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Boarding House Chef Tanya Baker Got Her Start with Pan-Fried Spam

The James Beard finalist cites her mother’s cooking (especially with Spam) as an early influence.

Photo: Anna Knott

The Boarding House chef (and a finalist for the 2015 James Beard Foundation’s award for rising star chef) on her cooking influences, how she got her gig, and how she created her favorite dish.

What were some of your early influences?

I loved cooking with my mom. She does a little bit of everything: Korean food, American. My mom used a lot of Spam. Pan-fried Spam is one of my favorite things ever.

How did you get the gig at the Boarding House?

I started as a line cook. When [former chef] Bjorn [Rasmussen] got promoted, I essentially got promoted, too. When he left, [owner Alpana Singh] took me to lunch at GT Fish and said, “I want you to take over. I see something in you.”

What’s the most fun dish you’ve made for the menu?

Mezzaluna ravioli with braised oxtail on top. Inside are ricotta and scallions and a charred scallion pesto. My mom always makes oxtail soup, and then she will just load it with a ton of green onions. I take those elements and put a little twist on it.

How shocked were you when you heard about the James Beard nomination?

I was on my way to work. Alpana called and told me, “I hope you are sitting down.” Oh, OK. As the day went on, I was just thinking about it: Did this really happen?

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