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Meet Leslie O’Guinn of Passport Provisions

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leslie O’Guinn.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Leslie. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’ve always loved food and cooking. I remember very clearly being a little kid and my mom telling me, “the way to a man’s heart is through is stomach” hahaha which isn’t completely wrong. I mean everyone needs to eat and I’ve always just wanted to make people happy. I joke and say “feed me and tell me I’m pretty” and at the end of the day, I think that’s what we all want. We want to be well-nourished and we want to be appreciated. I choose to show love and appreciation to others with food.

As a little kid, I loved being in the kitchen with my mom and even helping my dad in our garden. I remember spending several weekends a year, at the end of a season preserving what we couldn’t eat immediately. In high school, the neighborhood we lived in were working families, we were basically all latch key kids. I’d get home from school and watch “Too Hot Tamales” on Food Network, look in the fridge to see what I could whip up and I would cook. Since it was just my mom and I by that point, I usually made way too much food. So I started selling the leftovers to all the neighborhood kids who didn’t want to cook themselves or didn’t want to eat what they had. Neighbors would come over with their own plate and a couple of bucks and grab dinner. hahaha I wasn’t making money. That wasn’t the point. More importantly, I wasn’t wasting food, I was covering costs, and got lots of practice and feedback from everyone, you know kids don’t hold back! Especially to other kids!

I loved food and cooking so much, even then, I remember even doing some art projects in school… on cakes! If the teacher said we could use whatever medium we wanted… I got to baking! I think it’s kinda funny that as much as I loved to cook, I never went to culinary school. I took lots of local cooking classes, I think I was 12 years old when I started with culinary classes. I read and watched food TV a lot. Would beg my mom to drive to a “fancier” grocery store so I could hopefully find something new to learn about. When it came time for college, I went to the local culinary school and no joke, they told me not to waste my money. After touring the school and them asking a lot of questions, they told me that I knew so much of the basics, they actually recommended I just get a job in a kitchen. They even gave me a knife test! Asked me demo a couple of cuts and while not perfect, I guess they thought I knew enough. So instead of culinary school, I enrolled into community college to continue my education and started working. Took a job as a beverage cart drink girl on a golf course and in a few months I was line cook. During my four years there, I became kitchen manager and was even overseeing all the food for the PGA golf tournament that came through every year. My intro into catering was eight days straight of Breakfast, lunch, dinner and craft services for 1200 people. Talk about trial by fire! OMG I actually don’t know how I managed! How I lived through 4 years of those and why I stayed in this industry! ha!

Working and attending school, both full time, was exhausting! Life really took a turn when I decided to study abroad. I felt like I needed a break and London was calling, I had to answer. I was studying art history and business at The University of London by day, and eating my way around the city by night. Traveling to a different country every weekend (school weeks were only four days so each weekend was a nice three day to travel) I ate… a LOT! And learned so much. I’d ask so many questions, sometimes even go into a kitchen and ask if they could show me things, explain dishes, ingredients, whatever. I was there to learn so much more than what the University was gonna teach! I even told people that I was there doing research for my cookbook.

That wasn’t exactly a lie either. When I got home I started writing my cookbook “Easy Eats & Tipsy Treats”. I still had to finish up school but had gotten used to holding down two full-time jobs (school and work) I basically went back to that same schedule, except it was school and working on my book. When I decided to join the workforce again, I was still dreaming of London and my travels so I took at job at a local British pub. Seemed only fitting. This was far from my favorite job, but I really enjoyed that I could do specials and create new dishes and try them out on regulars. It was almost like being back in my kitchen in high school, feeding all the neighbor kids. haha

School done. Book finished and published. Ready for the “real world” … I applied for a line cook position at a new restaurant. Several interviews and cooking tests later; which seemed excessive for an intro position but I just kept going with it, I was hired for the CDC job! I honestly couldn’t believe it at the time. Looking back though, that is exactly what position I should’ve applied for in the first place. I had experienced difficulty getting into kitchens, mostly because I am female, so I didn’t even try for a higher up position. I’m happy that title was available, and the Executive chef saw my skills, my drive, my passion. Over the next six years, I became Executive chef at that restaurant, as well as the R & D/ CDC Chef for the second restaurant I opened with the group.

Years of working 6-7 days a week, 16- 18 hour days, even sleeping at the restaurants some nights… I was broken. I was tired. I was done working for this restaurant group who didn’t feed me and tell me I’m pretty. ha I needed more than just one week a year to travel. I wasn’t learning or growing, I was just picking up bad management habits. All the years of late nights, early mornings, no breaks, poor diet I was sick. I was in the worst health of my life and I needed a change.

Taking a break was the best thing I could have done. I didn’t break for long though. I lost 50 pounds and started working for Susan Feniger and Kajsa Alger at their Hollywood restaurant. Not full time. Not even part-time. Just for special events, extra hands. I was trying to be the person I needed when I ran kitchens. Having grown up watching Susan on TV (Too Hot Tamales) I was happy to have her in my life again. This time for real though! Not just on TV, but I was learning side by side, doing events with her. Feeling appreciated and heard. I always tell new cooks, if you’re not learning, you’re doing something wrong. I should’ve taken my own advice years earlier.

During this time, I started doing meal delivery for a few people. I changed my life and lost weight through diet, and others were interested too! Other meal delivery services left them wanting better meals. So my Harp & Hen Supper Club started to flourish. Totally different from running a restaurant. This was an entirely different set of skills that needed to be learned. I was happy to be cooking for others again though, and I wanted to cook for more! Funny enough, wanting to cook for more people, has led me to actually cook for less. having to cut way back on meal deliveries, so I could focus on the line of snack foods. I have kept a few of my favorite Supper Club/ meal delivery customers though, including The Queen herself! Queen Latifah is a Boss Babe who gives me strength!

I feel like everything I have done over the last 20 years has prepared me for the next stage. Passport Provisions was born for a few reasons. One was the lackluster bar snacks at local craft breweries and the other was to be able to share with friends on the road. Most of my friends live out of state and several friends are musicians with hectic touring schedules. Finding “catch up time” is difficult enough but there was never time to cook for them. I was already making one of the flavors, when I thought, I wonder if I could take some of my favorite meals and turn them into snacks! I absolutely could! So I ran with that! Panang Curry, Dirty Rice, Mole… it has been fun to create special flavors for special events and trying new things. However, with so many people shying away from both corn and sugar, no matter if it’s organic or not I kept searching for something else. Recently I have created a line of crackers that will be launching soon.

My husband and I live outside the city, in the ‘burbs and have two dogs, The Skipper and Ms. Peanut. I spend any free time traveling to explore the world… and traveling to see my favorite band who I love to cook for and feed backstage.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I honestly think I am my biggest obstacle. Sure I could talk about how my first job interview I was told off the record, “you’re never going to ever be hired in the back of the house. I’m sorry. But maybe find a different career to chase. No one will hire you. You are a liability. You’re female. White. Non-Spanish speaking. and to be honest, you’re not ugly.” Yeah, I actually had a hiring manager tell me this! I’m glad I didn’t get that job though. It would’ve just held me in a line cook position. It would’ve held me back. Instead, I got the job at the golf course and learned several jobs during my tenure there.

I think I am my biggest obstacle because I always think I need to learn more. I need more experience. I think I could always do better. For better or for worse I can overthink things. Which sometimes slows me down, but I still think it ends up for the best.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Passport Provisions – what should we know?
Not only do I do meal delivery as well as private events. (I love doing private dinner parties) but PASSPORT PROVISIONS is bringing wanderlust flavors home with our line of products. Craft Snacks, Global Granola and Kooky Crackers, were created to be able to share food with more people. Everything is shelf stable, dry packed and easy to take on the road and ironically reminds me of being on the road.

Craft Snacks came about because I noticed bar snacks were lacking at most of these craft breweries. So much care is given to these local beers, I felt like the same attention should be given to the snacks offered. All of the flavors are inspired by travel. One of the best sellers is Bourbon Street. Just like it’s namesake, It’s got a lot going on. Cajun spiced molasses caramel covering Puffed corn, pretzels and pecans. All flavors are vegan, several are gluten-free and all are made with as many organic ingredients as possible.

Every flavor of Global Granola is based on a favorite dessert. “Cause life’s uncertain, eat dessert first” ha! My favorite is the Linzer Torte Granola. Loaded with cranberries and almonds each bite takes me back to Bavaria.

The Kooky Crackers are the newest in the line up and are defiantly getting the most attention, even before they have officially been launched!. Featuring locally grown, heritage grain from Tehachapi Grain Project and taking me back to my roots in art school, these crackers are Kooky designed and globally flavored. My signature cracker is SEEDED SWIRL. Actually inspired by one of my favorite bands, Gogol Bordello. Everything bagel seed mix with a purple potato caraway swirl. Great for snacking alone, fantastic with beer & wine and super exciting on cheese boards! A couple are even in the works for a slightly sweeter treat to pair with coffee, tea, after dinner cocktails and wines and even for sweet cheese plates.

I had been wanting to work with my friends at Tehachapi Grain and utilize their grains. A shopping trip to a local cheese monger and seeing the lack of fun crackers on the shelf, I thought, this is it! This is what I can do to showcase these California heritage grains. I’m in the final stages of R&D and retail packaging. They will be available for wholesale soon in both retail and bulk packaging.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Integrity: I’ve made it a goal to use as much organic and GMO free ingredients as possible, in all my cooking. All of the Provisions from Passport are vegan too. I want everyone to be able to snack happy!

Empowerment: Snack happy, work happy, live happy. I am working on building a community of artists. Passport Provisions is more than just me… that’s the dream at least. I look forward to building a platform to help others follow their dreams. Woodworkers, musicians, painters… creative people seek out other creative people and we feed off each other.

Sincere enthusiasm: There is no hiding that I am excited about my food. I not only get excited about the flavors that I put together (as well as the designs of Kooky Crackers) but also local farms, artists, even musicians I work with and are friends with, who inspire me to be greater. To keep bringing happiness to others and overall make this world a better place. I really just want to keep feeding everyone and tell them they are pretty.

Giving back: Several times a year I volunteer with different nonprofits. Sometimes its just my time or with packages of products. I’ve taught classes, taken field trips and joined other chefs to do our part in helping others.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.passportprovisions.com
  • Email: Leslie@passportprovisions.com
  • Instagram: @passportprovisions @leslieoguinn @harpandhen

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1 Comment

  1. Felicia Villiers

    September 30, 2019 at 23:35

    Leslie is the real deal! Food talent, life passion! In love with her Passport Provisions

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