Jonell Nash, the longtime food editor for Essence Magazine, and a fellow member of Les Dames dEscoffier, left this world after a short illness. Outside of her immediate circle of family and friends, most of the people who knew Jonell were unaware she had been ill. Jonell would have wanted it that way; she was never about attracting attention, only giving of her self.
Jonell lived life on her own quiet, refined and gracious terms. She took life slowly and savored it like a perfectly cooked dish. Cooking was her calling, but it was more than just about creating precision recipes; it was about styling the perfect table setting, from fresh flowers to china, the right light and music. Eating was not about “grabbing a bite,” squeezing in lunch over a desk, or eating plastic food on paper plates with disposable utensils. Good things didn’t have to be complicated, time consuming or expensive, just well presented and with thought.
Jonell put a lot of thought into everything she did, un-hurried; not harried, calm and centered. How many of us take the time to set a table with flowers and sit down for a meal by ourselves or with a significant other and have real conversation? No TV, no text, no tech at the table.
Jonell focused on attention to every little detail in her life and in the lives of those she loved. Sadly was there was detail she may have ignored – that of keeping up with her health. I don’t know the circumstances of the cancer that took Jonell’s life other than it seem to have been discovered when it was too late to do anything. This was particularly poignant for me as a cancer survivor who has seen this happen with many women who are gifted and giving of themselves. I have made it my mission to educate women that making your self-health a priority is not selfish; it is self-sustaining.
Jonell left a legacy of memories and a trove of articles and recipes, many in her two books, Essence Great Cooking and Low Fat Soul. Years ago she funded a scholarship through Les Dames d’Escoffier New York to enable a deserving woman of color the opportunity to attend culinary school and pursue a career. In Jonell’s understated manner, she named the scholarship in honor of the late Afro-American women chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis, rather that put her name on it. In Jonell’s memory this scholarship is being renamed. I’m sure Jonell would thank everyone graciously but quietly say, “Let’s keep Edna Lewis’ memory alive rather than honor me.” Jonell was more about honoring others than about being honored.
Once of the speakers at the funeral said “There was always joy at Jonell’s table.” Jonell put her best effort into all she did and made an effort to put others at ease. She worked at her own pace; doing what she loved and not striving to compete, compare or compromise. She walked through life taking a generous helping of all the beauty it offered and sharing it with those who would benefit even more.
That’s the essence of living well.
Les Dames d’Escoffier is a philanthropic 501(c)3 organization comprised of leading women working in food, fine beverage and hospitality. Its mission is to support and further the careers of women in the industry through advocacy, education, scholarship and mentoring. For information on Les Dames d’Escoffier New York and to contribute to the Jonell Nash Memorial Scholarship please visit: www.ldny.org
Melanie Young is a longtime member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and a former president of the New York Chapter.