Local chef Emmanuel Smith once served this country in the Army. Now he serves in the kitchen to promote health and wellness in the community.
Smith, a native of Memphis, was in the Army from 2002-06. He said he joined because he wanted to better himself and take care of his family.
“I’d developed a love for cooking at an early age. At 8 years old, I watched my mother cook in the kitchen. I quickly learned my way around the kitchen and she taught me how become a good cook,” he said. “I’d always wanted to go to culinary school, but I couldn’t find a school near me after graduating high school. So, I temporarily put my dream on hold. I worked a few jobs here and there and then decided to join the military in 2002
“Some of my friends and family told me joining the Army would be dangerous because a war was going on at the time. Their concerns didn’t stop me. I’m from a pretty rough area of Memphis, so I wasn’t concerned about my safety. I knew that if I’d survived the streets of Memphis, I wouldn’t have a problem serving my country.”
After completing basic training and advanced individual training, Smith worked as an Army cable systems installer-maintainer at the 501st Signal Battalion at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.
“I came into the Army as a 31L and was later changed to 25L. My military occupational specialty required me to install and perform maintenance on cable and wire communication systems so the units had proper communication networks in place so support our mission,” he said. “We were nicknamed ‘cable dawgs” because we installed communications cables. This meant installing and maintaining thousands of miles of communication cables to multiple facilities around Humphreys. Our job was outdoors in the field and involved hard physical labor and often included travel to remote locations. Our job was important because communication between units would be difficult if the cables didn’t function properly.”
Smith was also stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia, for several years.
In 2006, Smith left the Army as a specialist four and returned to civilian life performing the same job he’d done in the military. However, he felt he needed a career change.
“I had military training that I put to use when I got out of the Army. I took on jobs at several cable companies and did well. I should have been content with the way my life was going because I was still providing for my family. But I felt something was missing,” he said. “I wasn’t fulfilling God’s purpose for my life. So, I began praying about this and waited for an answer.”
Smith said he got his answer years later after several life-changing events.
“In 2013, after taking on a weight loss challenge and a successful 60-pound weight loss due to diet and lifestyle changes, I went from a meat, dairy and fish diet to a vegan, plant-based diet,” he said. “I noticed significant improvement in my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being. I embraced my Adventist roots and focused on my faith, diet and nutrition, and my love of cooking. This success and the death of some close family members (mainly my father) is how God revealed his purpose for my life – to become a professional chef.”
Smith launched a catering business, Heaven’s Healthy Kitchen Catering in Memphis. He had a degree in business communications from the University of Phoenix in 2012.
One year later, Smith moved to Huntsville. After a few years of working in the restaurant business, he enrolled in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Services program at Drake State Community College.
In 2021, Smith opened Heavens Healthy Kitchen, an eatery specializing in homemade organic and made-from-scratch vegan and plant-based foods in Huntsville. He began teaching health, wellness and nutrition classes online.
Smith said his skillset comes naturally.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I never forgot my way around the kitchen, since watching my mom cook when I was a child,” he said. “She taught me how to prepare dishes as I got older. My new diet helped me to improve on my culinary skillset. I’m very creative with plant-based alternatives. Flavor and texture are important. I can create a healthy alternative for any food – from spaghetti to ox tails and chicken and waffles.”
Smith encourages others to find their life purpose.
“I love that I can teach others on how a proper diet impacts the three aspects of health —physical, mental and spiritual,” he said. “My business has grown a lot. It’s not just about money and profit, but helping people eat to live and live well. Serving in the military help me to position myself for success – I gained structure, discipline and resiliency there. Now I’m living out my purpose. God allowed me to turn my passion into a profession.”
The Huntsville resident and his wife of 18 years, Ashley, a licensed massage therapist, have three children.