FOX13 celebrates Black History Month with soulful history and Southern staples of Chef Tam

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For many people, dinner is about family, home cooking and heartfelt talks.

It’s the love born from a dinner table like that that brings us to the story of Chef Tam.

She’s a celebrity cook who won “Guy’s Grocery Games” and “The Ultimate Cook-Off.”

For Black History Month, FOX13′s Darcy Thomas introduces us to Memphis’ newest Chef, known for mouthwatering staples, seasoned to perfection.

In the heart of the Edge District, near Sun Studios, sits a fusion of deep southern roots with a pinch of Cajun cuisine called Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe.

Gospel music permeates the large room, as well as the smell of well-seasoned, fried goodness.

“Catfish, fried chicken, collard greens, candied yams, dirty rice,” Chef Tam said, describing her menu.

Tamra Patterson, or as she became nationally known as Chef Tam, told FOX13 her food journey is rooted in a family who’s always celebrated and loved southern cooking.

“Coming from a long line of cooks, it’s literally like my father passed me the baton, after his mother passed him the baton. I have no choice, but to step into this realm,” Tam said.

A realm of self-taught cooks who never had formal training, yet they understood the ingredient to success was the soul put into each recipe.

When Chef Tam started cooking, she says she was simply trying to find a way to support her son.

“The goal was ten plates a day 5 days a week and we would be good, like I would be able to take care of my son,” she said.

Chef Tam said when you come from such a long line of creativity and passion, sometimes even a gift from your grandmother isn’t always understood.

“She hands me this Betty Crocker cookbook and it’s old, it’s taped up, it’s a mess like and I’m looking at it like I do not want this,” she said.

What she found was a well-used Pandora’s box, filled with handwritten, notes, recipes and a legacy reaching back decades.

Making heaping plates of comfort foods, Chef Tam said every dish is smothered in love, a love passed from father to daughter.

“I can’t fathom how happy he would be to know that we he instilled in me, he gets to see lived out every day,” Tam said.

During the pandemic, Chef Tam created her own line of cast iron cookware, seasonings and condiments.

She is planning to open a Chef Tam “Underground Cafe” in Arlington, Texas on Feb. 20.