On a Friday night in Los Angeles (Nov. 4), chefs and former rival gang members Malachi Jenkins — otherwise known as Chef Spanky and a member of the Crips — and Roberto Smith, a.k.a. News and a member of the Pirus (Bloods) — are chilling at their Compton crib, winding down after a long day of cooking.
Raised in the CPT, both Spank and News — who met through a mutual friend — possessed the hustler’s spirit. “I always won every seller contest at school. We had to sell candy or books, newspapers, whatever the school had us selling I always used to win,” recalled Jenkins, whose mother worked two jobs. “I used to hustle working around my auntie house trying to get a little money vacuuming floors, cleaning up, washing cars. Always been a hustler — that’s always been instilled in me.” Smith notes how his uncle Billy, whose hustle in the streets was instrumental in inspiring him to do better for himself. “He became a millionaire off of hustling so I looked up to him,” he said.
Both were introduced to cooking at a young age. Jenkins remembers whipping up meals in his YMCA camp and Boy Scout days, saying, “I actually made some decent spaghetti.” He gives props to his family, particularly his grandmother who cooked around him and encouraged him to refine his culinary skills. At 15, Smith said the first dish was tacos and enchiladas.
Selling drugs and moving with gangs became an option given the allure of quick and easy money. However, Smith says his illegal hobby got to the point where he knew his lifestyle had to change. “Once I started going to jail for just being outside and hanging out,” he says. Jenkins took steps in the right direction early on going to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, but the death of a friend and taking time off made re-enrollment difficult. He explains, “I was going for my associate’s degree and [the institute] took the [program] out and some of the other classes and said we could only earn a certificate so I was hot.”
Still, Jenkins was able to parlay his situation into a business that worked for him and Smith. Coming from different gang affiliations, the pair says that food and women cemented their bond. Smith also saw Jenkins’ business savvy. “I was on Instagram selling clothes and I would always keep up with bro page, having him post stuff. Because he had so many followers, I knew he could sell it on his page,” he said. Jenkins would also share his delicacies on Instagram, setting off comments from followers asking to buy the food and how much catering would cost. When Jenkins came home from Vegas around the end of 2012, Roberto pitched him on starting a catering business.
Trap Kitchen was born.
Their first meal, comprised of chicken and shrimp enchiladas, netted the duo over 300 dollars in an hour. Making a hefty amount of money in a short amount of time without participating in illegal street business attracted the two. “We sit and daydream about that shit — literally sit in a little kitchen, smoking, just counting our little cash like, ‘Look, bro. Everyday, it’s going up,” says Jenkins. “I’m used to having 200 to 300 dollars on deck and now I got 2000 to 3000 dollars in a week and we buying shoes, clothes, jewelry every other day.”
The two used the earnings from initial sales to flip meals for more customers. “We were doing breakfast, then we used that money to make a dinner. Sometimes we would cook two to three times in a day depending on what we made.” These days, the culinary tag team diversify the menu daily and post pictures of the day’s specials on the Trap Kitchen Instagram. Followers can call or text to place an order. Their most popular order is the Pineapple Boat, a $25 dish made with lobster shrimp and king crab, doused with Sriracha and teriyaki sauce on top of white rice placed into half of a pineapple.
TODAY 3pm #PineAppleFridays #DeadliestCatch Lobster Shrimp and King Crab Boat !?25$ ?!! 3pm #pineAppleFridays —-Lobster&ShortRibs 20$ ….Shrimp,Chicken,Salmon single meat 10$ …any two (shrimp,Chicken,or salmon) 15$….All 3 meats 20$ …..pineapple comes with free Beverage …CALL OR TEXT (323)879-5898 to place an order for PickUp/Delivery (2 or more orders minimum for delivery required ) + Fee ….text for location
Soon after the neighborhood got wind of Trap Kitchen’s impeccable service, celebrities caught on to the food craze. Tyrese was an early client, and now the duo boasts a star-studded clientele including Justin Bieber, Dave Chappelle, Chris Brown, Common (pictured above), Tyga, Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner, Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Post Malone, The Roots and August Alsina. (Kendrick Lamar has put out the offer to them to cater his wedding but the rapper hasn’t set a date.)
One memory that sticks out is the day they met Kobe Bryant in the kitchen at Snoop Dogg’s compound. Jenkins recalls, “[Kobe] goes busting through the door. Big ol’ smile on his face with the cameras behind him. Snoop talking shit, ‘I told y’all it was trap kitchen!’ Kobe was happy to see us and we were happy to see him. We slide him a pineapple boat and he already knew who we were as he seen us on the news. We exchanged information with his manager. He came and asked for another one to take home to his wife. That felt really good that he enjoyed the food.”
Looking to the near future, Jenkins and Smith plan to release a cookbook, a clothing line and a cookware line in partnership with Chefman, a sponsorship with vegan company Beyond Meat, a possible show and a brick-and-mortar in Inglewood. The two are in talks with investors for the storefront and wants to make sure they don’t go “Hollywood on everyone.” But their main mission is keeping the peace despite their affiliations.
“We still active members, but in a positive manner,” says Jenkins. “We go speak at high school and to the juvenile hall kids and at-risk teens. We pushing this positivity. We made a way for ourselves out of the thick of the streets. By the grace of God, he gave us a plan to do what we doing now. We following the plan.”