“Our best family memories are made around the dinner table” and Bersabel Tammerat wants to capture just that in her future restaurant: family dinner time. With a business mindset from her late father, the cooking skills from her mother and the Ethiopian culture from both, this L.A. girl is confident and excited for her place in the restaurant industry. Bersabel is currently studying Culinary Management at the Art Institute of Santa Monica and is in the works of starting her own catering business. She’s 22-years-old and ready to get the ball rolling!
Where are you from and what school are you currently attending?
I’m from L.A. born and raised. I pretty much grew up in Beverly Hills because I went to school there literally from kindergarten to my senior year of high school. I moved to Santa Barbara for two years after I graduated high school and studied business at Santa Barbara City College. I decided to move back to L.A. after the two years. I got over the whole Santa Barbara scene, you know, the parties and all. It gets real crazy. So then I came out to L.A., not that it’s any better out here. I was forced to go to West L.A. College because my credits didn’t transfer over for whatever reason. There I majored in communications and took business classes on the side because I always wanted to own a business like a restaurant, a hotel or a club. So then one of my really good friends moved back to L.A. from Houston and went to school at the Art Institute out there. She told me all of these amazing things about it and it made me want to do more research on the Art Institute out in L.A. That’s when I found out that Santa Monica has the best culinary management program out of all the campuses. So I decided to enroll myself there and I loved it! I still do.
What was life like growing up in Beverly Hills?
Girl that shit was not easy [laughs], especially being Ethiopian. I get asked questions like, Is it okay for you to say ni*** because you’re not really ‘black,’ or you’re pretty… for a black girl, or you’re white washed, etc. When all I was doing is really being myself. Luckily for me I had a group of friends who were very diverse and supportive, so it never really got to me but it definitely made me look at the world differently. Going to Beverly High was very different than my elementary school. As shocking as it may sound, it was the first time that I actually went to a school where there was more than two or three black people. I was basically “too white for the black kids and too black for the Persian kids.” It’s a lot harder than it seems growing up in America with Ethiopian parents and learning how to culture mesh.
How did you get into cooking/the restaurant business?
I always loved to cook when I was younger and I always used to cook with my mom, but I never considered myself to be a chef in the future. [laughs] Everyone I knew was so confused! They were like, You were doing acting here, modeling there and now a chef? And I always tell them, “I’m doing the chef side for school because I need those classes to graduate!” But I’m so happy that I decided to go to this school because I’m learning so much about the back of the house compared to the front of the house in a restaurant. I’ve had most of my experience as a host and a server, but never in the kitchen. So I’m learning more of that side of the world. When I graduate, I’m hopefully gonna open up a restaurant, and not necessarily be the chef, but have enough knowledge where if someone makes a mistake in the kitchen, I want to be able to walk right up to the plate and know how to fix it.
What first got you started in the beginning?
I always saw my mom cooking in the kitchen. She was a housewife up until my dad passed away. She would make dinner every night no matter what and I loved that. That was one of my favorite parts growing up–having dinner around the table all of us together. I feel like our best family memories are made around the dinner table, like celebrations, holidays or just regular moments. But yeah, dinner was always my favorite part of us, my favorite part of a family scene. That’s kinda how I want to built my restaurant, very family oriented.
What courses do you have to take for culinary management?
So I’m still taking business courses in terms of management and restaurant management. My first class in the kitchen was a pastry class. I had to learn how to bake and make bread from scratch and cakes and such. I love pastries. I have a sweet tooth. I can’t.
How do you not get fat?
I eat one bite then give it to other people. I remember before I enrolled in school I said I was going on a diet, then realized I was enrolling in culinary school. So every time I finished baking something I would take a bite then give it to the rest of the class.
What is the hardest food/meal to make?
Well for me the hardest thing to make is anything dairy oriented, like a béchamel sauce or a hollandaise sauce. Not because it’s hard to make, but because I personally don’t like the taste of cream and cheese and stuff like that. And being a chef, you have to taste as you go, and with me being lactose intolerant, it’s really hard for me to taste something and know what’s missing. I can’t tell if it needs more salt or anything else because I don’t like the taste of it. I have to say that is the hardest part for me, having to taste and work with food that I’m not use to.
Where do you get your inspiration from when making your dishes?
I love foods from all around the world. A lot of my inspiration comes from looking through food magazines and books and scrolling through the internet. I love Thomas Keller, he’s a really well known chef out here and I love his work. I get a lot of inspiration from my mom too. Another person is my Aunti Meski. She owns a restaurant in San Francisco and that really inspired me to know that I’m able to do it. My business side definitely comes from my dad and my cousin Guma, Aunti Meski’s son. He’s very business oriented and I’ve looked up to him since my dad passed. He doesn’t know it though [laughs]. I get a lot of inspiration from my family.
What past work have you done that will help you in your career?
I’ve done hostessing and waitressing. Over the summer I would work at my aunt’s restaurant on and off for three years. In L.A. I’ve had a lot of hostessing jobs and a lot of bad managers. That’s why I learn from them. I don’t want to be a bad manager. I’ve dealt with a lot of them so I know what to do and not to do. I haven’t had a lot of management experience but that’s what I’m working towards right now.
Do people always ask you to cook for them now that you’re in culinary school?
So in the beginning I use to throw these dinner parties at my house and people really started to like what I did. And now my friends text me like, “When’s the next dinner party?” It’s kind of backwards.
Where would you like to see the future of your culinary career?
Well I’m going to start off into catering, that’s why I started that Instagram page. Come December of this year I’ll be doing catering work and getting my name out there. The goal is to open up a steakhouse in L.A. I want to start in L.A. and definitely go across the country to like Miami and New York, and then hopefully out of the country. On my menu I definitely want to incorporate my Ethiopian culture. I don’t want to talk and say too much, but at the same time I have to find investors and people who will listen to my dream and say, You know what, I support you. It’s really difficult but that’s the goal. I want to be able to be hands-on with everything in my restaurant; if someone needs me to tie on an apron and work in the kitchen, I’ll do it.
What are some of the challenges in the restaurant industry?
Different personalities. The restaurant business is very fast pace and there are a lot of different personalities involved. Leave the arguments outside of the restaurant, outside of the kitchen and do what needs to be done. At the end of the day the customer is who we’re trying to make happy, so let’s do what we came here to do.
What advice would you give to girls who want to get into the restaurant or culinary industry?
I would say definitely be patient. I mean, the restaurant world, it doesn’t come easy. You’re always going to start off at the bottom, like a line cook or something. Always respect the person above you. Even if you don’t agree with what they say or do, it’s not your restaurant. When you are respectable that looks good on you and people will want to work with you.
Have you ever been to Chicago?
No, but I’ve been wanting to go!
What would be the one thing you want to do in Chicago?
See what else Bersabel is up to by following her on Instagram @sooobelle and for more info on her culinary work, follow her food Instagram account @travel_kitchen