiefs tailgate cooking up game day eats like grilled chicken wings tossed with a Thai cherry Coke sauce. His wide array of experience has turned him into a culinary renaissance man, able to whip up vegan soul food one day and Asian barbecue the next.
Quick Bite: I like ramen throughout the middle of the day because it’s not overly heavy, so I’ll go to Chewology or Boru. I gotta have crispy pork belly and, of course, a marinated egg. I’m a very traditional guy so when I eat other culture’s foods, I love to have it exactly the way they make it.
Dinner: I love Stock Hill Steakhouse. I love their steaks and appetizers, and their crab dip is amazing. For my go-to, get me a good ribeye or a strip steak with potatoes.
Late-night drink: I love a good margarita. I always love trying people’s house margaritas because I believe if you can’t make a good house margarita, then you can’t make a good flavored margarita. But you will always catch me at Kona Grill. I know the manager, Matt. He’s a really big fan of my work and he always shows me so much love when I go there. When a lot of people drink, they look for those good moments and when I have a drink there, I know I’m going to have a good time and get filled with love by someone who truly appreciates my work and what I do.