Getting to know Chef Tonia Renae
Getting to know Chef Tonia Renae
1. How many years of experience do you have of being a chef?
I executed my first “Sunday dinner” for a friend of mine and her family of about a dozen people at the age of 19. It was a huge spread of soul food favorites, fried chicken, baked turkey wings with gravy , greens, mac and cheese, rice, cornbread, potato salad, and pineapple upside down cake for dessert. Odd thing was, no one ever taught me how to cook any of those things. I literally woke up one morning with an urge to cook, and this was the result, and I have been dominating every kitchen I’ve had the opportunity of working in ever since and that was 22 years ago.
2. Are you originally from Philadelphia?
I was born in Titusville PA but have lived in Connecticut the majority of my life until moving to Philly in 2008.
3. Did anything/anyone inspire you to want to become a chef?
Cooking has always been something I loved to do. It just comes so naturally. My grandfather was a chef and restaurateur. I somehow feel that his talents were passed on to me.
4. Are your culinary skills self-taught or did you attend culinary school?
I have a lot of background. Like I said most things come naturally, other skills I have learned over the shoulders of some truly amazing chefs that I have had the opportunity of working under. I did attend a culinary course offered by the state of PA back in 2010 and became a certified Sous Chef. I spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen perfecting my craft. Not to take anything away from furthering my knowledge by going back to school but I am not interested in learning the gastro science of cooking or any of these other modern day skills. I just want to make great food with quality identifiable ingredients. I am in no competition, I just want to express me through my dishes.
5. Do you have a certain dish that you would consider your specialty?
LOL. I just had a conversation with my wife and I said I hate when people ask this question because I don’t have a specialty and I feel like I am supposed to. I love to cook whatever is fresh on that particular day. If you ask my wife she will say I am great at all things meat. I don’t have anything I prefer to cook over anything else. I really enjoy creating different stuffing’s for empanadas. I can also make a mean pan seared salmon.
6. Do you have a favorite cuisine?
Right now I am on this Asian kick as you will notice by the Supper Club’s menu.
7. What ingredients do you enjoy cooking with the most?
Once again, anything that is fresh. I really do not like to use anything frozen unless I really have to, the quality diminishes in a way that comes through in the dish and I don’t like it.
8. Are there any challenges that you experience, or have experienced, as a chef?
Yes. All the time. Trying to make a name for myself in this field is challenging. Not having the “right” connections or resources to put yourself out there can be frustrating.
9. Do you come across many people with allergy restriction requests? (ex. Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy free). If so, do you find it difficult to modify your recipes to accommodate the customer’s needs?
LOL. So this woman whom I have had to create menus for, who is now a good friend of mine, is gluten-free, soy-free, vegan. And I’ll leave that right there.
I’m very flexible when it comes to requests and people likes and dislikes. I would like to believe I can accommodate any and every one. I mean I myself have to scope a menu before ordering because I don’t eat pork and I don’t drink so I don’t want anything that cooked with either. But both of these items are things I cook with so I am not entirely opposed if that’s what someone wants.
10. Is there a chef that you are inspired by? If so, what do you love about them?
Alex Guarnaschelli. And don’t ask me why, she’s just got kitchen swag.
11. What was your most favorite dining experience?
Most recently Phillips, Baltimore MD. Of all the places I have had the pleasure of eating. This place hit every spot. Cleanliness, customer service, quality of food, ratio vs price. The entire experience was amazing and left me wishing I could get back to there more often. This is what I am aiming for with my supper club events. I want people to be so fulfilled by the experience that they wish I had an actual spot they could dine in on a regular basis.
12. Is there anywhere in the world you would love to visit mainly for the food experience?
If you would have asked me this question a month ago I would have said Italy because not only would I love some authentic Italian food but I would also love to take a class or two. But now its Australia, because I follow quite a few people on Instagram now that make me rethink the way I am doing things. The food looks so amazing and some of the experiences they share are things I would love to take part in.
13. What do you love most about being a chef?
Chef? I don’t really like being called a Chef. I feel like when people call you a Chef they expect certain things from you. Certain foods. Certain plating. A certain attitude. Don’t expect anything from me other than great food. No gimmicks, no foam, no tweezer plating with edible flowers, and no random ingredient that no ones ever heard of unless they watch Chopped. Just a girl who loves to be in the kitchen, a culinarian if you will. A word that is thrown around yet there are no expectations because no one even knows what it really means.