Sita Lewis may be a successful television producer, but it is her side hustle these days that is grabbing folks’ attention. Lewis, who is a producer on “America’s Got Talent,” is also co-host of “SinfullyGood TV,” where she and her partner and culinary TV personality Lisa Johnson Smith whip up a bunch of fun along with delicious dishes for their online show.
Her alter ego, MamaSita, has a life of her own. But a cooking career was actually the furthest thing from Lewis’ mind while growing up. “When I was about 10 years old, my father started encouraging me to hang out in the kitchen to watch my mom cook. He actually pushed me there without a choice. I hated that!” says Lewis, whose father was legendary boxing promoter and manager Butch Lewis. “I couldn’t understand why I was there watching… We grew up with six kids in the house and I was the only girl. So little did I know my father was actually trying to instill qualities in me that would make me a well-rounded female. By the time I was 12 years old I had become my mother’s sous chef. Chopping, grating, prepping… that was my job. Again, I hated it. But she got amazing accolades for her homemade dishes. And I never got recognized for my hard work in the background.”
Her cooking venture seemed predestined–her nickname, Mamasita–sounds like it was meant for a chef. “I’m half Italian (mom) and half Black (dad) so when I was born, my dad said I looked Puerto Rican and at that point he gave me the nick name, “MAMASITA.” Lol!!!,” jokes Lewis. “I didn’t even know my real name until I was much older in grade school. All I knew since birth was MamaSita! Eventually the mama part fell off and everyone in the world called me Sita. Only my closest friends even know my real name. I was named after my father’s grandmother, who raised him. And we’ll keep that name a secret.”
Surprisingly, though surrounded by sports, that field didn’t catch her interest. “I always enjoyed attending sporting events, but never had a personal interest in making a career out of it,” she shares. “My father always saw boxing as a “MAN” sport. He definitely saw woman and men in much different roles in all areas of life. He didn’t even allow me to attend a boxing match unless he was the promoter, and even then, I practically had to be shadowed by security. He felt like a boxing show was a place for a bunch of men… no place for a real lady.”
However, Lewis did get bitten by the entertainment aspect of sports. “Being surrounded by the sport of boxing for so many years, it put the entertainment bug in me. I came straight out of Georgetown University and began producing TV shows at BET,” she says. “It’s basically just like putting on boxing shows, but you’re featuring something different on the stage. So in that regard I followed in his footsteps. I love to entertain a crowd and put on shows… mainly behind the scenes. I create concepts and then I bring my ideas to life on the screen. I love it!”
Cooking had become an enjoyable outlet for Lewis. She came up with the idea of launching a reastuant called SinfullyGood, later opting for a TV show instead.
“No matter what I was doing in my TV career, cooking gave me a sense of relief, creativity, and peace. I love spending time in my kitchen. I love the kind of homemade comfort food that I grew up cooking. And when people eat my food and spend time with me they all say they feel better than when they came. That makes me happy! I wanted the restaurant to be a combination of healthy good food and sinfully decadent food. That way, patrons will have a choice,” says Lewis, who worked at NYC’s famous soul food restaurant The Pink Teacup, owned by a friend, from 2010 to 2011 as administrative marketing and branding consultant.
Following the experience at Pink Teacup Lewis sought to combine her love for TV and cooking. And it was her father’s death that pushed Lewis to create SinfullyGood TV. “SinfullyGood TV was born after the passing of my father. Once he passed away at 65 years young, I began thinking about how short life really is and that we should ALL be doing what we love everyday of our lives,” she explains. “After acquiring cooking school against my will as a kid, I developed a love for cooking over the years. Later, I enjoyed making people happy with my recipes. Because I love people so much and interacting with people, I used my food recipes to bring people together, friends, family, strangers, it doesn’t matter. Everyone I meet is welcome to eat at my table. I wanted to eventually open a restaurant after my TV career.”
And for the venture she looked to her friend, Johnson Smith, who has years of TV experience as an on-air personalty on various networks. “My best friend Lisa of 23 years and former colleague and TV host is much more health conscious than I am and she cooks for her family of five every night. So I came up with the idea to put together a TV show showcasing our personalities and our Sinfully Good recipes. That is how the concept of SinfullyGood was born. And because our personalities are polar opposite of each other, we usually entertain everyone who’s around us. It’s a chemistry that people love to watch. We love each other so much, yet we’re incredibly different,” says Lewis.
But first they gathered some professional cooking experience. “We took classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC in order to brush up on our knife skills, and other professional culinary skills. We then put the treatment together for the show and people loved the idea,” says Lewis. The pair believed n the idea so much they backed the venture themselves. “Eventually we produced a pilot that we can shop around to various networks and use the relationships we have to get the meetings. We funded the pilot ourselves. It didn’t cost much because we know so many TV production people… they’re our friends. If you’ve been in the business as long as we have, you’ll notice that most of your friends are in the same field so they gave us great prices for their services.”
After debuting the show online, Lewis knew she and Johnson Smith were onto something. “The online response to SinfullyGoodTV, the pilot, we call it the sizzle reel, has been overwhelmingly good. However, in order to get a TV show on the air, you need millions of followers, usually mixed with a little conflict, and some serious background experience. TV networks depend on ratings and they will not take a chance on any show unless they can guarantee viewers to their advertisers,” says Lewis. “We are in the process of building our fans so that we can sell our product to the networks. We have a few production companies and networks interested in developing SinfullyGood but we have to marry the two to land the best possible deal for ourselves.”
That’s what the pair plans to do–along with many other things. Johnson Smith and Lewis have lots planned for 2014. “In 2014, we plan to create a cookbook, be active bloggers, and continue to post cooking recipe videos, and push those in hopes of getting our fan base up to convince a TV network of our value. The show will be more on the lines of a talk show in the kitchen… Two girlfriends, best friends, chopping it up in the kitchen talking about everything from having kids and relationships to plastic surgery and beauty products,” says Lewis. “We will feature celebrity guests, experts, and girlfriends who will also sit at our table and share their personal stories. It will be like cooking, talk, and reality all in one.”
Lewis says she looks to take SinfullyGood TV to the next level. “In 2014 we want to land a real TV production deal that will put us on the map as the next hottest TV home chefs. There is no show that exists today where you get two ladies in the kitchen doing what they do together, sharing funny stories and recipes that most women ages 25-55 can relate to. We want to be that show,” she says.
Though Johnson Smith and Lewis are facing some challenges, Lewis says they’re in it for the long haul.
“It’s a slow process because we have to work to maintain a living all while developing SinfullyGood, but in time, we will get there as long as we don’t give up,” says Lewis. “I will never give up because it’s what I love to do and it’s the very fabric of my being.”