Marques ‘Chef Omaka’ Clark seeks to combat external problems with internal solutions by providing nutrition ‘mheal’ plans for Black and Brown communities.
TAMPA BAY — A holistic food awareness educational program for Black and Brown youth in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando Counties’ underserved communities is underway and making waves in the community.
Youth Enrichment Service (YES) Children’s Healthier Eating Foundation (CHEF) is a holistic kitchen project started in south St. Petersburg and has expanded to other parts of the Tampa Bay area. The program aims to confront mental health issues, school failure rates, fatherlessness and felony conviction rates in Black and Brown youths.
The YES CHEF Village focuses on food education, holistic living, community building and giving back through public service. The organization accomplishes its mission through food educational workshops on nutritionally rich foods, public speaking on food discrepancies in underserved communities, and of course, through providing nutritious meals.
One such program offered is called Family Table Over Tablet, a quarterly program where families experiencing food insecurity and the lack of proper nutrition can attend a free family sit-down gathering a la carte style and start bonding and communicating at the dinner table. No electronic devices are welcome at the table.
YES CHEF also offers Fresh & Free Hot Mheals, a weekly offering prepared at a local church or community center kitchen where families can pick up fresh meals. And bi-weekly school-catered Holistic Mheals on Wheels Lunch Truck, providing more than 300 holistic meals to a school of choice for students and teachers.
“I know words are powerful, and the way words are spelled are even more powerful, so I tell people all the time to change the way you see things, and the things you see will change,” said Marques “Chef Omaka” Clark, founder of YES CHEF Village.
Chef Omaka changed the word “meal” to “mheal” because with an “H,” it now has the word “heal” in it. He believes changing the spelling will train our brains to see “heal,” and our bodies will begin to follow our minds.
“We give kids the proper nutrition, put them on a well-nourished mheal plan, and provide them a community, or village, of people who care about their health status.”
Many people know Clark as an inspirational speaker, author, and poet in the Black community, but he’s kept his cooking prowess under his chef’s hat. The name “Omaka” is a Nigerian name given to him by a Ghanaian man while on a sacred pilgrimage to North Carolina, where many enslaved Africans from coastal West Africa toiled.
Chef Omaka is not a stranger to foodies in St. Pete, for he has created culinary delights for local five-star restaurants for more than a decade. He grew as a chef under Chef Jeremy DeClut, a French-born American chef who won season nine of The Food Network’s “Chopped” series.
Chef DeClut saw something special in Chef Omaka’s cooking style and nominated him to enter his annual cook-off competition, a local version of the television show “Chopped.” Chef Omaka finished in the final three, placed against 18 of the best local chefs in the area.
Although Chef Omaka lost the competition, he never lost sight of the vision born within that cook-off. He soon left the world of fine dining and entered the public speaking arena.
He would visit schools speaking and mentoring youth and young adults in Pinellas County schools and adult education programs. As a Lunch Pals mentor, Chef Omaka taught the importance of a well-nourished mindset and what it means to live a holistic life in harmony with nature.
Through his speaking engagements, he shares his holistic life tips for eating and how food plays an essential role in public health. Chef Omaka believes that mental health stress and test anxiety would drastically decrease in public education and that childhood obesity and diabetes would have a significant reduction in single-parent households if proper nutrition is provided.
YES CHEF is the future of holistic health in impoverished communities in the Tampa Bay area. With autism and ADHD on the rise in Black communities, Chef Omaka believes those ailments could be rectified with proper nutrition. He feels these numbers will decline when nutrition-rich foods and healthy choices are introduced to homes and public school lunch programs.
“I’m no doctor, so I don’t want to state that YES CHEF is a remedy for healing mental health issues, but it sure is a step in the right direction. Part of my plan with the YES CHEF Village is to help Black and Brown families regain control and power over their health.”
Chef Omaka wants to see a turnaround in underrepresented populations’ eating habits and choices.
“There’s no shortage of food deserts surrounding most Black communities. We shouldn’t have to drive five miles outside of the neighborhood to see healthier food options. We simply don’t have enough choices; my vision with YES CHEF is to be a resource of healthy meals for families that don’t have those options of healthy food nearby.”
YES CHEF looks to bring something different to Black and Brown families and schools. Holistic food choices leave people in better mental, physical, and emotional shape, leaving the planet in a much better space for generations to come.
To contact Chef Omaka about bringing one of his programs to your community, please call 727-612-2658, stop by his office from 9-5 p.m. at 3530 First Ave. N, Suite 215 in St. Pete, or email him at Yeschefvillage@gmail.com.