Tiffani Faison at MassEquality’s "Taste of Provincetown"
Tiffani Faison, a finalist on season one of Bravo’s "Top Chef," has a lot to be proud of. The openly lesbian celebrity chef competed on Bravo’s "4 Star All Stars," took home the $20,000 prize on "Top Chef Holiday Special," worked as actor Will Smith’s private chef, and headed up Rocca Kitchen + Bar in Boston’s South End to much critical acclaim. Area restaurants under her belt include O Ya, Craigie Street Bistro, Perdix, Pigalle, Olives, and Nantucket’s Straight Wharf.
And later this month, she’s headlining MassEquality’s annual "Taste of Provincetown" event, where Faison will host a special Quick Fire challenge for three area chefs. Frank Vasello of Relish, Lawrence de Freitas of The Mews, and Michael Mishkin of Victor’s will go head-to-head in a "Top Chef"-inspired competition, competing for what Faison referred to as "bragging rights."
In advance of her appearance at the Provincetown Town Hall and Auditorium on Saturday, Aug. 27 (visit www.massequality.org/ptown for more information), the celebrity chef spoke with Bay Windows about bringing Southern hospitality to Boston, Rocca’s Trevor Project fundraiser, and what in the garden is good to grill right now (hint: everything).
Bay Windows: You’re designing and hosting the Quick Fire challenge for this year’s "Taste of Provincetown." What’s that all about?
Tiffani Faison: We were sort of brainstorming ideas about what would be fun for both the chefs that were participating and obviously for the audience. Obviously it’s "Top Chef"-inspired, just taking this Quick Fire to get the energy up and have a lot of fun with it. I’m not going to give away exactly what the Quick Fire is because I don’t want the chefs to know, but we’ve got a couple hijinks up our sleeves.
Bay Windows: I’m not betting woman, but who do you think is going to win?
TF: I don’t know. To be honest...I think it’s probably better that I don’t [laughs]. I am familiar with the restaurants that they work for, but I’m not overwhelmingly familiar with the chefs as individuals, which is best case scenario, so I can go in completely open head, open heart.
Bay Windows: Last October, Rocca hosted a benefit for The Trevor Project.
TF: I was the plan behind that. I was actually away in New York when the student from Rutgers committed suicide. I was filming "Top Chef: All Stars," and we would get sort of news dailies. To be honest, it would be Padma [Lakshmi, host of "Top Chef"] standing in front of us before a Quick Fire, getting news in her ear, like someone reading the newspaper into her ear and then her telling us, because we don’t have any access to the outside world. That broke while we were there, and it was just obviously overwhelming to me. And then they were like, "Okay, Quick Fire, go!" and I was like, "What the fuck?" So really the proliferation of it was at the end of when I was in New York and then it continued and I got home and that was priority number one for me, to do that benefit and really do whatever we could to contribute in our community and our area.
I think a lot of us grew up queer in high school, and even before that...I think there’s a bunch of kids that have the courage -- and it’s changing, to come out now. But there was no way I was coming out in high school. There wasn’t the culture shift that’s happened now that could even allow kids to kind of explore it and think about it. I couldn’t even sit with it in my head in high school. It freaked me out. And that wasn’t just about me, that was about the idea of living this life in this way; it was scary. For the kids who’ve had the courage to come out, the kids that even have chosen not to come out but have been outed in some way, obviously that resonated with me in terms of sheer terror and fear and not wanting kids to have to deal with this. Even beyond being queer kids in high school, just the amount of bullying that’s going on in American high schools and the proliferation of that, you know...I know how it is as an adult in terms of things going viral, I can’t even imagine the petri dish of high school and how quickly that travels. It hit home.
"For the kids who’ve had the courage to come out...obviously that resonated with me in terms of sheer terror and fear and not wanting kids to have to deal with this.
Bay Windows: Tell me about Sweet Cheeks, your new restaurant slated to open late this summer in the Fenway neighborhood. It’s all about Southern hospitality, right?
TF: Yeah, that’s the idea! For better or worse, I was in a military family, so I spent a good amount of time in the South. Maybe not aligned with some of the general politics that comes out of the South, [but] definitely in some ways in terms of hospitality and food, it feels like home to me. It’s the kind of food that my mom cooked growing up. It’s really this idea of bringing this thing that I know really well in my life and that I love a lot to this city that’s given so much to me and that I love. I kind of just wanted to build a really fun restaurant that had food that I wanted to really resonate in a way that I don’t think is really hitting very hard in Boston.
Bay Windows: Can you recommend a good summer dish for our readers?
TF: The beauty of summer is that everything is so lovely. [You can get] something out of the ground, and you just don’t mess with it [laughs]. I’m really a fan of salt and pepper and olive oil and really anything on the grill -- including fruits, from watermelons to peaches to nectarines, whatever. We grill almost everything in the summer. You know what? Black eyed peas are really easy to find fresh, and right now it’s black eyed peas and okra time. I’m finding those fresh. I love fried okra, and I love sautéed okra, and just doing sort of my mom’s black eyed peas with ham hocks and vinegar...so lovely.
Bay Windows: We shouldn’t have talked right before lunch; I’m hungry now! But back to "Taste of Provincetown." What’s the prize for the winner of the Quick Fire challenge?
TF: Probably the respect and love of your peers and the surrounding audience. We’ll probably think of something that’s fun. It’s bragging rights.
Bay Windows: For people who aren’t familiar with "Top Chef," this is similar to the Quick Fire challenge they do on the show, right?
TF: It’s similar, yeah. It’s going to be timed, they’re not going to know what it is, and then it’s going to be spun on them right before they have to perform.
Bay Windows: That sounds really exciting.
TF: Yeah, it is! It should be a lot of fun, just getting the energy up. You know, everyone will have their favorites, and they’ll be rooting for people...it’s also hilarity. It’s not as funny to watch on the show, but it’s just like absolute hilarity.
MassEquality’s "Taste of Provincetown: A Festival of Fine Food, Wines and Cocktails" will be held Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Provincetown Town Hall Auditorium. In addition to Faison’s special appearance, the Taste of Provincetown will also feature delectable cuisines and wines provided by top-rated chefs from fifteen area restaurants and Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod. Participating restaurants include: Victor’s; The Mews; Jimmy’s Hideaway; Central House At the Crown; Ross’s Grill; Patio American Grill; Relish; Far Land Provisions; Bayside Betsy’s; Ptown Parties; Harbor Lounge; and Adrian’s North Truro. Individual tickets are $125, sponsorships begin at $250, and all tickets may be purchased now at www.massequality.org/ptown. For more information, please call (617) 878-2365.