Living in the city since August ‘17 together with her husband Eric. Meet Tawni, executive chef at maman nomad.
when she’s hungry: sunny-side up egg with roasted fingerling potatoes, brussels sprouts & onions topped with crispy prosciutto, olive-caper gremolata & parmesan
when she’s craving something sweet: maman’s nutty chocolate
when you want to treat Tawni to a coffee: black coffee with a
little bit of half & half
I’ve always liked cooking, but when I was 17 and decided to go vegan I had to start cooking for myself in a more creative way. I needed to find ways to eat the things I loved, but with strict dietary restrictions. At that time there was a smaller community of people practicing veganism, and this community caught my attention and taught me a lot about food culture. I started working for these two women called Britney and Karen at a place called Prasad (in Portland). It was a health food, vegan and vegetarian restaurant. This place really helped me grow as a cook and showed me that there are really accessible ways to run a restaurant as a female.
I stopped being vegan when I turned 21 because I wanted to grow in my career as a cook. For a long time, I was only cooking vegan and vegetarian but I really felt the need to taste new things. Every time I travel I don’t want to limit myself and I want to be able to experience it all. I still use my vegan cooking experience to make meals that are full of grains, legumes & vegetables. It’s a main part of my diet and I think it should be for every person wanting to live a healthy lifestyle.
“I wanted to grow in my career
as a cook”
My mom cooked every day and her parents owned a couple of restaurants when she was growing up. I didn’t go to culinary school because I got a really good base from her and I worked my way up by working closely with other chefs and got a lot of experience in different kitchens. I have always really loved going to France. When I was looking for a job in the city and found maman I immediately liked the aesthetic of it. I have a dream to do something abroad and working for maman feels like one step closer to this. It’s a cool opportunity to do something that isn’t strictly American and I like it. I like working in a small team environment, it makes it really personal, and it allows people to get closer. I’m not really into large fancy five-star restaurant type of kitchens.
I’ve been describing maman as “new French”. There’s a term “new American” in the kitchen world, where you create a more modern way of American cooking. Not just burgers and steak, but cooking with new flavor profiles. So that’s why I’m using “new French” to describe the French culture and food but combined with American and Mediterranean flavors. It’s a mix of all those things.
I really like making the potatoes and the waffles at maman, because they just look really beautiful. If you serve something and it’s gorgeous, you’re immediately going to enjoy it more even if it’s not the best version of it you’ve ever had. But if you get a plate and it’s not that interesting to look at, your expectations are already lower. It’s the same with the restaurant setting and atmosphere as well. All those things together make or break whether you enjoy it or not. That’s what maman makes very strong.
“I worked my way up”
I get my inspiration from cook books or magazines, eating in other restaurants and playing with recipes from other chefs. You can compare it with math. There’s this basic formula but you can put different things in it, and it will produce a new dish every time. My favorite chef is Eloise Augustyn. The woman who owns Sweedeedee in Portland. I think that’s probably my favorite place in the whole country. She’s not one of those rock star chefs, but more casual and real life. I really appreciate that and keep this work style in mind during my own work. Oh, and I love Martha Stewart.
My future goal is to have my own establishment one day. I want to have my own small place that melds in with the old Italian delicate style. It would be amazing to do it abroad, maybe somewhere similar to Portland. I want to be self-sufficient and work for myself someday.