You may remember Tiffani Faison from the inaugural season of Bravo’s reality competition Top Chef. Or perhaps you have eaten at one of her three spectacular restaurants — Sweet Cheeks Q, Tiger Mama Boston, and Fool’s Errand, which she runs with her wife and business partner Kelly Walsh.
In 2018, Faison was a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award (for Best Chef: Northeast), which is the Oscars of the food world. Fool’s Errand, her latest venture, introduces a new kind of eatery: the adult snack bar. Culinary talent aside, the chef has morphed into a force of power, determined to eradicate the systemic misogyny plaguing professional kitchens across America.
Born into a military family, Faison’s formative years were spent venturing across Europe and America. Romantic though this may sound, she says she struggled socially because of it.
“No one has time for the new kid,” she says. Despite this, cultural integration became a way of life. Her parents decided early on not to live on military bases but find housing in the local communities. As a result, Faison had experiences many of us might only dream of.
She fondly recalls the relationships forged during those years. Frequently faced with new foods, Faison was taught to never “turn your nose up at something without trying it.” It was something her mother taught her early on, a gift rooted in kindness and respect, more than culinary intrigue.
Once she moved to Boston, Faison started bartending. She got a job working in the Ritz-Carlton, an institution where “ladies and gentlemen served ladies and gentlemen.” While this old-fashioned sensibility didn’t suit her, Faison remained. Until 9/11 changed everything.
“I remember reaching for the doorknob of my house thinking, ‘I’m really unhappy… [we] don’t have time to be unhappy.’” She quit her job at the Ritz, and took a position at the acclaimed chef Todd English’s Bonfire restaurant, which ended up being the true birthplace of her career.
There, Faison stepped out from the bar and asked to be schooled in the ways of the kitchen. At first, she was, admittedly, “terrible.” After all, Faison says, she posessed no culinary skills whatsoever. Learning basic cooking skills while navigating the fast-pace of a professional kitchen was stressful, she recalls. But she refused to be broken. She survived the trial by fire, sticking it out until she no longer hated the job. Under superb mentorship, Faison matured into a professional chef.
In 2006, still early in her career, she competed on Top Chef, and landed second place. Then she hit the road and traveled the country, working in prestigious kitchens from Nantucket to New Orleans, Los Angeles to San Francisco. She returned to Boston in 2010, where she became executive chef at Rocca Kitchen and Bar, a now-closed Southern Italian restaurant.
A year later, she opened her first restaurant, Sweet Cheeks Q, which ended up being awarded a three-star review from The Boston Globe. Forbes also heralded the BBQ joint for having the “best biscuits in the world.” In 2015, she opened Tiger Mama, a Southeast Asian restaurant that infuses a playful flare into the region’s traditional dishes. The Boston Globe raved it is a “spectacular restaurant.” Last year, Faison opened Fool’s Errand, the adult snack bar which offers small bites and cocktails steeped in luxury and creative flare.
For all her successes, the chef is no stranger to the systemic misogyny, sexism, and even brutality women frequently face in professional kitchens. She’s had hot grease thrown on her and been pushed (deliberately) into hot pans. Sadly, Faison says her experiences are not unique.
Now that she’s working from a position of influence and authority, she’s using her voice as a vehicle of change. Tapping into the recent exposés of sexual harassment within the foodservice industry, Faison has spoken out about the issues faced by female chefs. In a piece written for Eater, she reveals that women in professional kitchens must overcome gender bias against them, including the widely accepted belief that women must be “likeable” in order to attain success. If women could worry less about how they are perceived, she says, the #MeToo movement could create lasting change.
And, because top chefs run their kitchens, Faison argues that it is they who must set the tone for their employees.
“A fish rots from the head,” she says. “Use your words wisely.”
Sour Cream & Chive Labneh Crudités
This Lebanese-style soft cheese makes for a cool and refreshing dish.
3 quarts plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
8 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons salt
¼ cups chopped chive and dill.
Mix all ingredients and put it in cheese cloth to hang overnight in a refrigerator. Place a container underneath to catch the liquid that will drip. Take it out of the cheese cloth the next day and mix again. Serve chilled with fresh vegetables. Garnish with chopped chives and fresh dill.