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Alumna and James Beard Fellow Tonii Hicks Looks Ahead: A Commissary Kitchen

July 25, 2022

Chef Tonii Hicks, a Black female, is wearing a white chef's coat and gray apron and standing in the middle of a professional kitchen.“I’m as Philly as it gets,” shares Chef Tonii Hicks, BS culinary arts ’21. Hicks was raised in Philadelphia and embodies a devotion to food and community.

“Growing up, my family and I were always cooking and selling food on our block. During the summers, my mom and dad sold water ice, pizza pretzels and fish platters,” she explains.

Hicks joined Drexel’s Culinary Arts and Science program as a transfer student from the Community College of Philadelphia, and says she was drawn to Drexel’s combination of culinary skills and science background. “Drexel was my dream school. I remember the first time I saw the Academic Bistro and I thought, ‘this is the greatest kitchen in the world!’”

Chef Tonii Hicks, a Black female, is wearing a white chef's coat and baseball cap, pouring steaming contents of a large pot.“For a long time, I thought I was going to become a baker, so of course I love science!” Hicks says. “What I appreciated most about Drexel’s program was the combination of food science and culinary arts. Most schools have one or the other but to combine them is great because it opens up so many more career opportunities.”

Joining the Drexel Food Lab was a pivotal moment for Hicks. While there, she learned everything she could about food science, sustainability and more.

“The Food Lab was a big turning point for me. It helped me identify where I wanted to be in the industry and how I see my future,” Hicks comments.

Now an alumna of Drexel’s Culinary Arts program, Hicks has been selected as a James Beard House Fellow. This ten-week fellowship offers training in financial and legal matters, public relations, policy and advocacy, social media and more. In addition, fellows develop a meal kit that is made available for purchase across the U.S. Hick’s meal kit features sweet potato croquettes, blackened cod with lima bean risotto, and a sticky bun stuffed with apple butter filling.

Chef Tonii Hicks, a Black female wearing a red tshirt and dark pants, is holding a large melon in a garden at night.Hicks admits this fellowship has opened her eyes to many new areas of the food industry and she is grateful to have met others who share her passion for food and community.

Looking toward her next steps, Hicks has set her sights on opening a commissary kitchen to educate, serve and support the Philadelphia community. While still in the planning phase, Hicks has a clear vision. She dreams of a community-driven space open to chefs, artists, education programs—anyone in need of a space to gather and cook. Hicks currently serves as the culinary director of the People’s Kitchen Philadelphia, a local organization that uses food to empower, transform and heal by providing free meals, gardening and education resources.

“People’s Kitchen Philadelphia is already doing upcycling and community-based kitchen work, and I see my future kitchen following in these footsteps.”

Chef Tonii Hicks, a Black female, is outside wearing a baseball cap and a dark tshirt while squatting behind chafing pans.While Hicks is passionate about creating great food, it is her dedication to community and education that sets her apart. “I grew up in a food desert, and, once I realized the reality of what that means, things changed in my career. I want to use my creativity with cooking as an education resource for my community.”


Written by Izzy López