Chefs of Chef Works: June 2016
Chef Tamara WesterHold
Question 1: Where did you get your start?
“My first paying gig was preparing weekly meals for a family.
As far back as I can remember, I was excited about food. Not just eating it, but learning the origins of a dish & how it is prepared. Although I began cooking at an early age, I didn’t officially start my catering business until much later in life. My education in food has been an amalgamation of formal instruction, reading/studying (I’ve read hundreds of books), eating, cooking, traveling, and the list goes on.”
Question 2: What is your favorite dish?
“It depends on the season! In fall and winter, Italian Ribollita, Catalan Style Beef Stew, and Mexican Pozole are favorites. In spring and summer, Niçoise salad is a staple.
Things that never get old: olives, oranges, cashews, Molinari salami, cheese, and raw unfiltered honey.”
Question 3: What was your favorite dish as a child?
“A breakfast dish my Abuela would make for me – Spanish chorizo and fried eggs.”
Question 4: Who inspired you to be a chef?
“My grandmother inspired my love of food. Her picture has hung over my stove for years! Getting her approval on a dish was like getting blessed by the Pope! She could be one tough customer.
Also, my Dad. When we were young, he took my sister and I to various restaurants in San Francisco and opened our minds and palettes to unique flavors from around the world. We still swoon over the Chicken Lemon soup from the French restaurant La Petite in the ’70s! A great dish can stay with you forever.”
Question 5: What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
“I’m in it for life. If my job as a cook was a marriage, anything else would only be a brief affair.
I’ve never felt defined by any job. That said, I believe that my identity as a cook is very strong because food is the vehicle through which I am able to tangibly demonstrate my love for serving people. I am able to use creative self expression to satisfy our basic need for food.”
Question 6: What advice can you give an aspiring chef?
“Joyce Goldstein told me that she was in her late forties when she opened her first restaurant; that gave me hope.
Heidi Krahling often said, “trust yourself” and I still carry that simple yet crucial advice.
Karen DeMasco told me to “follow your heart.” Cooking takes a lot of heart.
My advice is to heed the call. Follow it, see where it leads. Find mentors and devote yourself to their teachings. I have found such generosity of spirit in this profession – if you are willing to work and learn, people will help you. Drop your ego; there will be tears. Don’t let age (young or old) deter you. Ask questions; ask for help. Clean as you go. When you are in a position to help others, do so, graciously. Serving people is a privilege. Begin where you are. You don’t need a fancy kitchen and a lot of expensive equipment; it’s not about that. It’s about the food, your connection to it, and – most importantly – the story you want to tell.”
Question 7: Is there anything you would have done differently in your career?
“If anything, I would have found a mentor sooner. No one can do this job alone!”
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