HOT CHEF: Jennifer Welper

hot \hät\ (slang), performing with great skill and daring

Jennifer Welper was born and raised in Caledonia, Minnesota. After years of being away, she now lives in Rochester, closer to her family. “Mayo called on me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my family,” Jennifer says. “I was gone for 12 years. I went to school in Rhode Island. It was time to, I don’t know, do one of those things like find a husband or something.”



Interest in food started early for Jennifer. “Early on I did baking for events—cake walks and bake sales,” she remembers. “I’d bake cookies and give them to kids out of my locker. I’d make breakfasts at 6 a.m. and literally have 15 high school students at my house by 7 a.m. I’d make cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs and sausage. I’d have Orange Julius. You name it. It was fun, and I learned a lot in the process.” 

“In high school, working in a restaurant and hotel, it all just kind of came together, and I just couldn’t really imagine doing anything else,” states Jennifer.

Jennifer studied Culinary Nutrition at Johnson & Wales University, graduating in 2006. One of her fondest food memories was working as the executive chef at Hilton Head Health. She remembers serving a healthy Thanksgiving dinner that the guests greatly appreciated. The process of creating a real, but nutritious, Thanksgiving dinner helped her form relationships. “Making stuffing with whole wheat bread, apples and things like that and the togetherness with me and my staff, we became really close,” recalls Jennifer.


Jennifer’s cooking style is quite admirable. She says, “I’m very everyday, so [for example], my style is making a sandwich and making that sandwich not seem like it’s healthy, but it is. I make Chicken Parmesan [see the recipe on page 24] but it’s healthier than usual recipes. It still looks like it, still tastes like it, but my cooking technique is different.”

What Jennifer loves most about her job is that she can live out her passion and make a difference in the world. Her desire is to “make healthy food and make a difference in someone’s life as well.”

Jennifer is pretty strict in the kitchen and that means not using fingers to taste the food. But she remembers an intern who really didn’t want to waste chocolate. She walked in on the intern who was licking a drip of chocolate off the countertop. Jennifer responded with a gasp, a laugh and an exclamation of, “What are you doing?” But she let the whole thing roll off her shoulders. There is always an exception for chocolate.

For Jennifer, food is where she finds joy in her life. “I like to entertain,” she says. “I like to welcome people into my home; I just like to make people happy.” And what’s Jennifer’s favorite dish? If she had to choose her last meal, it would be Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, green beans and lots of butter. 

Dawn is a veggie lover and has sneaked many a veggie into her meals without anyone knowing.