Cooking with Jillian – Carver Conversations #3


Khadijah Olufayo, Editor

Ever since she was a little girl, 11th grader Jillian Tamayo (she/her) has loved cooking. Surrounded by food and raised with a culture that highlights it, she made her first meal at 7 years old — a plate of fried eggs: “I mostly likely botched by having the heat on high.” From there simmered a lifelong passion for the culinary arts that fuels her power as a chef today.


Growing up, her father was the family cook. Jillian remembers, “He got all these dishes from his mom,” — who was passed down the recipes from his own parents. Food has an important place in Filipino culture, Jillian explained, “My mom, she never lets people leave the house without eating.” In a culture that emphasizes nourishment, preparing and enjoying food are simultaneously necessary tasks and ways to feel closer to a mother country oceans away. Jillian’s favorite dish from the Philippines is beef kaldereta, a beef stew embellished with tomatoes and potatoes: “It always tastes best the next day. Y’know, like a chili.” Wasting food is frowned upon in Filipino culture, and the influx of leftovers in the Tamayo fridge results in the family cooking something new “maybe twice a week.”


Combined with her familial and cultural influences, Jillian’s media consumption also shaped her idea of cooking. The online culinary community motivated her to improve: “I would always watch these cooking channels on YouTube. And then, like, I don’t know, I just became obsessed with learning all the techniques and learning all the names.” Watching Master Chef Junior with her family as a child, Jillian saw children her age producing their chef-d’oeuvres under pressure. She would soon grow accustomed to a similar environment while working at Carver Cafe. Now, she reads blogs like Scheck Eats and The Spruce Eats to discover new recipes and approaches.


Recipes are housed in the notes app on Jillian’s phone: “Every single recipe I learn, I always write it down.”


Even the most complicated dishes share standard steps of the cooking process that translate across all recipes. Mise en place —  the part where the food is prepped for cooking —  captivates Jillian the most, “It means ‘all in place’ and I just really enjoy chopping everything up and having it all ready and prepared.” Earlier, she described to me her process to make a sandwich, “First things first, I would make an open faced sandwich,” Jillian declared, “For the bottom layer you either put a leafy green or a fatty sauce like mayo or something to prevent all the ingredients from making the bread soggy.”


By the time she started her freshman year, Jillian was already excited to start running Carver Cafe — Carver Center’s own onsite restaurant — as a part of her Culinary Arts education. As the years went on and she grew more involved, she learned the importance of collaboration: “So many hands go into it and the outcome is always good.” After a lifetime of only cooking for herself and her family, Jillian found joy in feeding her community — a phenomenon that mirrors her upbringing in a Filipino household.


Visiting local restaurants contrasts her work as a chef with the experience of being a customer. Her favorite place to eat is Urban Hot Pot. “It has a lot of options and it’s all-you-can-eat,” she rationalized, “so y’know, a girl gets her fill.” Jame’s Fiesta Grill and Mama Rosa are her Filipino eateries of choice. Naturally, she is more connected to food she makes herself, but eating what others prepare allows her to explore the diverse happenings in the culinary world.


Food isn’t just food; it’s a process with a history that spans many generations and cultures. Support your local restaurants and prepare your own food to keep culinary traditions alive for generations to come. You can connect with Jillian on Instagram @jilliantamayo or by walking the halls here at Carver Center.