Charlie Regalado just assumed Avery Sebastian was lying.
Sebastian, a former football player at Cal and Notre Dame, and currently a mid-market account executive at Upwork in Chicago, told his friend, Regalado, that he was a good cook.
Regalado figured Sebastian was exaggerating his talents, so he put him to the test.
First, Sebastian made a stuffed lobster dish.
“It looked like he knew what he was doing in the kitchen,” Regalado said, “so I was like, ‘All right. We’ll see how this really goes.’ The next thing you know, the lobster was done and I took a bite out of it. I was like, ‘Yo. That’s really, really good.’”
Then Sebastian whipped up a banana pudding for dessert.
“That tasted amazing — like nothing I ever tasted before,” Regalado said. “I’ve had banana pudding before, and it definitely beats all the banana puddings I’ve tried by a mile.”
Now Sebastian welcomes challenges.
“I tell my friends all the time, if you guys want me to cook something, I could literally cook anything you guys want,” Sebastian said.
Sebastian doesn’t have any formal training as a chef. He learned to fend for himself during his high school years at McDonough (Ga.) Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy. If his single mother was too busy with work to make dinner, he’d step up and make meals. At UC Berkeley and Notre Dame, Sebastian started expanding his cooking skills as a way to save money. Then he started sharing meals with friends and receiving positive feedback.
Those experiences have given him the confidence to keep trying to impress. He takes lessons from YouTube and Instagram and various recipes online and in cookbooks to build his repertoire.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Regalado said. “Everything he makes turns into gold. It’s amazing how he does everything.”
Word started to travel fast around Sebastian’s friend groups. He started having friends asking him to cook for small gatherings. Regalado even had Sebastian cook a meal for his aunt, uncle and three cousins.
Sebastian received more inquiries when he began sharing his creations on Instagram. The more than 4,500 followers on his personal page (@lalumiere_noir) can see his cooking intermittently through his Instagram stories. Sebastian also created an account specifically for his work with food: @saveryeatz.
Last week, Sebastian shared a recipe for grilled pineapple and jerk shrimp in creamy polenta topped with mango salsa.
“Every time I post a food story, I get anywhere from 5-20 responses just on the food,” Sebastian said. “The great thing about social media is it gives you some insights into what people are liking, what people are interested in.
“If data or insights are telling you one thing, it’s probably a good sign to actually start running with these things.”
What started as a hobby has turned into a potential side hustle, and Sebastian has plenty of ideas for what could come next.
“My whole thing is I just want to enhance the whole food experience that people have,” Sebastian said. “Whether that’s creating cookbooks, creating mobile apps to enhance the food and in-home experience, that’s what I’m going to try to do. A lot of different avenues and verticals that I’m looking to break into.”
Sebastian, who majored in sociology and communications at UC Berkeley and received his Master of Science in Management from the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, continues to work at Upwork as part of the technology sales team. There he connects businesses with remote workers for web-based projects like app development and social media marketing.
“It couldn’t be me any more fitting for today’s times as companies still have to get work done,” Sebastian said. “I’m doing this all remotely, so it’s really awesome and a really good time to be able to impact a lot of these businesses today.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sebastian misses being able to eat at Chicago restaurants like Maple & Ash and Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf. But he already cooked for himself at home pretty frequently before the city’s stay-at-home order. He considers seafood and pasta his niche as a cook.
While stuck at home, Sebastian has even more time to come up with potential projects. He even mentioned putting together a cooking game show.
“I’m in my apartment by myself, so all I have right now after work is time to either cook or think about additional ideas that I could implement,” Sebastian said. “Day in and day out, there’s been a lot of new ideas. But really the focus right now is how I can elevate my cooking game and come up with some ways that I can essentially help others that have an interest in cooking.”
Sebastian’s football career came to an end at Notre Dame. Following an injury-riddled career at Cal, Sebastian played two seasons with the Irish. His first season at ND in 2015 was ended by a broken foot in the season opener. He started at safety in the 2016 opener at Texas but was relegated to a reserve role for the rest of the year.
It was also at Notre Dame where Sebastian first received encouragement that his cooking could be something more than a hobby.
“Once I got to Notre Dame,” Sebastian said, “everyone was like, ‘Avery, you can kind of cook. You should broaden your horizons and do a little bit more with this.’
Right when I graduated, I was like, ‘Let me pick up this cooking and see where this takes me.’
“Ever since then, people have really been enjoying it. I think there’s a huge opportunity for me to be able to do more.”