By Neil Woulfe - Radar Senior News Director
Hollywood up-and-comer Jesse Brune wears many hats, one of which happens to be a chef’s hat on OWN’s Home Made Simple -- and that’s just one reason why he’s landed on Radar’s “One To Watch” list.
The handsome, openly gay Seattle native came to Hollywood at 19, hoping to make it as an actor. He found some success, but at 24, he got a hard lesson in the realities of Hollywood when his advisers told him to go back into the closet in order to win bigger roles. He refused.
Jesse persevered and, in 2007, at the age of 26 , he was cast on Bravo’s reality TV show Work Out, featuring fitness maverick Jackie Warner and her team of colorful trainers at the Sky Sports and Spa. (He’s also a certified personal trainer.)
But fame can be fleeting. After the show ended, in 2009, Jesse decided to move back to Seattle to launch a business venture. The economy immediately turned bad and his investor disappeared. He was broke, terrified, and forced to stay with his grandparents. He knew he had to turn his life around.
Now at 31, Jesse’s back at the top of his game - both physically and mentality. Whether he’s sharing his favorite recipes on Home Made Simple or helping to feed people’s hearts and minds as a lifestyle coach, he’s taking Hollywood by storm -- and doing it his way.
Radar: You grew up in Seattle and like so many young people came to Los Angeles hoping to find fame and fortune. How old were you when you moved to Hollywood and what was your original goal?
Jesse: Like many kids with BIG personalities, my plan was to be an actor. I studied theatre at CalArts in Valencia, CA for two years then made the big move to Los Angeles to focus on commercial work. I had a little success but nothing on a grand-scale. When I was twenty-four I signed with a successful management company that represented a lot of young talent. One day they called me into the office and sat me down, then closed the door behind them. They informed me that they saw real potential in me, but unless I was willing to go into the closet, they didn’t think I had a chance at being “A BIG STAR”. I was so devastated by the thought of having to go into the closet that I didn’t know what to do. I told them I would try it on and see how that felt like, but something happened to me –I lost my ability to perform. I became so self-conscious that I would freeze up whenever I had to do an audition. It took me a week to realize that I couldn’t live that way. I had been out of the closet since I was sixteen and had no intention of going back in.
I always had a “chef fantasy”, kind of my back-burner dream job. The same week the management company asked me to go into the closet I saw Robert Altman’s film “The Company”. James Franco starred a Neve Campbell’s sexy chef boyfriend. Seeing James in a chef’s jacket made something click in my brain and a light bulb went off. I called the management company the following day and said, “I think you guys are the devil and I can’t work with you anymore.” I was enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu the next week.
Onward and Upward, I say.
Radar: How did you land a spot on BRAVO’s reality TV show Work Out, which featured openly gay gym owner Jackie Warner and her group of colorful trainers?
Jesse: To earn money while in culinary school I got certified to become a personal trainer and also taught classes at Barry’s Boot Camp. I figured it was a good way to avoid gaining a lot of weight while in French cooking school. I loved teaching the group classes because I always liked to work a crowd, to me it felt like sweaty cabaret or something. I developed a bit of a following doing the boot camps and one of my clients knew the producers of “Workout” were looking for the young gay component for the show. She talked me into meeting the producers.
At first I was apprehensive. I was committed to developing my culinary career because I was in my last month of school and just spent a lot of money to get through all the classes. The producers said they would showcase my cooking talents on the show if I agreed to sign up for the job. That made sense to me. I agreed to do the show and the rest was history.
Radar: Workout certainly featured a lot of drama. What was the craziest thing you saw happen during your run on the show?
Jesse: I think the craziest thing that happened was the very sad experience of losing our co-star Doug Blasdell. I never saw it coming, he was the picture of health and then suddenly got sick. Within a month he passed away. Through all the catfights and lesbian make-out sessions something very difficult and very real surfaced. It shed a lot of light as to what was really important to showcase. The next season had a little more heart, I think. There was still drama as someone got fired on the show, but any bad behavior was just an attempt to create something interesting in the hopes of pro-longing the show’s run. In the end it didn’t work.
The last season of the show I really wised-up. My main story line revolved around the evolution of my client who needed to lose over a hundred pounds. After Doug’s death, I lost interest in the needless drama that is expected from a Bravo docu-series. I decided to focus on my client and really commit to supporting her. In the end, she totally transformed her life and I got to walk away from the experience with my career and integrity intact.
Radar: So, it’s the question everyone always wants to know -- how real is reality TV, in your experience?
Jesse: Meh, depends. The job of a reality show producer is to create an intriguing story that people are interested in watching. Sometimes, reality isn’t very fascinating so situations get manipulated in order to create a little excitement. Often I find that the scenarios are false and (usually) the reactions are genuine. However, I think you can tell when someone is faking it.
Truth be told, I don’t watch reality shows, especially docu-dramas. I don’t like to watch people be mean to one another. The stuff sucks you in and melts your brain. Naturally there are exceptions, but for the most part it feels like some crazy form of medication. People watch it to zone out and not think about what’s really happening in their lives. To each their own, I guess.
Radar: Overall, was it a positive experience being on the show? Any regrets exposing your life on camera?
Jesse: I grew up on that show. I remember watching the second season and thinking, “Who IS that person?” I didn’t seem happy or grounded or kind, all attributes that I aspired to be. Sometimes it takes looking at yourself (in my case literally) and deciding if what you see is what you desire to be. Then you can choose to make a change. And that’s what I did; I made a change.
Radar: In 2009, at the age of 28-years old, you say you lost everything. What happened?
Jesse: I moved to Seattle to launch a business concept that really inspired me at the time. Within a week of arriving the economy tanked and my investor disappeared leaving me with a whole bunch of debt. I was terrified. Poor contracts, shotty legal advice, and impatience all created the perfect formula for failure. I was twenty-eight, totally broke, scared out of my mind, and back in Seattle staying with my grandparents. I didn’t know what to do.
Radar: How did that experience change your life?
Jesse: I knew I had two options for proceeding. I could use this situation as an excuse to be a victim of circumstance and get bitter about life or I could use this an opportunity to clear my slate and start from scratch. I decided to go with option #2. I loaded my car up and moved back to L.A. My friends really showed up and supported me through the first couple months. As I was re-inventing my business, I took the downtime as an opportunity to go within and explore spirituality. I began to study different forms of Buddhism and meditation. I was chanting and meditating with a mantra. I would got to lectures about spiritual living, attended New Thought services, and was constantly reading books on different spiritual philosophies. I was a man on a mission; determined to experience happiness and freedom, no matter what my life looked like.
Soon, something miraculous occurred. I began to feel good, better than I have ever felt in fact. I had no money, I wasn’t on television anymore, I didn’t have a boyfriend and yet I never felt better. I knew I was onto something special. The only thing I could think to do with this new discovery was share it with people.
And that’s what I did.
Radar: In a previous conversation, you told me that you’ve made the commitment that “only good things will happen to you.” How do you incorporate that philosophy into your daily life?
Jesse: In my experience anything that seems gut wrenching and painful at one time eventually turns out to be your greatest teacher down the road, if you let it. I call this idea, “The Ex-Boyfriend Effect”. My last serious boyfriend taught me so much about myself. Naturally I had to work through a lot of pain and hurt feelings, but eventually I discovered how to really forgive someone and more importantly how to forgive myself. I learned how to feel complete without a partner. I learned how to respect myself and ask for what I like in a relationship, these are important things to learn. So, out of a seemingly negative experience comes a wealth of blessings. Get it, “The Ex-Boyfriend Effect”.
So now, whenever something difficult or challenging presents itself to me, I always know that there is something to be learned from the experience. Even though it may be difficult to get through I allow it to be a positive experience.
Radar: Tell me about your work with Lifestyle Transformation Coaching. Is there a typical client, and explain how it works.
Jesse: My typical client is someone who is ready to live an extraordinary life and willing to do the work that comes along with that commitment. Many people come to me at their wit’s end, knowing that they can’t go on living with the stress, aggravation, and sadness that they carry with them every day. Our thoughts and feelings can get heavy and materialize as health issues.
I support people in developing a routine that supports listening to and respecting their feelings and bodies. We perform an entire lifestyle overhaul. We develop healthy eating and fitness regimes, we incorporate meditation into the daily routine, and then restructure schedules to prioritize activities that feed the soul. Many folks just don’t know where to begin or how to do it, so I get to guide them through the process. It’s a good life.
Radar: Along that same line, Project Service L.A. is also very close to your heart. Tell me about it and how its changed your life.
Jesse: Project: Service L.A. is the trans-denominational spiritual community that I co-founded w/ my teacher and friend, Jennifer Hadley, an Agape-licensed minister. The community is focused towards LGBTQI’s our friends, families, and allies. We meet at HERE Lounge in West Hollywood, which is a gay bar next door to The Abbey.
Rebuilding my life after the Seattle experience inspired me to create an organization that supported people in loving themselves. I had such a miraculous experience of transforming my life that I knew I had to share what I learned with others. I truly believe that loving ourselves unconditionally is the greatest contribution we can offer the planet.
In the gay community, (really in ALL communities) this is such an important time to learn how to love ourself, no matter what. Moving through a civil rights movement has the potential to bring up a lot anger and pain. When we stand in love we serve as an example for those who seem to “oppose” us, we teach each other what a gay family really is, instead of fighting back and matching their anger and rage. If we are really interested in supporting the evolution of America, then I feel it’s important to do so from a loving heart. This approach gives us the opportunity to create change that lasts, change that is worth working towards.
Radar: In addition to your spiritual work, your physical wellbeing also remains a priority in your life. Tell me about the regular spin classes you lead -- they’re pretty unique, right?
Jesse: Ha, yes! They are definitely an experience. I love spinning, it’s a thorough workout and when the class is lead by the right instructor (I’m pointing to myself) it can be a sweaty rock extravaganza that will blow your mind and lift your ass. How great is that? Many people use my spin class as their hour of “moving meditation” – and opportunity to spin through limiting thoughts and embrace the power that lives within. When our exercise is a symbol for our lives, then we motivate ourselves to work through challenges, complete the task at hand, and leave feeling accomplished. Now that is living a powerful life! If you were standing in front of me I would probably try to high-five you at this point.
Radar: In addition to your work as a lifestyle coach and trainer, you’re also a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and appear on OWN’s Home Made Simple. Tell me about the show.
Jesse: The show is a gentle combo of Trading Spaces and Extreme Home Makeover… and also features a chef. The program is hosted by Paige Davis, who is the queen of home-makeover shows. I am the resident chef on the show. The basic idea is that there is a family with an interesting back-story that could us a little TLC. The Home Made Simple crew goes in and renovates a room of their home and teaches them new recipes or helps them plan the perfect party, etc. It’s a show that most moms go crazy for; they love this kind of stuff!
I loved working on this show for a few reasons. First, I got to be associated with Oprah and support a brand that is creating some quality, life-affirming programming. Second, this was the first experience I had of working intimately with families. Lastly, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of kids; it was kind of my “niche” on the show – teaching kids to cook. It was a powerful message that OWN supported by having families willingly and lovingly leave their kids in the care of a grown gay man. It was a subtle retort to all the hateful messages that have been so rampant during the marriage-equality movement. Many conservative organizations have warned about the dangers of exposing children to homosexuals and there I was making pizzas and sushi with nine year olds and having a blast. Even more powerful was the fact that many of the parents that left their children in my care were Christian, which is such a great statement to America saying, “Not all Christians are biggots”. We are all people learning with every step and sometimes, like in the case of Home Made Simple, we get to have a lot of fun along the way.
Radar: Do you have a favorite dish you like to cook?
Jesse: Funny you should mention that. I just found out that I am so allergic to gluten that I have to immediately cut it out of all my dishes. So on doctor’s orders I am completely re-inventing my cooking format and revising my recipes. I’m not sure anymore what my favorite dish is, but I will keep you posted. If you check in on my blog, I am sure you will be seeing some new gluten-free creations. I am committed to making healthy food delicious… but really delicious, not just good enough for being healthy. I’m a man on a mission.
Radar: Since you are involved in so many different projects, how do you see them all coming together as you continue to define your ‘brand?’
Jesse: My brand revolves around living an inspired life. I made a commitment to learn how to love myself unconditionally and share what I learn along the way with others with the intention of inspiring them to make the same commitment for their life. What we eat, how we exercise, and the time we commit to getting quiet and going within all support our personal evolution. Since I live in Los Angeles I focus mostly on supporting city dwellers in finding peace amongst all the noise and distractions that come along with urban settings. Young professionals and artists often prioritize their ambitious pursuits and forget to honor themselves first. What they don’t realize is that focusing on taking care of yourself saves you so much time in the long run. When you’re happy and centered, life flows with so much ease and grace. I offer tools to support people in creating empowering schedules and habits that support them in achieving their goals and aspirations.
So, I intend to learn more and share more. Every day brings a new opportunity to shine some light and share some love and if that is what I get to do with my life and career then I think that I am on the right track.
Radar: Finally, where do you see yourself in the next five-to-ten years?
Jesse: Man. I use to be able to answer that question so easily, but after the experiences my life has brought me I know that everything can turn around in an instant. I would like to have a family of my own, husband and kids; the whole nine yards. I intend to continue evolving my life and my brand and feel that I am leaning into shifting my focus mostly towards living a spiritually rich life. Like I said before I will continue to learn and share, and I am wise enough to know to just go with the flow and say “Yes” when inspiration strikes.