Keesha O’Galdez ’06MBA Builds Community Through Food with Gourmet Diva, Inc.
I want to change the image of cooking, making it something that people enjoy doing, experiencing, and connecting with others. I find that how people show up in the kitchen is how they show up in life — some with trepidation and others ready for adventure.
“So many people have the dream to start their own business,” says Keesha O’Galdez ’06MBA, Founder and Executive Chef of Gourmet Diva, Inc. “But if you can’t articulate your wants and needs, or you can’t reach your audience, you’ll never grow.”
After completing her MBA at Simmons, O’Galdez worked full-time at Bank of America until she was laid off in 2009. “I was 29 years old, and that layoff lit a fire in me,” she says. “I could have gone back to a job that offered stability, perks, and a regular salary, but here was this blank slate to play with.”
O’Galdez had been cooking since childhood. The eldest child with two working parents, it was her job to have dinner on the table. “I found recipes in the newspaper and diligently followed the instructions on the back of the lasagna box. I was good at it and enjoyed it. Other people had parents who kicked them out of the kitchen as kids, but if you do that, they never learn.”
Back then, cooking wasn’t an option for her career. “I was good at math and science, so I focused on careers in that area. Plus, being a chef or in the culinary arts wasn't as glamorous or lucrative a career option as it is today.”
She started cooking professionally in 2010. “People were asking me for advice about healthy cooking, and I started thinking of the connection between what we eat and how we feel.”
... I started thinking of the connection between what we eat and how we feel.
When a friend gave her Bryant Terry’s cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine, she moved back to New York City and enrolled at the Natural Gourmet Institute (which Terry had also attended), drawn in by its health-supportive curriculum. After graduating, she honed her skills as a personal chef and working with catering companies.
“I wanted to serve more people in a different capacity,” she recalls. “I lost a couple of clients during COVID [in 2020], and that gave me a moment to pause and consider what I wanted Gourmet Diva to be in the near future.”
O’Galdez pivoted to hosting online cooking courses and wine and spirits tastings during the pandemic, curating different experts to present on wine, chocolate, and other topics of interest. She wants her members to have fun while learning valuable skills, calling it “Culinary Edutainment” (education + entertainment).
“I wanted to harness the community and bring people together through food,” says O’Galdez. “When I teach cooking classes, I'm not trying to groom the next master chef. These are functional skills you need to know to survive and to be a more savvy consumer. I want to change the image of cooking, making it something that people enjoy doing, experiencing, and connecting with others. I find that how people show up in the kitchen is how they show up in life — some with trepidation and others ready for adventure.”
She hopes that her instructions may make even those skittish in the kitchen learn to embrace their creativity. “My ultimate goal for this fall is to launch a robust online cooking community, offering more dynamic programming. I want to bring people from different places and different perspectives online and offer in-person components, too.”
As an entrepreneur, O’Galdez often refers to lessons learned in her MBA at Simmons. “I was drawn to Simmons because it was empowering to women, with a foundation of women supporting women in business.”
I was drawn to Simmons because it was empowering to women, with a foundation of women supporting women in business.
Now, she is intentional about highlighting women-owned businesses: she hosted Women in Rum this spring and provided cooking demonstrations to The Dinner Table Doc's “Miseducation of Brown Girls” summer enrichment program.
“At Simmons, I learned how to deal with people in different spaces and places,” she says. “We were learning how to navigate white privilege and other issues that MBA programs are just now addressing. That is what Simmons taught me: how to talk to people, with a vocabulary and understanding of business, in general.”
While she doesn’t see an MBA as a requirement for entrepreneurs, what she learned about finance and marketing has helped her business grow. On-the-job experience is also vital.
“There is a mindset of entrepreneurship, this vision that everybody needs to be a boss," says O'Galdez. "But if you’ve never worked for a company, how would you know what your company would look like? How do you know how a business runs? There is a lot of red tape to deal with, so I recommend working for someone else first to gain experience. When you do want to take that leap, there are so many resources. It takes a lot of tenacity to stay with it, and the uncertainty is real, but don’t let fear stop you — if the calling is calling you, figure out how to answer it.”