Q&A: Tiffani Faison

 

You might be surprised to learn that the chef who brought us Southern soul food staple Sweet Cheeks Q is also at the helm of Tiger Mama, an Asian fusion spot—but Tiffani Faison’s food enthusiasm knows no bounds. Frequent relocation in the US during childhood and extensive travels in Southeast Asia have inspired the creative chef, a 2006 Top Chef runner-up with experience working for the likes of Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse. With the opening of Sweet Cheeks in 2011 and Tiger Mama in 2015, she’s played a major role in transforming the Fenway neighborhood into a dining destination.

Boston’s best dish:

It changes—never stays static. Right now, it’s king crab and shrimp at Shaking Crab. I shell my shrimp, crack crab, and eat it with extra hot shaking sauce over rice. It’s actually heaven.

Desert island spice:

There’s not [just] one. Spices are best when they work in tandem. At home, I end up using a good amount of cumin and chili powder. I’ve also gone pretty deep with garlic powder—never in place of fresh; it’s a completely different flavor. It adds another layer, an umami quality that I love. In the professional kitchen, dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorn; I’m obsessed with the idea of mala, the balance of it and how to use it properly.

Kitchen playlist:

When I get to the Sonos first, it’s either public radio or something completely non-conducive to firing up the team. Dermot Kennedy, Ben Howard … I turn the DJ keys over. It’s pretty well known that I’m a crappy mixmaster.

Favorite food destination:

Bangkok, no question. It’s a city that lives and breathes food. The streets are filled with it. The hawkers are skilled cooks and proud of what they’re cooking. You could spend a year eating six meals a day on the street in Bangkok and not scratch the surface.

Cooking inspiration:

Everything. There are different types of cooking in my life; there are home projects, home dinners, celebrations, and then there’s professional cooking. For home, it can be the weather, an occasion, the need to eat well, the want to make my wife happy … Professionally, it typically comes from just thinking about food—which takes up a significant portion of my thinking—from a dish, from a sub-flavor or a nuance of something I ate that I want to explore. Really, it can be anything, and it ultimately always comes down to making someone happy.

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