Tanorria Askew is an Indianapolis-based personal chef who impressed one of the biggest names in the kitchen: Gordon Ramsay. While she was competing in season seven of MasterChef, Ramsay said that Askew’s shrimp and grits were the best he’d had in the hit show’s kitchen. So much so, she walked away as the fourth best home cook in America.
“I have always had this passion for cooking, and when I got my first apartment at 24 and then bought my first house at 27, I was just hosting a lot in both of those spaces,” Askew says. “I just kept cooking and it was really kind of my outlet from when I started not really loving my job. It was just something for me to do when I got home and de-stress.”
Prior to competing on MasterChef, Askew worked in various roles at Teachers Credit Union (TCU). After some persuasion from her friends, she established her own personal chef business, Tanorria’s Table, as a side hustle. Those same friends later pushed her to audition for the cooking show, and the rest is history.
“My goal was to win and not go back to TCU, but even not winning, I still felt this tug that it was time,” she says. “So, I went back to my corporate job for two months and then I left after being there for 15 years. I have been riding the coattails of MasterChef and growing Tanorria’s Table ever since.
We took a seat around Tanorria’s table and learned what it’s really like cooking with Ramsay, how she’s combining her love for food with her passion for diversity, and her experience on TV.
What’s your maven superpower? Intuition. I’m recognizing that my intuition is the thing that has charted my past all my life.
We have to ask, what was it like meeting and cooking with Gordon Ramsay?
He’s so dreamy and really nice. He wants you to succeed, and if you aren’t learning and growing, that’s when he gets crazy. He smells amazing. I know this because he hugged me three times.
He is known for being a perfectionist in the kitchen. How did you handle his criticism?
I have definitely learned that I am not for everyone. A lot of people may say that my food is too flavorful. I’ve been fortunate to not get a ton of criticism. I just recognize that I’m not for everyone and that I’m content staying in my lane.
Do you have any fun facts from behind the scenes that you can share with us?
MasterChef is kind of like an adult day camp prison. You are essentially sequestered and there is not a lot of contact with the physical world outside of the show The crew was amazing just to work with people who had studied under Gordon Ramsay and were familiar with so many different techniques. I felt like the only thing I knew every day was what time to get up and what to wear, and that’s because someone told me. Now, is it edited, and things are mildly manipulated for the sake of TV? Sure. What reality TV show is not? But as a cast member, you really are in the dark and just kind of figuring it out as you go along.
How did you prepare? Is it what you imagined it to be?
I read a lot of blogs and articles about the competition. Most of them were by people who were bitter because they had been eliminated or didn’t make it very far, but it was very helpful to understand what to expect. I was not surprised about living in a hotel, packing was easy for me, and I knew that “hurry up and wait” was a common theme for filming a show. What I didn’t imagine was the amazing feedback about my cooking. I walked away with so much validation and confidence.
What was your biggest takeaway from the show?
My biggest takeaway was to trust myself—on flavor, seasoning, and so many other things in the kitchen.
What’s one of your earliest memories of your love for cooking?
Cooking with my grandma. She was very particular about the ingredients that she used, and I see that in myself now. She would make the absolute best blueberry pancakes, and as a child, my brother and I would go visit her and my grandad and I always looked forward to her blueberry pancakes.
As a chef yourself, what are some of your favorite places to eat in Indy?
I love The Trap because I love seafood. I love Bluebeard. I love Goose the Market for a good quality sandwich, which is hard to find sometimes. I really love just about anything that Martha Hoover does with Apocalypse Burger and Public Greens, those are some of my go-to places when I’m getting together with friends.
What’s one of your favorite dishes to create?
The thing that I love cooking the most is biscuits. Being covered in flour with my hands in butter and starting with a big bowl of flour and turning it into a biscuit is just, it makes me happy.
If you had to choose, what are four ingredients that you have to have in your kitchen at all times?
Bacon; butter; diamond crystal kosher salt; heavy cream.
What’s the most challenging ingredient to work with?
It is very easy for people to get protein very wrong. So, while I don’t necessarily consider it a challenge all the time, I do feel like that one can stump people up, myself included. It depends on the cut of the protein, like I feel that people cook chicken breast all wrong. People are quick to dry out pork, and so I feel like protein is easy for people to get wrong and they don’t necessarily realize it.
You mentioned you have a heart for diversity. Would you like to combine your love of food and interest in diversity one day? If so, how?
I have actually done this before. A few years back I hosted Unity Tables. It was a safe space for women of all different races and backgrounds to come together to talk about race and racial reconciliation. The draw was that I prepared a meal for us to gather around. I loved Unity Tables, but they were not as effective as I had hoped, and they were exhausting. I’m not sure that I’m going to bring Unity Tables back, but I know that the work I do now does intersect both food and social justice.
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.
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