Michelle Tam is the sardonic foodie and working mom behind Nom Nom Paleo, an award-winning food blog that receives over 1.5 million hits per month. Her daily posts are devoted to Paleo food porn, kitchen shortcuts, and recipes galore.
In 2012, Nom Nom Paleo won Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Award in the Special Diets category, and Apartment Therapy & The Kitchn’s Homies Award for Best Food Photography on a Blog. Michelle also recently released the Nom Nom Paleo interactive cookbook app for the iPad®, which continues to be one of the App Store’s best-selling and top-grossing Food & Drink apps. Her cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food For Humans will be published by Andrews McMeel in December 2013.
Michelle has a degree in Nutrition & Food Science from Berkeley, and a Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of California at San Francisco. When she’s not blogging, Michelle chases her two small boys around Palo Alto, holds down a full-time night shift hospital job, cooks like a fiend, and lifts heavy(ish) stuff at her CrossFit box.
Q: How did you get involved in cooking to begin with? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
I grew up in my mother’s kitchen, peering over the counter to watch her prepare dinner every night from scratch. From childhood, I’ve been obsessed with searching out delicious food; if you’d asked me to describe myself in my twenties, I would have called myself a gastro-tourist. Even today, I’ll plan trips based solely on the places I want to eat. Also, my sister is a professional chef, so I’ve always been surrounded by great cooks.
But cooking is a different matter. It wasn’t until my early thirties—after I became a mom—that I developed a true love for cooking. With kids in the mix, I was no longer eating out as much, so I had to flex my kitchen muscles. It was an eye-opening experience; I loved learning all about the flavor combinations and cooking techniques that had fed me so well over the years. These days, it’s hard to drag me out of the kitchen!
Q: Why is eating grass-fed meat and sustainably-caught fish different? How does it affect your cooking?
The quality, taste, and healthfulness of grass-fed meat and sustainably-caught fish are unsurpassed. When I cook with these premium proteins, I try to highlight their flavors and not overcomplicate the preparations because the ingredients speak for themselves.
Q: Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
Choosing to eat grass-fed meat and sustainably-caught fish is not just about health—these proteins also taste better. Plus, I’m a big believer in mindful, ethical, and sustainable eating. Food is inextricably intertwined with our culture and identity. The way we raise and harvest our food says a lot about our values and the priority we place on our environment and our communities.
Q: How did you learn about grass-fed meat?
I’ve long known about grass-fed meat, but didn’t understand the real substantive impact of switching to grass-fed meat until I watched documentaries about our broken food system, and started looking more deeply into sustainable eating. I’m excited to see that the message is spreading about the benefits of grass-fed meat, and that more people are turning away from CAFO meat in search of more sustainable and healthful options.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
The better the ingredients, the better the dish! I’m a firm believer in starting with the best building blocks possible. I’d much rather eat a simply-prepared meal of fresh, delicious, high quality ingredients than an overly complicated dish that masks substandard components
Q: What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
Imagination is key. So is persistence. Don’t be afraid to fail. Happy accidents can lead to unexpected surprises.
Q: What are your best tips for home cooking?
Oh, man...I have tons. Taste while you cook. And definitely stock up on ingredients that boost umami, like fish sauce, mushrooms, and tomatoes. My obsession with deliciousness is matched only by my laziness—and simply adding umami-rich ingredients allows me to maximize flavor with minimal effort. The best thing about umami-rich foods is that when you combine them, the sum tastes even better than the parts. You can exponentially kick up the flavor dimensions of a dish simply by adding the right mix of components.
So make sure your fridge and pantry are stocked up with ingredients that can amp up the umami in your dishes. I always keep tomato paste, mushrooms, fish sauce, capers, bacon, and anchovies on hand because just a little bit will make all your dishes pop with flavor.
Q: What is your favorite recipe using grass-fed meat?
That’s a tough question because I have so many favorites! But one of the recipes that I turn to again and again is Big-O Bacon Burgers from my iPad app and upcoming cookbook. It combines grass-fed ground beef with bacon and sautéed mushrooms for a uniquely umami-rich experience. I top the patties with my homemade Paleo Sriracha to kick up the heat, and sandwich them between roasted portobello mushroom caps so I can eat with my hands. These burgers are named after my oldest son, who loves these meaty, flavor-packed patties as much as I do!