Inspiring others to eat more plant-based meals, building communities, and offering mutual care are the guiding principles behind everything Tara Thomas does. The chef, who curates private dining experiences for fashion, home, and beauty brands, discovered the joy of urban farming during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Growing her own fruits and vegetables is a natural extension of Thomas’ work, which she describes as being an alchemist from seed to plate. It also aligns with her cofounding and running Breaking Bread NYC, which works with urban farms across Brooklyn to address food insecurity via food boxes and meals. With modeling on top of all this, Thomas is a true Gen-Z multi-hyphenate determined to change the world, one rustic vegan brioche loaf at a time.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Thomas found joy in food and hospitality. “Rain or shine, I would go out to our garden and pretend to make food with flowers, leaves, and rocks,” she recalls, connecting those early moments to her approach to food today. “Everything is plant-forward and seasonally aligned. My cuisine is an exploration of myself and my community. My father is Black, from Northern Louisiana, and my mom is from the Netherlands, but they actually met in Asia.” Add to that the benefits of being raised in a culturally diverse neighborhood into the mix, and you can see how Thomas explores the ways different cultures around the world adapt plant-based cuisines to their needs and tastes. For example, at a recent event that she curated for the Brooklyn-based nonprofit arts organization Pioneer Works, Thomas featured biscuits that nodded to her Southern roots while braised kale, trumpet mushrooms, and a kombu sauce spoke to her parents’ Asian history.
Thomas’ home life was formative to her career, but she found Portland as a city to be limiting. “I attended culinary school but dropped out. Then I began doing private chef work, but it wasn’t successful, since the community there wasn’t receptive,” she says. Five years ago, Thomas moved to New York, and by early 2020 she was set to become the executive chef of an all-day, plant-based cafe in Brooklyn. Once the pandemic struck, like so many others in the hospitality industry, she found herself out of work, and her plans shifted dramatically. Thomas leaned into building a community online, creating content around her cooking. She also began volunteering at Phoenix Community Garden, an urban farm in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn, spending four to five days a week working on education and creating access to healthy food for the local community.
But perhaps the most important product of the pandemic for Thomas was the creation of Breaking Bread NYC. “After the George Floyd protests I started the nonprofit with four co-founders. We fundraised $10,000, and 100 percent of that went to feeding protestors and healthcare workers. We wanted to create a circular economy,” she explains. Since then, Breaking Bread NYC has gone on to work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a worker-led organization of Black and Brown housekeepers and care providers. “Not only are we giving them access to healthy food, we’re also offering them rest and relaxation experiences.”
Working with like-minded brands such as Brightland olive oil, Design Within Reach, and Rosa Luna mezcal may help Thomas financially, but her aspirations speak to her desire to change the world around her. Building support systems for those who may not have them has come easy to her. “I don’t really question what I’m doing because it feels good to make people in my community feel good.”