Lorenzo Espada ’20 knew he wanted to be a chef since he was six years old: “I used to always watch cooking shows, while also learning from my mother and grandmother. Then I just started trial and error.”
That childhood aspiration has now become a reality with his first published cookbook, a massive social media following, and even an appearance on “The Jennifer Hudson Show.” Espada has found his way and come full circle, but one important stop on that journey was UNC Greensboro.
THE PERFECT RECIPE
“I started out as a kinesiology major, wanting to go into physical therapy,” says Espada, who is from Gastonia, North Carolina. “Then, I had my daughter in 2019 and needed to transition to online education. That’s when I found the integrated professional studies program.”
Espada earned a bachelor of science degree in professional studies from UNCG’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2020. He credits the program with helping him earn his degree while juggling the demands of raising a family. The professional studies degree program is fully online and designed for working professionals to help them develop depth in their area of interest.
“I was working at the time and focusing on that degree helped me settle down and figure out what direction I wanted to go,” he says. “It was perfect for me.”
It was also at UNCG where he started to polish his professional cooking skills – selling hot meals to students.
“I had this idea around how college students can’t get that home-cooked meal every weekend,” he says. “So, I was trying to figure out how to incorporate that sort of nice Sunday meal experience.”
EATING WITH ZO
Soon, Espada was doing catering, planning brunches, and organizing private dinners. All the while, he was also posting on social media, updating his followers on his recipes.
“I was just trying to get my feet wet and make content,” he says. “I really didn’t know what I was doing. So, it took a long time to get where I am today.”
After graduating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Espada zeroed in on his cooking aspirations and social media efforts. Now, he has about 2 million followers on his Instagram and TikTok all focused on one rule: keep it simple.
“I want to show you how to make amazing recipes that not only look good, but are easy to make and taste good,” he says. “I don’t believe in making something that takes five million steps and then you come out with the wrong product at the end.”
SOMETHIN’ OUTTA NOTHIN’
Espada also started writing e-cookbooks to share his recipes, but in 2023 he went offline and onto bookstore shelves with his first physical cookbook “Somethin’ Outta Nothin’.”
“It was the first time I ever was able to have a physical product in people’s hands and homes,” he says. “It was amazing. It’s still mind blowing to me.”
When designing the cookbook, Espada kept in mind his theme of simplicity and ease.
“I didn’t want it to come off as Michelin 5 Star restaurant plating quality. I wanted it to look nice, but at the same time, look like it could be in your kitchen,” he says.
The cookbook features 100 different “creative comfort food” recipes, including twice-baked loaded chicken and broccoli potatoes, crab cake stuffed cheddar biscuits, and peach cobbler pound cake.
Jammin’ with JHud
Espada even had the chance to share his sweet potato stuffed French toast recipe with Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner Jennifer Hudson when he was invited on her daytime talk show.
“It was a surreal moment,” he says. “Jennifer Hudson was amazing. It was a moment where I was able to go on national television and showcase my story, showcase who I am with my recipes, and just have fun,” he says. “It’s just this energetic and authentic moment. I’m all about authenticity.”
“The University education got me to where I am today,” he says. “I turned 18 the day I got to college and started developing my social and problem-solving skills, then learning how to start a business. I definitely credit UNCG for that.”
Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Lorenzo Espada