At 18 years old, Jenna Kinard seemed to be on top of the world.
With sparkling eyes, long, shiny locks and a picture-perfect smile, the Waller County native was crowned Miss Teen Texas-World 2009 and embarked on a modeling and acting career that introduced the small-town girl to a world of glitz, glam and, eventually, an eating disorder that almost killed her.
Today, after four years of remission, the former beauty queen has conquered her demons, thanks in part to her past opponent: food. Kinard was recently named executive chef of Max’s Wine Dive in Fort Worth.
“I grew up cooking with my parents,” Kinard recalls. “Every single night my parents cooked dinner together and I was involved in some sort of way. Whether cutting tomatoes or prepping a salad, I was doing something in the kitchen with them. I didn’t even look at it as a chore. I just thought that’s what families did because it was what we did as long as I can remember.”
Kinard was a healthy child, never shy about eating and never really hearing the word “diet,” she says, until she began competing in pageants.
I HAD NEVER DIETED BEFORE. I STARTED THINKING, ‘WELL, I HAVE TO DO THAT IF I’M GOING TO BE THE BEST AT THIS.’ SO I DID. NEXT THING YOU KNOW, I REALIZED I HAD A PROBLEM.
“There was just so much pressure,” she says. “All of these girls who compete take it very seriously. I had never dieted before. I started thinking, ‘Well, I have to do that if I’m going to be the best at this.’ So I did. Next thing you know, I realized I had a problem.”
Kinard developed anorexia nervosa and began losing weight. At her lightest, she weighed about 65 pounds less than she does today, she says. She developed osteoporosis and suffered from seizures and convulsions almost daily. Her doctor finally told her if she didn’t change her life, she would die in a month. Lying in a hospital, Kinard decided to do whatever it took to get well.
“I was hooked up to all of these tubes and there were all these doctors and people around me I didn’t know,” she says. “My family was there and they were heartbroken.”
Recovery wasn’t as easy as simply eating again. Kinard went through intense counseling and therapy. But it was one unlikely superstar chef who provided her most meaningful motivation.
“I love Paula Deen. She is a huge inspiration to me,” Kinard says. “People laugh about that, but she is my everything. She truly changed my life.”
As nutritionally deprived as Kinard was, she couldn’t sleep. Sleeping burns calories, and Kinard had zero calories to burn. While in recovery, she would stay up all night watching the Food Network, falling in love with Deen for her passionate, comforting personality.
“I started creating some of her dishes and started putting my own spin on them,” Kinard says. “Then I started writing her and we became kind of pen pals.”
[PAULA DEEN] GAVE ME THE BIGGEST HUG AND TOLD ME TO NEVER STOP DOING WHAT I’M DOING. THAT IS STILL SOUL FOOD FOR ME. THAT STILL FUELS ME EVERY DAY.
At a cooking conference, Kinard ran up to the stage in tears to greet her chef-inspiration. “I told her how much she meant to me,” Kinard says. “She gave me the biggest hug and told me to never stop doing what I’m doing. That is still soul food for me. That still fuels me every day.”
Back home, Kinard continued her recovery by spending time in the kitchen, just as she did as a child with her parents. As a youngster, she would re-create family recipes passed down from her Czech grandmother. Now she was creating dishes of her own.
“I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” she says. “I knew I was good at food and was very passionate about it.”
Without any formal culinary school experience, Kinard got a kitchen gig as pastry chef for the now-closed Monty’s Corner in Fort Worth, where she learned crucial culinary skills from executive chef Corey Smith, she says. She later worked for various catering companies, including one that toured with rock bands during music festivals such as Warped, Coachella and Uproar.
Kinard says she is excited to bring her own style to Max’s menu. Escargot, smoked oysters, prawn salad and kolaches (inspired by her Czech heritage) are some items customers might see in the future, she says, adding that she loves to makes plates pretty and hopes to one day incorporate molecular gastronomy into her dishes.
Gourmet grilled cheese, using ingredients such as caramelized peaches, candied bacon and a honey-infused, rosemary-sherry reduction, is another one of her favorite items.
“It makes me so happy when I watch my plates make it to the table and immediately phones come out and people are taking pictures,” she says.
Although Kinard now spends 70 hours or more a week at the restaurant, she still finds time to manage Starving for Love (@starvingforlove_), an Instagram page with encouraging messages for those suffering from eating disorders and addictions. Kinard calls the page her ministry and responds to every email she receives from folks looking for guidance, many times with a phone call.
“I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t try to tell them what they should do,” she says. “I just try to encourage them and point them in the direction I wish I had been pointed to. It also keeps me healthy. It holds me accountable knowing I’ve got a following of people who struggle with the same thing I do and we’re just here for each other.”
Caramelized peach, candied bacon and brie grilled cheese with rosemary-sherry-honey reduction at Max’s Wine Dive
Makes 4 servings
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
- 8 slices applewood-smoked bacon
- 1 cup fresh peaches, sliced
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup sherry or blush wine vinaigrette dressing (found at Central Market), or any desired vinaigrette dressing
- 1 cup sherry wine
- 6 sprigs rosemary (reserve 2 for garnish)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup high-quality peach preserves
- 8 slices brioche bread
- 16 ounces brie
- Heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine 4 tablespoons brown sugar, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Rub mixture onto bacon slices, coating evenly. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cook 20-30 minutes to desired crispiness. Reserve.
- In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, add peaches, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 3 tablespoons butter and a dash of salt and pepper. Toss peaches gently with a wooden spoon so they don’t break. Cook 6-8 minutes until peaches are golden brown. Reserve.
- In a separate saucepan, bring sherry vinaigrette dressing and sherry wine to a simmer over low heat. Add 4 rosemary sprigs and reduce by half. Add the honey and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and simmer until brown sugar has dissolved, 3 to 4 minutes. Keep warm.
- Heat a waffle iron or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Spread 2 tablespoons peach preserves on each bottom slice of brioche. Top each with 1/4 cup caramelized peaches, then 4 ounces brie and 2 bacon slices, each cut in half. Top with brioche and spread remaining butter on both sides of sandwich before grilling. If using a waffle iron, heat for 4 minutes until toasted and cheese begins to ooze out. If grilling in a pan, cook 2 minutes per side until cheese begins to ooze. Cut each sandwich into four pieces, drizzle with sherry reduction and garnish with rosemary.
— 2421 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-870-1100, www.maxswinedive.com