2020 Finalist: Tanorria Askew

Tanorria Askew’s personality fills up a room. Her laughter and vivacious spirit are contagious, which is why we thought she’d be a fitting choice to begin our blog series of ELEVATE’s fifteen finalists.

A finalist for Community Ambassador of the Year, Tanorria was nominated by fellow Indy food maven, chef, entrepreneur, blogger & author – Sonja Overheiser. Sonja had this to say about her friend,

“She’s a true game changer in the food scene in Indy – not only advocating for diversity and inclusion, but food insecurity and food justice in our community and beyond. She is able to facilitate a public conversation about sensitive issues and leave the entire room inspired to make a change to be more inclusive.

Here’s some more from our time chatting with Tanorria.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

A. I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee but raised in Indianapolis and consider myself a Hoosier. In short, I am a personal chef. It’s my job to come into people’s homes and create delicious memories. I spent my formative years between my parents and grandparents’ kitchens where there was always a sense of community. People always came over to eat. As I got older, I realized that if I I offered to feed people they would come into my home, stay and have great conversations. I love being the hub.

Q: What did you think when you found out you were a finalist for an ELEVATE Award in the category of “Community Ambassador of the Year?”

A. I was shocked, but also incredibly honored. It’s amazing that someone I have so much respect for [Sonja] considers me a great connector. Truthfully, I love it, but am not really even aware of it half the time. It’s just organic for me to help people who have meaningful things to say about their experience in life and in the food industry connect to others, and through that celebrate what’s amazing about our city.

Q: Tell us more about your work with the DiverCITY series.

For a few years I had been hosting what I called “Unity Tables.” It was my way to combine two things I care deeply about—food and discussion about diversity—into one evening. I invited people to come have a seat at my table for raw, sometimes uncomfortable conversations. We talked about tough stuff with grace and integrity – always with the goal of unity in mind.  Facilitating these meaningful gatherings led me to pitch an idea to Sonja that became the DiverCITY series. It consisted of three panel discussions run through Indy Women in Food to discuss racial and gender equity in food here in Indianapolis. We were able to shine the spotlight on racial equity in the LGBTQ+ community, in women in food (along with our friends at Creative Mornings) and our final conversation was on women growers and agriculture in Indianapolis. Next year we’re planning the series again, with a focus on food insecurity.

Q: Speaking of food insecurity, the $63,000 raised at ELEVATE in 2019 went towards programs supported by United Way’s Basic Needs Impact Fund addressing food insecurity. This year, proceeds will benefit programs addressing safe, affordable and equitable housing. So, our questions is: how have you observed the intersection between hunger and homelessness in our community?

A: Recently I’ve partnered with a nonprofit called Food 4 Souls, where you can go to homeless camps – versus homeless individuals all congregating at a church or some other central location – to provide meals. So, I’ve fed a lot of people out of the trunk of my car. Observing their living conditions, has been incredibly eye-opening. But what makes me angry is their lack of access to fresh food. Their only options are convenient stores where frozen, over-processed food is marketed as the “healthy option.” I’m dedicated to partnering with farmers and farmers markets to find creative ways to make fresh food more accessible to ALL – no matter where they lay their head.

I know it takes resources to just sprout up a grocery-store in a community. But you can start by educating about food choices. Just sit and talk with people. I had an amazing conversation with a homeless man who I fed out of the trunk of my car. He was a chef. Let me tell you, he taught ME some things. I learn from others through food.

Q: What do you love about central Indiana?

A: About six years ago I would not have said Indiana had a good food scene. But, we are kicking butt and taking names when it comes to food here now. I’m so proud now to say that I live here and am part of an ever-evolving place that is putting food on the map.

Side note.

Tanorria isn’t one to call attention this fun fact, but we felt compelled to share. She’s actually a legitimate celebrity. In 2016 she competed as a contestant on the Fox Network’s hit show MasterChef, starring the master chef himself, Chef Gordon Ramsay. Tanorria walked away as the 4th best home cook in America.  According to one of our ELEVATE Host Committee members, “she was robbed.”

If you want to watch how Tanorria won over judges and viewers with her southern culinary roots and sassy personality, binge watch Season 7 on Hulu. And you’ll see Gordon Ramsay actually say Tonorria’s shrimp and grits is the best he’s ever had in the MasterChef kitchen! Whoa.

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