Most Chefs will tell you that they don’t cook for money but rather for the love of food. Executive Chef Tanya Baker of The Boarding House in Chicago is no exception. For the first year in a row, she’s a finalist for one of the food world’s most prestigious awards: the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, given to a chef age 30 or younger who demonstrates an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come.
Below, Baker, a graduate of the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC, Le Cordon Bleu) and I discussed her love for Korean food, advice for future cooks, what’s next for the Boarding House, and she even let us in on one of her favorite recipes.
What is your earliest food memory and experience?
My earliest food memories always go back to our family gatherings when I was a little kid. My grandmother’s vanilla wafer pudding, dirty rice, gumbo, and fresh persimmons, and of course my Mom’s Korean cooking. I loved to be in the kitchen watching them cook and being able to sample everything.
When did you decide to be a chef?
I always knew that I wanted to be heavily involved in the culinary world. It became a reality when applying for colleges in high school. I just knew culinary school was it for me.
Do you look up to anyone particular in the food-world?
I look up to my two mentors Bradford Phillips and Bradley Newman. Both had a very different approach to work/food but equally taught me so much. I learned a lot of techniques, an appreciation and respect for ingredients, discipline, and efficiency from both.
Where do you draw inspiration from in life…in the kitchen?
My parents have always been an inspiration for me. They have both been through so much, separately and together. Over the years I have seen everything that they have accomplished together and I truly admire their strength, generosity, and drive. They have always been my biggest support. My inspiration in the kitchen comes from a long line of events; from the first job I’ve had up until now to all of the different people that I’ve worked with side by side to past experiences that I hold dear in my heart. Everyday is a new experience and I try to make the most it, learning from the past and growing stronger everyday, making each day better than the last.
What do you love most about being a chef?
What I love most about being a chef is all of the people that you meet in the industry. It really is a small world of us that become family to each other and share the same drive and passion for food.
What is your “Last Supper” meal?
A steaming bowl of sticky rice, my Mom’s seaweed soup, and Korean banchan.
What’s your best piece of advice for home cooks and aspiring chefs?
My best piece of advice for home cooks and aspiring chefs is follow your instincts, be fearless, and never give up. Do not be afraid to explore. Don’t fear failure. You will fail, time after time, but you will never know what you are capable of if you quit. Learn from your mistakes and strive to make everything you do better than the last. Not for everyone else, but for yourself.
Roasted Carrot Soup
Yields 4 quarts
Executive Chef Tanya Baker
The Boarding House
10 carrots, peeled and sliced (save peels and butts for stock)
1tsp coriander seed
1tsp curry powder
5 cloves garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small yellow onion, sliced
1 pc lemongrass
1 tablespoon smashed ginger
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups fresh carrot juice
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine carrot, coriander, ginger, curry powder, and fresh thyme. Season generously with kosher salt and add olive oil. Spread in an even layer in a hotel pan or large baking sheet. Roast until tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes. While the carrots are roasting, heat a large stock pot on high heat with 1 cup of vegetable oil. Add the carrot peels and butts, celery, garlic, lemongrass, and butter. Stir continuously, cooking until the vegetables are tender. Once the carrots are done roasting, add to the stockpot. Add 2 cups fresh carrot juice. Season again with salt and let simmer for about an hour. Add the heavy cream within the last 20 minutes of cooking. Let cool briefly, remove thyme sprigs, and purée until smooth.