It’s hard to fit Megan Lambert neatly into a category. Senior Instructor at Johnson & Wales, Pastry Chef, Nutritionist, volunteer, small business owner.
Yet these titles all emerged from an early drive to share good, healthy food. “My parents both worked when I was a kid,” says Lambert, and though her mother enjoyed baking when she had the time, “I noticed that we weren’t really eating great food at home, so I learned how to cook.”
While she can’t recall what prompted her focus on better-quality dinners, by age twelve, the nascent chef had stepped into the family kitchen to begin a lifetime of learning. Working through pasta dishes, chicken pot pie and peanut butter cookies, her beginning experiments presaged her eventual career choices. “Even at that age I was trying to make sugar-free cookies,” the petite, cheerful chef remembers with a laugh.“That didn’t work out so well.”
By the time she enrolled in Penn State University, it was a no-brainer to major in nutrition and hotel restaurant management. “I was more interested in the nutrition aspect of it, just thinking about my own situation,” she says. After a post-graduation internship in frigid Syracuse, NY, Lambert was primed for a change of climate when she heard about a new Culinary Institute of America opening in California.
She jumped at the chance to move to the Napa Valley (which she describes as “Heaven on Earth”), and remained for several years after earning her pastry certificate there.
Yet a concurrence of events brought her back east, to her parents’ new home in North Carolina. The catalyst was her mother’s post-retirement idea to open a business with her chef daughter. In 2001, the pair brought to life the Flour Shop, a small bakery in Morrisville, near Cary. The shop ran for about four years, during which time the younger Lambert met her husband and started a family. Yet, in hindsight, she was seeing her talents growing in another direction.
Describing her role at the Flour Shop the chef says, “I taught people how to make things and make it the right way. I was a really good teacher during that time, but I wasn’t a good business manager.”
Eventually she and her mother decided to sell the business, and during that time a trip to Charlotte literally took Lambert in a new direction.
“We drove down Trade Street just looking for someplace to eat,” Lambert recalls, “We went past this big construction site and there was a sign that said ‘Future home of Johnson & Wales University. I said, ‘Oh, I wonder if they’re going to need any pastry instructors …'”
Eleven years later, Lambert has not only established herself as a talented culinary instructor at the University, but she’s also become an energetic force in the local food community.
Along with volunteering with the Green Teacher Network and Friendship Gardens, Lambert has once again begun a small food business with her mother. Garnet Gals jams, named in honor of Lambert’s grandmother, started about three years ago and has found homes all over the city.
“We put a little different spin on it, with different spices, chilis or herbs,” she says. “I’m always open to new things, and thinking about what is seasonal and what is local.”
Seventh Street Market, Queen City Pantry, and Earl’s Grocery were among her first customers, and joining the Piedmont Culinary Guild has helped expand the business’ potential outlets.
Yet as a member of the Guild’s education committee, Lambert also sees potential benefits for her best students at JWU. “It’s a great opportunity for them to learn about what’s going on in the local community, as well as networking for jobs and internships.” She looks forward to bringing students to events and introducing them to the strong community supporting the PCG.
Somehow Lambert’s singular focus on good food has led to her wearing many hats in our community. Yet whether in the guise of teacher, volunteer or purveyor of local products, Lambert’s goals match those of the PCG: bringing better, healthier food to tables across the region.
Profile written by Alison Leininger