Kymberly Wilbon has an easy laugh and a voice full of life. Grocery shopping (which was her pursuit, as we spoke) is a passion — especially when she is shopping for her customers. Her job is to shop, feed, and care for their wellbeing. Her favorite haunts are Findlay Market and Fresh Thyme.
She describes her relationship with food simply. “I think it’s more like it is a calling. I am a people pleaser,” she says. “I watched my family and my aunts and how food made everyone happy. I wanted to do that. I started off baking and it led to [cooking meals] and was amazing.”
Originally from Cincinnati, Kymberly moved to New York City and returned here in the late 90s. Her NYC time involved fashion and music, which eventually led her to attend culinary school and to prepare food for musicians.
“You can go to culinary school, but you have to have passion and taste,” she says.
Her life is very much a convergence of all that she adores.
“I was working at this store with a friend doing window displays,” she says. “I was a stylist and then I got into the music industry. We took over every nightclub in New York City. I started cooking for record executives. I started to hostess in lots of restaurants. I got into food and loved it. I was still working in fashion and music and had all three going.”
She is best known for meals she prepares for many Bengals players through her business, The Passion Plate. This means being their personal chef and determining what they need to eat to “be at the top of their game,” and that defense eats differently than offense.
When asked how she began this endeavor, she credits it to being in the right place at the right time.
“I was a waitress and a chef at the late Coco’s and loved it,” Wilbon says. “A player’s mom walked in and asked if she knew anyone who could cook for her son. She was sitting at the bar and reading Cosmopolitan, of course, and I said, ‘me.’ I went from one player to 15.”
She explains that the players are very much like the rest of us regarding how and what they want to eat.
“Most of them want the food that they ate in college and they can’t have that,” she explains. “I have to make the flavor that they still love from college and make it taste like that.”
She also says that most clients are just regular people who fall into two categories: strict meal planners who want everything portioned out or clients who want restaurant-quality food at home.
“My food has soul and soul is seasonal, organic, unexpected, and local,” she says. “It is not like the normal sweet potato, broccoli and chicken. My food is different, and it is beautiful. The word personal chef means lots to me.”
Kimberly explains that people eat and accept the food and listen to her. She learns what their food triggers are and what makes them happy. Each client has a personal relationship with food.
“It is your friend. It is your enemy. It is consistent to inconsistent. You can go from feeling elated to feeling sick,” she says.
She chuckles as she explains that we need to be more like Europeans when we eat.
“Some people are crazy about food and they have to calm down and enjoy it. They do not need to shove it into their mouths while they are in the car,” she says. “I put a lot of love into the layers of flavor in [my food]. Take the time to eat and appreciate it.”