Our 2020 Like a Boss issue features the women changing how we cook and eat. Get to know innovator Ayesha Curry, the accidental brand builder.

ayesha curry
Photography by Mark Williams + Sara Hirakawa
| Credit: Photography by Mark Williams + Sara Hirakawa

Ayesha Curry has always had the hustle gene. Like most kids, she had a lemonade stand when she was young. "What's funny about it is that I lived in Toronto, so it was snowing most of the year," she says with a laugh. "You do what you've got to do!"

These days, Curry is operating on a much larger scale: The cookbook author/restaurant owner/meal-kit and cookware entrepreneur (and that's just the beginning) has become a household name, building a veritable business empire out of a passion project. "Food is queen for me—I started cooking when I was 12 and I fell in love with it," says the mother of three and wife of NBA superstar Stephen Curry.

She's come a long way since debuting her chops on YouTube in 2014 in what began as a channel of recipe vlogs for friends and family but now boasts 32 million views and 557,000 subscribers. Her first network appearance was on Rachael's show and she's been back for cooking segments with Rach seven times. Curry's eponymous cookware line is available at massive retailers like Target and Macy's, and she's doubled down in the lifestyle arena, adding affordable home goods (decorative cookie jars, embroidered throw pillows) to her product list. This May, she'll launch Sweet July, her own recipe-packed quarterly magazine with Meredith Corporation, parent company of this magazine.

So how does she decide what's worthy of her time with so many balls in the air? "I look at what I want in my own life," she says. "There's never a gimmick or people approaching me with a concept. Things incubate in my mind and I say, 'How can I execute this?' "

Even with all of that success under her belt, Curry considers herself a work in progress. At the moment, she's nerding out over Harvard Business School's online offerings: She credits their Management Essentials with teaching her how to be a better leader ("How you communicate within your work space is key," she says), and she's currently knee-deep in the Entrepreneurship Essentials course. "I'm learning so much about how to scale a business," she says. Considering her track record thus far, Harvard could probably learn a few tricks from her. "It was never the goal to build an empire," she says. "When that's the endgame, I think you lose sight of what matters. It's important to build your business model around passion."

And some lessons you can't learn in school. A long list of mentors inspired her: chef Michael Mina, her partner in the International Smoke restaurant chain; our very own Rachael Ray, who "really wrapped her arms around me, and that's something that I'll always hold near and dear"; and Michelle Obama, who "broke all the rules," says Curry. "And just from a philanthropic side of things—she supported healthy eating and activity for children. We're really aligned." Indeed. Whether partnering with No Kid Hungry to end childhood hunger or working with her husband to give kids access to nutritious foods via their own nonprofit, Eat. Learn. Play., Curry's every maneuver is mission-based. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, by press time the Currys had donated one million meals to Oakland schools and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Feeding America. "I realize what a vessel for change food can be," she says. "It is a love language that brings people together."

Of course, when you're pulled in a billion different directions, even a true career calling can lose its romance. Curry knows how lucky she is to have a strong support system in place, including her mother (a role model who's run her own hair salon for 40 years) and her husband. "As women, we always have those moments when we feel like, 'Should I be doing this?' 'Am I giving my kids enough time?' " she says. "Stephen is so supportive. He's like, 'Honey, it's three days. It's going to be fine; we'll hold it down.' "

Where Curry's next move might take her, time will tell. She'd like to open more International Smoke restaurants, but she's got other goals, too. "I'd love to host Saturday Night Live," she admits. "Now that's bucket list!"

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue. Get the magazine here