Getting To Know Chef Thomas In & Out The Kitchen: Valentine's Day Edition
Founder and Head Chef of Brick House Pantry & The Fresh Start Initiative
Well it’s that time of the year and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Some people say that Thanksgiving or Christmas is their favorite holiday for various reasons but it’s
Valentine’s Day for me, the day of LOVE! It is a time for me to show affection to my friends, family, and most importantly myself. For the last several years I have spent time spreading love to those who I truly care about and carving out time for self-care. When the world was shaken up by this pandemic I just knew couples all over most likely went though a
roller-coaster phase. Ooooooo yes, I had my share of ups and downs but I am grateful for this learning curve. So this year I wanted to do something different. Restaurants are starting
to open back up but what is more passionate then to stay at home and cook a romantic dinner. I had the opportunity to “spice” it up with Chef Thomas, as he helped me prepare one of his best meals for Valentine’s Day and please feel free to join me as I make my first attempt at “Steak and Kale Caesar Salad”.
The best thing about talking with Chef was that it never felt like an interview but merely a conversation that could last for hours on hours. Not because I thought I “know” him already but to think about all the knowledge that I was about to receive was truly fascinating.
How did you become a chef?
Actually it was kind of accidental, and I never intended to be a chef professionally. I grew up in a big family and we didn’t have much money. We weren’t getting take out and we were just “making it do what it do.” Whatever grandma found in the cabinets or rolled through the door with, everybody did their contribution and we did our own potluck. When you grow up in a big family you want seconds and if that’s what you wanted then you needed to learn how to make something. I was hungry and I wasn’t trying to wait for all this food to get made, I needed to learn how to make some stuff for myself. I was thinking that since I was little, I was trying to figure out how could I do this.
Do you remember the first meal you made?
I was about 4-5 years old and I remember I asked my step-dad like, "can I make some French Toast?" He said I was going to get burned but nobody ever wanted to make me French Toast and it was rare that I would get it but it was my favorite thing to eat. I kept asking and everyone kept brushing me aside until finally I said I could make this myself because I watched and I was looking. I could smell the butter; I just need to know how to do it. Finally my step-dad said yes so I put the chair to the stove, put the pan down, put the butter in, dipped the bread into the eggs, and put it in the pan.
That was the first thing I made and there was no turning back, the goal was to cook for myself.
After you French Toast experience how did you start making food for yourself and later down the line others?
Even though I was around family, I rarely got to watch what was happening in the kitchen because it was like you’re a child, stay in a child’s place, and go be with the kids, the adults are in the kitchen. I learned from my grandma to eat was set before you. I had to appreciate what we had and I learned from my grandma because I was home with her a lot. She was a cook by trade, she taught me how to scour the cabinets and make due with what was in there.
Fast-forward as a teenager I was into my sports, video games, and art so I use to be in the house a lot. My boys use to come through and I would ask them if they wanted some food. One day they asked when the next time my moms was going to make one of her favorite dishes and I was like nah I made that. They all started laughing at me and of course thought I was lying. They wanted to know how I did it and I hit them with if I had the stuff I can make it right now. They asked what I needed and went to the store and came back with groceries. Boom, Boom, Boom I made all the stuff and they loved it.
I didn’t think other people would think it’s good, I just like how it taste, that was important for me!
Then, he asked if he could take some food to his mom. I was like, iight and he took it to his moms and a few minutes later he told me she wanted him to make a whole pan of food for a party that she is having. I was sold when I was told that all I had to do was cook for that I love. A few weeks later, that same friend needed someone to cook for a party and recommended me as the caterer. At that I didn’t know what a caterer was but once it hit me I knew I could make anything. It snowballed from there and that’s how I started working for myself.
What is one of your proudest moments?
That’s a really good question. I don’t think about stuff like that often, my proudest moments just because of the time that we are in right now. I’m not thinking about catering as much as I am thinking about the day-to-day stuff to maximize my time. But there are a few moments that I am proud of.
When I opened up the kids culinary program down in the city. I had a company with a partner called Fresh Mate NYC, it still exist but the physically location closed due to the pandemic. The classes are going on virtually and when this is all over we are coming back. That was a really proud moment because we went from a vision board to developing a physical location. To see how our opening night turn out came to light was overwhelming and I literally cried that night. I couldn’t even tell you why I cried but I had no emotion at all up until the second I cried. I was so thankful and appreciative to see all the families of my students, my colleagues, and my own family come out and show their support. I have to put it as one of those moments because when I got home that night my wife literally asked, “how did it go”? I couldn’t even put my words together and the minute I tried to think about it I dropped to my knees and cried for like 3 minutes straight.
I didn’t realize how much emotion was pint-up inside, I was so proud to see how it turned out the way it did.
Another one would be being awarded the 40 Under 40: The Rising Stars in NYC Food Policy award from the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center in 2019. The award is for change makers in food policy and advocacy. I have been in food education and advocating for our community for better food quality and better programs for our youth. It is important for me to be an advocate for everything surrounding food to create a healthier general way of life.
Thank you to Chef Thomas for taking the time to do this interview with Short N Sweet Ent and for being my first feature on my blog. It has been the biggest pleasure and may blessings rain down on you and your family.
To connect with Chef Thomas you can find him on
IG: @brickhousechef & @brickhousepantry
Or on his websites: www.brickhousepantry.com & www.thefreshstartinitiative.com
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Until next post… Coach Tay