Nom Nom Paleo on the French Laundry, Red Boat Fish Sauce, and Other Faves

Rachel Tepper Paley
·Editor

Michelle Tam has her own action figure. Photo: nomnompaleo/Instagram

In a way, the eating habits of Nom Nom Paleo blogger Michelle Tam belong in the Stone Age. It’s not a bad thing—that’s the fundamental principle behind the Paleo diet, which eschews rice and grains in favor of hunter-gatherer fare like meaty steaks and roasted veggies.

But defining Paleo by the things you’re not supposed to eat doesn’t do justice to Tam’s cuisine, which, ironically, is decidedly modern. Over the last few days, our Blogger of the Week has demonstrated the breadth of her often Asian-inflected cuisine, from slow cooker Korean short ribs to cauliflower fried rice to orange sriracha chicken.

"Food is just something that I’ve always loved," Tam told us. "I just always think several meals ahead, because I think life is too short to waste on a bad meal."

Here are a few more things you should know about Michelle Tam:

Oddest flavor combo that you love?
Crispy eggs topped with furikake and sauerkraut. It’s my weird German-Japanese diner breakfast of choice.

Favorite food:
Wow. That’s like asking me to choose which of my sons I love the most. I love all kinds of food, but if I had to choose one item to subsist on for the rest of my life, it would be super dark chocolate (85 to 90 percent cacao).

This is how Michelle Tam does breakfast. Photo: nomnompaleo/Instagram

Go-to kitchen utensil:
As an obsessive hoarder of kitchen tools, I’m always getting distracted by new, shiny toys. Right now, I’m crushing hard on GIR’s gorgeously sleek unibody silicone spatulas. I’ve got one in every color, including the one that’s designed to look like bacon.

GIR’s Ultimate Spatula in “bacon.” Photo: Amazon.com

Most underappreciated ingredient, in your opinion:
Hands down: Red Boat fish sauce. It’s umami in a bottle, and punches up the flavor of everything I cook. I use fish sauce in place of salt in my scrambled eggs, splash some in my broths and soups, and use it to deepen the flavors of my stir fries. Plus, unlike most additive-laden fish sauces on the market, Red Boat is made with just two ingredients: anchovy and sea salt.

Kitchen “sin” for which you won’t apologize:
When I make bone broth or other stocks, I never skim the scum off the top. My mom would flip out if she knew. I’m also terrible about organizing my spices and pantry staples. Frankly, my whole kitchen is one large controlled mess.

For Tam, being Paleo means not being afraid of butter. Photo: nomnompaleo/Instagram

Essential cookbook:
Anything by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. I love that they’re so meticulous in their recipe testing. Every dish comes out right the first time, which inspired me to make my own recipes as consistently fool-proof as possible.

Culinary “eureka!” moment:
The first time I tasted a freshly picked heirloom tomato from my childhood neighbor’s garden. Until the age of 10, I’d only tasted mealy, anemic, store-bought tomatoes. The difference was so stark that I yelped out loud.

Splurgiest kitchen purchase:
My kitchen itself! We remodeled our house when we first moved to Palo Alto from San Francisco, and spent most of our time, attention, and budget on creating a kitchen that would be the beating heart of our home. We took away the master bedroom’s walk-in closet and another full room to free up space for cooking. My husband and I have no room to hang up our clothes now, but I don’t care.

Tam poses in her kitchen. Photo: Nom Nom Paleo

You’re about to bite the big one. What’s your last supper?
Probably an infinitely long tasting menu at the French Laundry, with endless desserts and mignardises. (And bathroom breaks.) The longer the meal lasts, the longer I stay alive, right? Bonus: someone else’ll get stuck with the bill if I croak after coffee.

Proudest food moment: 
When I cracked the code on how to make a 20-minute Paleo-friendly, umami-rich homemade sriracha sauce. My husband had bet me that I couldn’t create a Paleo sriracha, and I won.

Toughest dish you’ve mastered:
It may sound strange, but some of the most technically challenging and rewarding dishes I’ve made have been simple-sounding ones, like perfectly crisp chicken thighs (a.k.a. Cracklin’ Chicken) and delicately poached eggs. It was a big deal in my house when I finally mastered the art of hand-whisking homemade mayonnaise… until I learned how easy it is to make with an immersion blender.

Kitchen skill you want to learn: 
I would love to perfect my knife skills. Sometimes my mise en place looks like a four-year-old hacked up a bunch of Play-Doh with a plastic knife.

A family meal in Tam’s house. Photo: nomnompaleo/Instagram

Ice cream or gelato:
Gelato. I love the soft consistency, fresh flavors, and slightly chewy mouthfeel. I recall nothing about the art galleries and museums in Italy that my husband dragged me to visit, but I still remember every scoop of gelato I tried, from Rome to Venice.

Caramel or hot fudge:
Really dark hot fudge, with toasted almonds.

Vanilla or chocolate:
It depends on the cacao content of the chocolate. If it’s lower than 85%, I’ll choose vanilla. Otherwise, chocolate all the way.

Hamburger or hot dog:
Burger—lettuce wrapped. I’m Paleo, so hold the bun, please.

Worst kitchen blunder you wish you could undo:
I’d re-do the grass-fed beef roast I overcooked for my in-laws. I saw my father-in-law sneakily spit out his portion into a napkin and secretly drop it in the garbage. Horrifying. That’s when I decided it was time to invest in a sous vide cooker and a decent meat thermometer.

Yep, Tam has a cookbook. Photo: nomnompaleo/Instagram

Ingredient that you just can’t stand:
Lavender. I don’t want to eat food that smells like air freshener.

You can only eat one type of cuisine for the rest of your life. What is it? Vietnamese—since childhood, I’ve been head-over-heels for the fresh, French-influenced Asian flavors of Vietnam.

Ingredient that you always buy in bulk:
Dried porcini mushrooms from Costco! I throw ’em in soups and stews.

Oldest thing in your kitchen:
I have some vintage Jacques Pépin cookbooks that I found at a secondhand bookstore years ago. I’m constantly thumbing through the well-worn pages to look for inspiration. But the coolest-looking vintage item in my kitchen is an old butcher shop bone-cutter that my cousins gave me.

Best thing your parents taught you about food: 
Life’s too short to waste on a bad meal, so choose your food wisely.

More Michelle Tam stories:
8 Things to Know About Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo
Nom Nom Paleo’s Asian Cauliflower Fried ‘Rice’ Recipe
Nom Nom Paleo’s Orange Sriracha Chicken Recipe
Nom Nom Paleo’s Slow Cooker Korean Short Ribs Recipe

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