It doesn’t matter if you fall or mess up, what matters is how you learn from it and turn it around.
As part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tara May.
Tara came to San Diego in April of 2016 in search of a new beginning. Tara joined a new moment in the culinary world known as Kitchens for Good. A movement on food waste hunger relief and transforming the lives of the students of KFG. It was at KFG Tara set her sights on Tracy Borkum’s Urban Kitchen Group. She interned at Cucina Urbana for one week then moved to what has been her home for over three years Cucina Sorella. Tara has worked her way up from line cook to the executive sous chef of Sorella and now hires kitchen for good students.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a chef (or restauranteur)?
Growing up in the kitchen with my family, especially the women, was an intimate affair, seeing the way food brought people together captivated me at a very young age.
Do you have a specialty?
Middle Eastern \Caribbean fusion, which is the opposite of what I do currently.
What drew you to that type of food?
The bold flavors from pungent spices that blend seamlessly into each other giving you an explosion of taste.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef?
I was running late one morning so I went to grab a coffee down the street from Sorella as I didn’t have time to make or let alone drink my own. While in line I overheard two ladies chatting about what a wonderful dinner they had the other night at Cucina Sorella. We had just changed the menu to fit our neighborhood. to hear how much they loved not only the food but the entire new menu makes my heart happy as I do this for the people, not myself.
Can you share with us a story about your grit and resilience? First, can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I worked two jobs and at one point a third. Cucina Sorella was my first fine dining scratch kitchen job. I had no experience in this type of setting let alone Italian cuisine. I knew nothing about Italian food especially pasta. I couldn’t tell you the difference between pecorino cheese from Grana Padana cheese. I spent my off time researching and studying the different regions of Italy. I sacrificed and gave up a lot to dedicate myself to the kitchen. I had no life outside of work. There were times I wanted to give up but in the end, I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My drive and determination come from knowing where I’ve been and never wanting to return to that dark place. I only want to improve myself on all levels of life. A constant search for knowledge, faith, and joy. There are only two options in life, you either push yourself to grow or fall back into safety.
So how did grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
Having a drive within myself to never give up. It doesn’t matter if you fall or mess up, what matters is how you learn from it and turn it around. To be able to look at the positive side of the situation while understanding that it is not always easy and rewarding has allowed me to be where I am today.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am competing at Kitchens for Good’s Wasted Event on October 20th. At this event, one must create a meal using only ingredients that get thrown out in kitchens. This event helps bring awareness to food waste in our communities and professions.
In your experience, what is the key to creating the perfect dish?
The balance of flavors.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Five things I wish someone would have told me before becoming a chef would have to be the burns or scars on our arms. You can always tell if someone is in this industry from their arms.
Don’t be closed-minded to new ideas, if you don’t try things you may never reach the goal.
Keeping your customers happy by engaging with them and making them feel at home is something I’ve learned within the last year that will set you apart from the rest.
The importance of knowing about wine, beer, or liquor. They all can enhance a dish or be utilized in some way to help a guest have a more enjoyable meal.
Cultures, religions, beliefs all I’m going to say on this is to please be open-minded on request from a customer going that extra little mile can make the difference in the guest experience. It’s understanding the why, not the what.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
To take chances on people no matter their background. To buy from local farms whenever you can and take away all GMO products and go back to a more natural way of eating what’s in season. Slow food movement.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!