Name: Ana Tapioca
City: Apex, North Carolina
What is your working title? I am chef and culinary instructor, but usually go by “glorified cook.”
Can you talk about how you became interested in food? What attracted you to this industry? The moment I figured I could show how much I cared about somebody by making their favorite dishes, I knew I had a great channel right there. Food is my chosen way to express love. I come from a family of people who can thoroughly enjoy each other’s company as we cook for gazillion people - except for my mom lol. And when I moved from Brazil straight to Alabama (bless my heart!)-
-I learned pretty quickly that, regardless of our accents, we could understand each other around a plate of food. With that in mind, I decided to work with food as inclusion. To bring up the commonalities of different dishes instead of their differences, all while trying to understand their cultural and historic origin.
You are what I consider well-travelled and I love how you pull the essence of dishes from various cultures to evoke a sense of familiarity with and for your audience. I think that concept behind your brand is really relevant -and especially critical- in our current political climate. The way you present food positions you as a cultural catalyst. Would you say this is how your values translate into your work?
Oh my God, fuck yeah! Think about it: guess how to get together two to the biggest oppositions in this world - jews and muslims? At a table, with no pork, sharing kosher and halal food!
So, bringing people together is key. Tell me about your regular workday -if you have one.
I usually teach or cater 1 to 3 events a week, mostly at night. On that week, I first make my shopping and prepping lists. If there are desserts on the menu, I usually take care of them the night before the event - since I am not a baker and that gives me time to fix any mess I make. By that eve I also start any dish that requires long hours marinating, soaking or cooking. At 5:30-6AM on the day of the event itself, I chop, cut, prep and cook anything that can not be done within the 2-hour class or during the event itself. So it’s 12 hours of continuous work, which I do while listening to an audiobook or dancing to my favorite songs. In cases like my classes at Whisk Carolina, I am done by around 10PM and whatever is left of me will go home, take a shower and pass out. Those tend to be the earliest nights (events can go much longer). There will probably be a beer somewhere after I am done with the public.
How long have you been doing what you do? Were there any notable milestones along your journey so far?
I started “playing” in the kitchen when I was 8 years-old, which makes almost 40 years ago. My mom didn’t want me having anything to do with the kitchen, so I’d do it once she left for work and would ”get rid of the evidence” by feeding the neighbors before she was back. My poor brother was also my guinea-pig.
Hmm… milestones… the first time I realized I had the patience and the capability to chop my vegetables very small was a life changing moment! I was about 16 and by then knife skills became my obsessive therapy. The moment I discovered how many friends I could make by feeding them was pretty big too.
Well, it doesn’t hurt that your food is really delicious.
That was probably when I also figured a table with food was the best way to make the most unexpected friendships to thrive. After that, I’d say opening my restaurant in Alabama. Lastly and definitely most importantly, when I started traveling to learn and then teach about food and culinary history from around the world.
So that’s where the inspiration for your brand comes from? Has your sense of purpose evolved since you first started?
My inspiration has always been one and only: food from around the world that makes you feel at home. [Beginning with] the loving companionship of my family in our kitchen, to a new friend who wants me to feel comfortable at their house, to their mom who, even without knowing a single word of a shared language, can still teach and be understood through [their] history with food. I believe there are no strangers in life, only friends we haven’t made yet. And, around a table, we always find the grounds for that friendship to flourish. THAT is what I want my brand to reflect!
And what is the one thing you absolutely could not do your job without?