Chef Dawn Tyson Cooking Up A Soulful Success

Dawn's DishIt was in her grandmother’s kitchen that Chef Dawn Tyson first fell in love with the art of cooking. Watching her grandmother sparked an interest that has today grown into a successful business for Tyson, who began her professional culinary career with the launch A Little Place Called Siam in Baltimore where she ran the kitchen. Her? career took a detour when she returned to New York and worked as a publicist for BMG/RCA Records in 1996. But she didn’t completely give up on her culinary dreams– she started catering and baking for artists, executives and co-workers, ultimately launching her own catering company Dawn?s Dish.

The business grew and eventually she opened up a storefront cafe. But after working overtime–80 hours per week–she needed a break. She took a position as a coordinator at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

Now, Tyson is celebrating the release of her first cookbook, Soul: Southern American Cuisine.

TNJ: How did you venture into cooking?
Chef Dawn Tyson: My first venture into the culinary field was cooking with my grandmother. I had a red stool that I pushed up to the counter at her house and I would help with Sunday morning biscuits. But on a more “professional” track – well, I had to work myself through college (as did most people) and I really was good at cooking
for large amounts of people and I did it well. So kitchens and restaurants were where I ended up. I really loved it.

TNJ: How did you make yourself and your culinary creations stand out from the competition?

DT:There is a lot of competition out there but, really, I always just do the best I can do. Competition well, I don’t really look at it but I may peek every once in a while. I guess I peek to see what others are doing — what may be interesting…that’s all really.

TNJ: Why did you decide to write the book, Soul: Southern American Cuisine?
DT: Well, many of my chef friends were getting book deals and I always wanted to write my own cookbook but really did not know how to go about it. I mean “shopping it” and “finding an agent” or whatever you have to do. I was talking about it with my mom and she said “why don’t you just do it yourself– your sister is a graphic designer —
and you are a great chef / writer.” So, I talked to my sister Heather who was onboard immediately and started down the long road of “self publishing”.

TNJ: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?

DT: I really love to feed people….my love for them comes out in my food. Cooking is my Zen.

TNJ: You left the business for a while to work as an entertainment publicist. Why did you decide to do this?
DT: I had an opportunity– really. I had an opportunity to use my college education. Paid off my student loans. It was a great experience. I had a great female boss – tough, very shrewd and knew how to maneuver through the BS. I learned a lot from her. And really, who turns down an opportunity to work at a record label.

TNJ: What made you return to cooking?
DT: I was cooking when I was at the label. I used to cater on the side which turned into a full-time business when I left RCA.

TNJ: Was running the restaurant A Little Place Called Siam a difficult process?

DT: Well it was a new restaurant but the owner was an established restaurateur. This was his third restaurant. There were difficulties that came up in working for an Asian owner who was a bit older. So, we had some “personality” conflicts at first but we came to an understanding. We talked a lot and had a very honest line of communication. He was convinced that I was not a Black woman.

TNJ: Do you think black chefs face any obstacles that are different?
DT: I hope not — it is 2013 but we do. I have a friend — black female chef – graduated from CIA (Culinary Institute of America). She has been working in the industry for a few years. She went to her bank to find out about business loans. She was completely prepared with a business plan, projections…a whole presentation. She really got no response and she walked away feeling like she was not helped. About a week later — her business partner – a white man went to the same bank. What do you think happened? Her business partner (not a chef) got a loan for them. Makes you think.

TNJ: Can you tell me more about Dawn’s Dish?

DT: Dawn’s Dish was the name of my catering company that expanded into a storefront in New Paltz, NY. I own the name so I am now using it for my website.

TNJ: What advice would you give to others in creative fields on how to promote themselves?
DT: That is hard to say? But one piece of advice that could help in this area is do not burn bridges. What I mean is stay true to yourself but be kind to folks. This planet is a small place, especially with social media?Facebook, Twitter, etc.