Derek Jensen

Lauren Grant

Derek Jensen
Lauren Grant

Lauren's favorite place was next to her mom at the kitchen counter. Her passion continues one blog post at a time.

Take us back to you as a kid. I’m often made fun of for my lack of movie knowledge, and my mom will dispute the fact that we didn’t have any, but the truth is, as kids my sister and I loved to play outside. We lived in an old neighborhood with big oak trees, unique houses, and winding streets. We had the best playground — a big backyard and a neighborhood full of kids always at the ready. I was fairly shy (still am) and was taught to be overly polite. I loved running errands and would get personally offended if I wasn’t asked to help make dinner. My favorite place to be was next to my mom at the kitchen counter, standing on a chair helping with dinner.  

Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own thing. I remember being frustrated in college with the lack of cooking and experimenting I was doing in class. As with most degrees, you can’t expect to hit the ground running on day one, you have to create a foundation of which to build upon. Although I know that now, it didn’t change the fact that I was sick of organic chemistry, biochemistry, and microbiology. I wanted to create and experiment with flavors and cooking methods. 

To quiet my frustration, I invested even more time into The Cafe, an incredible restaurant located in Ames, and my second home for 7+ years. Constantly being surrounded by local, creative, and delicious food curbed that hankering for creating, but didn’t completely satisfy me.

Blogging hadn’t ever crossed my mind as something I could do until my sister suggested that as a way to get the creative fix I was missing. Skeptical, I created a test site, changed it a few times, and started creating content. I was hooked immediately and am still head over heels for the whole process. Nothing else I do brings such pride, satisfaction, or challenge to my life. 

"Don’t wait too long to dive in, start doing."

What have been the challenges? Who and what has helped? The world of blogging is huge. There’s so much more to it than meets the eye, and I’m not techie by any means. I have an incredible passion for cooking, developing recipes, taking pictures that speak the food, and communicating with people. But that’s not enough to make it in the blogging world, and I’m definitely still working on it. 

The biggest challenges I have faced are by far the ones that occur behind the scenes. The hosting, coding, linking, optimizing, and the plugins that I didn’t even know existed are all things that have been incredibly challenging. But through all of those challenges, I have, and continue to learn a lot. I feel incredibly lucky to have close friends and family who support, believe, and push me to keep my head high and have confidence in what I’m doing. I am also very thankful to have fellow creators around me who are willing to share their time, expertise, and advice whether it’s regarding blogging, photography, marketing, owning a business, etc. I couldn’t do it without them. 

Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them? Watch, listen, and learn as much as you can about the project you want to start. But don’t wait too long to dive in, start doing. There’s a fine line between preparing and getting ready, and waiting too long to get started. It’s easy to feel as if you aren’t prepared enough, don’t know enough, or aren’t experienced enough. And sure, listening to experts, watching what they do, and asking questions can all help you become prepared, but at some point you just have to try it for yourself. You have to shoot in the dark for a while and make your way through. My failures have taught me a lot more than my successes have, and I think you learn the most when you’re actively doing something. So as Nike coined it, Just Do It

Talk to us about one of your good days this week. There’s been a lot lately, and this past week has really showed me that I have quite a bit to be grateful for. From collaborating with amazingly talented people, to gaining photography insight, working with local businesses, and becoming a contributing editor for the popular website, The feedfeed, I’ve had some great opportunities come my way recently. Most notably was a day that consisted of an early morning run followed by an afternoon photoshoot with friend and local photographer, Justin Meyer. After our shoot, I tested a new recipe for the blog, took a walk around downtown (visited the new HyVee!), and enjoyed drinks on a rooftop patio as the sun set. 

One of your favorite recipes and why. Go! Oh man that’s tough. The first recipe that comes to mind is America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies. They’re made with browned butter and are hand mixed which makes them super easy to whip up (and cuts down on dishes). They’re soft, chewy, and nutty; literal perfection. 

In regards to one of my own recipes, I love the Eggplant Bolognese that’s on my site. Made with eggplant and mushrooms, it’s lighter than traditional meat-based versions, but has a deep savoriness that’s incredibly comforting. It’s delightful, and comfort food at its finest. 

Why Des Moines? I loved growing up in Ames but never thought that I would stay and go to Iowa State for college. However, growing up close to the university, I developed an incredible connection with ISU, its traditions, energy, and beauty; no other college I visited even compared. 

So for better or for worse I stayed, and absolutely loved it, but I craved outside experience. I needed to be challenged by a new city where I didn’t know everyone and or know it like the back of my hand. I yearned to be anonymous. All of this lead me to Boston for a summer internship with America’s Test Kitchen where I fell madly in love with the energy of a big city, the endless amounts of restaurants, history, and hundreds of activities at my fingertips. 

I still love the city feel but also have a deep appreciation for Midwest life. Des Moines fits both. It’s the best of both worlds, a small city environment along with an up and coming downtown. I think Des Moines is on a path to becoming a destination full of culture and diversity and I’m lucky enough to have a front row seat, which is pretty cool.  

"DSM is incredibly underrated for the amount of talented creators who call this place home."

Convince someone new to DSM your favorite place to go on your day off. It’s tough to choose one, there could be a whole itinerary! First and foremost, I would grab coffee at Zanzibar’s or Mars Cafe, and walk around downtown or window shop in the East Village. Then later in the day I would head down to The Riverwalk Hub and enjoy a glass of wine on the river followed by dinner at Proof or Alba.   

The most underrated thing in DSM is the wealth of opportunities. No matter what niche you are in, Des Moines is bound to surprise you. With a distinct background in Culinary Science and Journalism, I thought I would be pretty limited, only to find out there are some great opportunities for me. And I think that’s true of many careers, look at all of the people you [MADE IN DSM] have interviewed! They’ve all made names for themselves here, and have carved out a space in this city that fits them perfectly. I also think DSM is incredibly underrated for the amount of talented creators who call this place home. 

What are you most proud of and why? I’m most proud of my family and their strength. We all have challenges in our lives, and my family was handed quite a few in short span of time. I’m so proud of my mom, dad, and sister for what we went through together. One by one we pulled each other up, and I’m so proud to call them mine. 

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about? Hard work. I don’t believe we deserve things in this life, I believe we earn them through putting in time, sweat, and dedication.

What big changes are coming to Zestful Kitchen? And how can we support? Just this past winter, Zestful Kitchen underwent a complete renovation, so for right now there aren’t any major changes planned. However, expect to see a lot of Zestful Kitchen over the next few months. Now that the website makeover is wrapped up, I can get back to recipe development and creation. 

I’d love for people follow along with what’s happening in my kitchen. Stop by the blog for new recipes and find out what’s happening in real time on my Instagram page. And, if there’s a recipe you want to see, a restaurant I’ve got to try, or a vendor at the Farmer’s Market I need to stop by, let me know! I love hearing from people and I’m always up to try something new.