Local Hero Profile: FoodLove!
By Noah Baustin, CISA Program Coordinator
Published in CISA’s July 2018 E-Newsletter – Sign Up Here!
Tonianne Paquette was preparing corn tortillas at a client’s birthday party when the party’s youngest attendee, at 8 years old, asked if she could help. Tonianne put her right to work shaping the dough. It didn’t take long for the adults to notice that their niece was having a blast and before Tonianne knew it, the whole family was gathered around the counter cooking together. Tonianne lives for these types of moments. As we sat down to chat on a hot June morning, she explained, “I see food as the ultimate gateway and connection to heritage, to geography, to family, and to each other. When a new human is born the first thing you need to do is feed them. Feeding each other is a pleasure and an honor.”
Tonianne is the founder of FoodLove!, a business that she created to help people gain food confidence and feel good about the food they eat by offering personal cheffing, customized in-home cooking workshops, and public workshops throughout the Pioneer Valley. Before FoodLove!, Tonianne spent years working at restaurants throughout the Valley, and although she enjoyed developing a variety of skills during this period—from event catering to vegetarian cooking and gluten free baking—Tonianne knew that the traditional life of a restauranteur wasn’t for her. “Running a successful restaurant requires business skills and tremendous dedication in addition to preparing good food. For me, there was something deeper I wanted to explore. I really wanted to promote the connections that I feel through food, and I needed to find my own way of doing that.”
Tonianne has found her outlet for promoting connectivity through her personal cheffing. “I think a lot of people take food for granted and they think of it more as just one more thing to get done. They don’t have family meals and they often don’t know where their food comes from.” Tonianne is on a mission to fix that reality. With FoodLove!, Tonianne supports her clients by taking on the whole process of making a healthy, family meal – from buying high quality, local ingredients to preparing the meals in the family’s home. She sees it as a great service for families of busy people who might not have the time, interest, or skill to do a lot of cooking but place a high value on bringing ‘real, whole foods’ into their home.
Tonianne finds joy in bringing delicious, local ingredients into her client’s lives – she still remembers the moment that she discovered what a difference buying fresh, local produce can make. Tonianne had always hated the cherry tomatoes that she found in grocery stores—she found the skins to be too thick and chewy. Her idea of cherry tomatoes was flipped on its head during her first year as a CSA member at Red Fire Farm. “Red Fire had 30 or more varieties of heirloom cherry tomatoes. The colors alone were mind blowing. It was like having a brand new box of crayons because all the colors were so cool and they were just so tender and delicious and sweet and fragrant. I was completely hooked.” These days, Tonianne considers herself an evangelist for local food and she loves to incorporate produce from local farms into her personal cheffing and her community workshops.
The goal of Tonianne’s community workshops is to empower people to begin cooking more at home. “What I like to do is get people comfortable in the kitchen. It’s not about learning one recipe. It’s about getting comfortable with the idea of just bringing home some ingredients and kind of tossing them together. It’s exciting to see people realize that if you buy really good quality food to begin with, like something you get at a local farm, and then you cook it in a way that maximizes its flavor, you will be blown away at how much flavor is there. That’s when you start to see the light bulbs go off, people thinking, ‘I could do this, I could make this at home and I could really love it.’”
Visit the FoodLove! website to learn more about Tonianne’s private cheffing services – from weekly meal prep to catering for special occasions. Also, keep an eye on the FoodLove! Facebook page to hear about upcoming FoodLove! community workshops. Finally, hop on CISA’s online Farm Product Guide to find out where local farms are selling the ingredients to your next recipe. As Tonianne says, there is never a bad time for all of us to bring more delicious, nutritious, home-cooked food into our lives. “If you give a few extra moments and kindness to the choices of how you care for your body, that can’t help but make its way out into the world.”