Cooking With Colors has been one of our most popular programs over the last couple of years. Each “season” of ten weeks sees our favorite local chef, Tanisha Mott, explore healthy eating and nutritious ideas for families. Her sessions are hands-on, with lots of fruits and vegetables for her young helpers to chop and cut. With recipes, tips and suggestions for household kitchens, it’s impossible to finish a class without some new-found enthusiasm for enjoying healthy food. We caught up with Chef Tanisha after her class this week, where everybody enjoyed an avocado dip with endives, along with some samples of jicama for the families to taste.
Chef Tanisha, you’re originally from Jamaica, is that right?
It is. I was born and raised in Kingston, in Norman Gardens.
What were some of your favorite meals growing up?
I loved stewed peas, made with oxtail, stewed beef, and three different kinds of peas, and little dumplings that are called “spinners” in Jamaica. They’re called that because you roll them between your hands in a spinning motion! I also loved callaloo, which is almost a cross between spinach and collards. Once the leaf is all cleaned, you steam it like you would spinach. I love that!
What were some of the first dishes that you remember preparing yourself?
I remember making a mango stewed chicken. I worked for a fashion company, and the CEO offered to pay me if I cooked for one of his events. I was actually eating a mango when he asked me! I loved food and I loved fashion, so my career today is one of my two dream jobs!
What inspired you to become a chef?
My grandmother was always cooking, and she made everybody so happy. I wanted to do that as well, make people happy. I design plates just like I might have designed fashions! My grandmother would work at a counter and I would sit in a little cubbyhole and just watch her as she told me what she was doing. No measurements! She would say, in her Jamaican voice, “’bout so,” or “about so much.” She would always make banana fritters, and they were so ripe! She’d add a little brown sugar, vanilla, and flour.
Of all the classes that you’ve taught with families, what have been some of the kids’ favorites to make and eat?
Believe it or not, the rutabaga stew was the most popular with Cooking With Colors!
(the interviewer raises a skeptical eyebrow)
It’s true! They loved rutabagas! One student actually licked the bowl! Guacamole is always a favorite whenever I have a class, because it’s green and slimy and kids always want to play with it. Number three is my lemongrass steak. You take any kind of beef, and make a marinade with scallions, onion, ginger, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sear it or grill it; I like to grill it. Those are the top three.
If you could change any one thing about our country’s food culture, what would it be?
The way foods are being processed. There’s such a huge variety of food available, but the companies are taking all the good out to make it last longer with preservatives. If only we could go back to eating more natural!
Finally, what suggestions do you have for parents who want to teach their kids about nutrition and cooking?
Definitely have the kids be part of the process! It’s so fun for them, and it’s also easier to get them to eat things when they feel that they’ve contributed!
Thanks so much, Chef Tanisha! There are three more classes in this season of Cooking With Colors, and reservations are required. We recommend calling no later than 72 hours before the class date and time to purchase tickets. You can call our Reservations line at 404-527-3693.