Featured Chef: Tanya Jimenez

Chef’s Roll was thrilled to feature Tanya Jimenez as a winner of our Center Stage program at the MAPP Restaurant Reset Conference 2022.

377 amazing women in culinary applied to Center Stage, and Tanya was one of four chosen to receive an all expense paid trip to the event and be introduced to prestigious female mentors like Mary Sue Milliken, Tanya Holland, and Emma Bengtsson. Along with the other winners, Tanya was given the opportunity to let her skills shine at our showcase on Monday night. Check out the video below to see her amazing dish!

After the event, we asked Tanya a few questions.

Tell us about your journey so far!

After UCSB, I knew that I wanted to begin a career in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to afford any prestigious culinary schools so I chose to take a few classes at a local community college. While I took classes, I began working as a dishwasher at Disneyland. After a year and a half, I moved up to a prep cook position and subsequently to the other higher line cook positions. I was then accepted to an internship at the St. Regis Dana Point which then led to a full time cook position at their restaurant, Motif.

After a sexual harrasment incident, I knew I could no longer work in that space, especially because HR chose to do nothing. I moved to the now-closed Pinot Provence. It was a wonderful few months. I then accepted a job at Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern. After a year and half, I knew I wanted to fulfill my dream of moving to San Francisco and then started working at Michael Mina SF. Six months later, I was promoted to a Sous Chef position.

It was quite an undertaking and I needed to reassess my career; so I took a position at Town Cutler as a knife sharpener. Nine months later, I yearned to be back in the kitchen and took the Market Purchaser/Forager position at Saison. I learned so much from that team. I genuinely enjoyed learning about products, farmers, fermenting, and smoking. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit and I was out of a job. As a first generation Latina, I knew I needed to find a job to be able to afford rent. Luckily, I found Sorrel and Chef Kirsten Shaw. The pandemic was hard, but we worked together and built systems to help get us through it. After she left, I knew I wanted to venture out of California and see what the country had in store. I’ve always loved DC and I knew it was the place for me. I found Pineapple & Pearls and on a whim, I applied. After preparing a 5 course tasting, I was offered the Sous Chef position which I currently hold today.

Who have been the most important mentors for you? What have you learned from them?

I definitely have to credit many chefs that have mentored me along the way. Raj Dixit, former CDC at Michael Mina SF, was the first chef to promote me to a Sous position. He had an extraordinary amount of faith in me and I will always be appreciative of that. He taught me one of the most important lessons about being a chef that I still carry with me. “We aren’t here to train cooks, we’re here to train the next chefs.”

Richard Lee, current CDC of Saison, has also been a great adviser. He is always available to listen to my concerns and offer help with any recipes and menu planning.

Arun Ruiz, Former Sous Chef at Sorrel, was a great working partner. I’ve learned so much from him about life, food and especially fermenting. He is not only a culinary aide but a fantastic friend and confidant.

I also have to credit my current Chef, Frederic Aumeunier, current CDC at Pineapple & Pearls. He not only helped me develop my dish but was a fantastic commis when I needed the help.

But most of all, I have to give the most credit to Kirsten Shaw, former CDC of Sorrel. She helped me find my voice, confidence, and pushed me to achieve more than I could have ever imagined. I am lucky to have had a female role model in the kitchen and I am pushing to change kitchen culture for the better just as she did.

Someone who is not a mentor but deserves credit is my partner, Carlos Daniel Barragan. Through not just one, but two moves, he has been my biggest cheerleader. I wouldn’t be where I am without him. All of my dishes are in homage to him.

Jurgielewicz Duck / Mango Vadouvan / Spring Ramp by Tanya Jimenez, plated on Fortessa Tableware

Tell us all about your experience with Center Stage and the MAPP conference.

In short, It was AMAZING. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the experience but man, was I wrong. There were so many women who have excelled in this field from Joanna, Chef Zoe, Chef Emma, Chef Tanya, Chef Karen, and others. I was remarkable to witness the excellence in the room. However, the best part of this whole experience was meeting Soojin, Sarah, and Sam. We chatted about our experiences at work and in life. It made me realize that I’m not crazy, emotional, pushy, out of line, or alone. We’ve all had to deal with these issues, especially as women, even more so as women of color. I cannot thank Chef’s Roll enough, and MAPP for introducing me to them. I am also thankful that I had such a wonderful experience that I am looking forward to participating in more Chef’s Roll projects.

What does the future hold for you?

Currently working on the Pineapple & Pearls opening. It’s been a long time coming and I’m so excited for everyone to see the new and improved P&P. Besides that, probably doing more events with Chef’s Roll. Honestly can’t applaud them enough. Long term, I will probably stay in the Michelin world. Ideally run a 2-3 star kitchen, god and my talent willing. I want to change that culture. I want kitchens to promote women, people of color, and the underprivileged. I can teach anyone how to cook, but I can’t change their attitude. After that, I don’t know, whatever life throws at me!

Chefs Sarah Betcher, Soojin Lim, Samantha Etienne, and Tanya Jimenez in Chef’s Roll Apparel at the MAPP Conference