INDIANAPOLIS — Tanorria Askew has been cooking since she was 6 years old. A cookbook, she says, was always on her vision board.
"Writing a cookbook has kind of always been a dream of mine," Askew told WRTV in an interview ahead of the debut for her cookbook "Staples +5: 100 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Pantry."
"I did not think it would happen this soon. But the process has really been a dream come true," Askew said.
The Indianapolis chef rose to local and national fame in 2016 after making it on to "MasterChef."
"It was a few years into my corporate career that I was just cooking for friends, and then an episode of MasterChef, hosted by Gordon Ramsey, came on. And one of my friends sent me a Facebook message; she was like, 'I'm watching; you should do it.' And I was like, 'Nah, girl. I don't want to get yelled at,'" Askew said of when she first thought of auditioning for the show.
Askew ended up auditioning and won fourth-best cook in America on season 7 of MasterChef.
"Really, after that, like standing in the MasterChef kitchen, cooking and chasing your dreams, you can't go back to your corporate job," Askew explained.
She left her job at Teachers Credit Union after 15 years and started her Indy-based personal chef company, "Tanorria's Table."
And she's been busy ever since.
Askew is involved in several local organizations like "Indy Women in Food." She's been hosting virtual demonstrations and putting together dinner parties. And she's also the co-host of the podcast "Black Girls Eating."
With the release of Staples +5, Askew is exposing the underlying layer that connects all of her business ventures, showing how food can bridge gaps and build communities.
"Everybody's got to eat. In the time of a crisis and in the time of celebration, there (are) always two really big things: music and food," Askew explained. "When you are sitting down having a difficult conversation, nine times out of 10, it's in the kitchen at a kitchen table. And there may be food involved. And it kind of helps break the tension; it creates this layer of vulnerability because you're eating in front of someone. And that's an intimate act."
As a child, Askew has seen how inviting people over for a meal has helped create bonds and friendships.
"We were always the house that hosted people," Askew said of growing up.
Askew and her family moved to Indianapolis from Chattanooga, Tennessee when she was 3 years old, and she noticed the differences between her and her friends were in the meals they ate. Those bonds were easily formed by getting to know the meals her friends were accustomed to and vice versa.
Her food knowledge is rooted in the Southern recipes of her mom, grandmother and aunts, but in growing up in Indiana, she's also mastered the art of Midwestern cuisine. Staples +5 draws that connection between the two.
"The Midwest is all about meat and potatoes. Like we have a large amount of cattle in the Midwest, and everyone knows us for, you know, hearty meals. So when I think of comfort food, I immediately think of things that are nostalgic and connect me to my childhood. A lot of that is rooted in Southern cuisine," Askew said.
The publishers of Askew's first cookbook, DK by DK, describe Staples +5 as being a book for kitchen newbies, burnt-out home cooks, and everyone in between. However, it has a particular focus on making cooking accessible. Askew says that begins with recognizing that obtaining a fresh variety of ingredients can be difficult.
As the diversity chairwoman for Slow Food Indy — a grassroots organization about clean and fair food — and avid racial justice activist, it's vital to Askew for her cookbook to reach more communities of color, especially those in food deserts. Like Indianapolis.
"A lot of people don't realize that Indianapolis is one of the largest food deserts in the nation," Askew said. "To be a part of an organization that is trying to open up food access for underrepresented areas and Black and Brown communities is really, really important to me. And so I am able to kind of champion making sure that our efforts are reaching the right people as it relates to diversity."
The cookbook also focuses on social justice. In her work, Askew says she connects readers to the root of what has recently become "trendy vegetables."
"There (are) quite a few recipes that are kind of paying homage to the foods that African culture brought to the United States," Askew said of what her cookbook offers readers. "We take for granted that sweet potatoes came from Africa, and that enslaved people brought them over. We take for granted that okra has almost become like a trendy vegetable, but I grew up on it. My mom will tell you that her daughter's been eating okra since she was three months old."
Every single recipe in Staples +5 can be made from 35 ingredients. Such as flour, beans and rice, plus five additional ingredients.
In a release for the cookbook, DK by DK wrote that Staples +5 is perfect for "getting dinner on the table without extra trips to the store, throwing together a casserole for a neighbor in need, and entertaining unexpected guests without added stress."
If you were to ask Askew what her retirement goal was, it would involve owning a dreamy bed and breakfast with an in-house library full of cookbooks. Several of her own cookbooks would be among the shelves.
Askew said, "Some of my expectations and imagination have been met at the same time, and a lot of it hasn't — but it's just made me even more eager to keep writing cookbooks."
Staples +5 hit the shelves of Target, Barnes & Noble, and more on Tuesday. You can also order it from Penguin Random House and Amazon online.
Fans and readers of the local chef can catch a book signing at several bookstores and venues across the state.
Here's a list of events:
- Thursday, December 8: Goose the Market, 6 to 8 p.m.
- Friday, December 9: Unity Garden in South Bend, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, December 15: Gallery Pastry Shop, 6 to 8 p.m.
- Tuesday, December 14: Virtual, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
- Later dates will be announced for more events, including in Bloomington.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.