Lazarus Lynch is only 22, but he’s already making waves in the culinary world. Lazarus, whose father owned a restaurant, now offers healthier takes on classic soul food on his website, Son of a Southern Chef. He has appeared on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, and he’s working on a cookbook. Unsurprisingly, he’s also a 4‑H alum.
Lazarus, who grew up in New York City, got involved with 4‑H as a sophomore in high school when he joined the group for a week in Washington, D.C., with other young leaders. “I remember on the last day, I cried because it was over,” he said. “I never looked back from there.”
At 22, Lazarus is now a youth member of the board of National 4‑H Council. “This is a group you’ll feel connected to forever,” he said. “I have lifelong friends because of 4‑H.”
We talked to Lazarus about how being a part of 4‑H helped him get where he is today.
How did being a part of 4‑H help you become a better leader?
Lazarus Lynch (LL): It taught me to be conscious of the world around me. That means taking note of the issues and the people around you and compassionately responding. Because being a leader is really about serving others.
4‑H also taught me how important listening is. When I traveled around New York, I would listen to the stories of kids who grew up on farms and whose parents were in 4‑H. I didn’t have that story, but I knew I could learn from them. Because at the end of the day we were all there for the same reason: We believed our voices mattered, and we believed in the ability of young people to respond to issues that mattered to us.
What makes 4‑H unique when it comes to growing true leaders?
LL: 4‑H believes in the possibility of young people. It teaches kids that we’re powerful, that we’re not broken, that we can do things—we can do great things.
It’s not just another after school program. It’s about creating a conversation that reflects service and that really inspires you to speak up. We were thinking about issues that others kids maybe had never thought about. Like, how will we feed 7 billion people by the year 2050? Or how do we use robotics and STEM to create different kinds of technologies for people with disabilities? Those were questions we were asking ourselves in high school.
How is what you learned in 4‑H helping you become a leader in the culinary world now?
LL: 4‑H has taught me those soft skills you need to lead, like commitment and follow-through and responsibility. For example, my website, Son of a Southern Chef, requires my dedication and commitment. I think some people think it kind of happens organically, but there’s actually a lot of work that goes into it. So I use those skills every day.
It has also given me opportunities. Being a youth board member gives me a platform that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I’ve met other board members I would not have gotten to meet otherwise. I’ve also worked for the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., where I was learning about the farm bill or speaking one-on-one with the secretary of agriculture.
Your father was a chef and a restaurant-owner, and you learned a lot from him. You even called your website “Son of a Southern Chef.” In what ways was he a role model for you when it comes to leadership?
LL: My father was a business-owner all my life. He only ever worked for himself. He had a sense of confidence and leadership that I took for granted for many years.
He taught me about believing in yourself, believing that your dreams matter, and believing that you’re capable of pursuing your dreams. My dad barely passed high school because in his senior year my oldest brother was born. That was a real challenge for him, and he overcame that. He didn’t relent. He went to work, and then he started his own business when he was, like, 22.
He showed me a lot about being a man— what a man looks like today: Someone who takes care of their family, who provides, who is a good listener, who is a good father. He was just second to none, and that’s the kind of dad I want to be for my kids one day.