A Chat With Nom Nom Paleo


It’s no secret that I think Michelle Tam, a.k.a. Nom Nom Paleo, is the cat’s pajamas. We’ve been friends for years now, but we “met” under somewhat odd circumstances. Way back in 2010, when I first started thinking about my first cookbook, I thought I would call it “Paleo Nom Nom.” While doing an internet search to make sure that was a good idea, I found myself confronted by Nom Nom Paleo.

Hmmmph… who the hell is that?! I thought.

That turned out to be a thoroughly delightful paleo cook and friend with an equally delightful family standing behind her. Since that somewhat inauspicious beginning, Michelle has become one of the dearest people I know. We’ve shared a presentation panel at PaleoFX and in Denver, explored a haunted hotel together, and put away some epic meals.

I could not be more excited about Michelle’s new book Nom Nom Paleo: Food For Humans. I’ll be doing a review and sharing photos of the recipes I made from her beautiful book in the coming days, but for now, get to know the Michelle I love a little better with this Q&A. And for goodness sake, go pre-order her book!


A Chat With Michelle Tam

What’s your favorite song/type of music to listen to while working out or cooking? Why?
When I work out in my garage, I’ll put on The Black Keys or MGMT — something that’ll pick me up. I also like listening to The White Stripes and Rage Against the Machine; music that makes me grit my teeth and lift angry.

In the kitchen, I prefer to zone out to classic “modern” rock from the ’80s like Erasure, the Smiths, and the Cure — mostly because my musical tastes haven’t changed since my freshman year of high school. (I’m not nostalgic for my angst-filled teenage goth years, but I do miss the music.)

Of course, when the kids get home from school, they insist on “Weird” Al songs. And my husband Henry only listens to hipster bands that we can’t stand.


What’s your favorite healthy meal/snack?
My favorite meal is one that someone else makes for me!

In all seriousness, I really can’t pick out just one. That’s why I love going to restaurants and ordering the chef’s tasting menu — the surprise is a big part of the fun!

Nutrition has no meaning in this scenario. It’s Friday night and you’re ready to watch your favorite movie. What are you eating?
These days, nothing — because on Friday nights, I’m usually getting ready to head to the hospital for work, or passing out on the couch before the movie starts. But in a past life, I’d be slamming down fistfuls of Hurricane Popcorn, a Hawaiian snack that consists of popcorn seasoned with copious amounts of “butter” and furikake. Oh, and a big bar of dark chocolate, too.

You can have dinner with any characters from movies, TV, or books that you want. Table for 8. Who’s at the table?
Howard Stern, Andy Cohen, Kathy Griffin, Anthony Bourdain, Eddie Huang, George Takei, BMO from Adventure Time — and me! Funny always wins.

Garlic: Minced with a knife or crushed with a garlic press? Discuss.
A garlic press (because I’m lazy).

More often, though, I just smash my cloves with the bottom of a ceramic ramekin (because I’m really lazy.)

What are your three favorite recipes from your cookbook?
That’s a difficult one to answer — I love all the recipes in my book! But right now, my favorites include Polpette di Vitello (Veal Meatballs), Peruvian Roast Chicken + Aji Verde Chili Sauce, and Whole Roasted Branzini. The branzini, in particular, is super-easy to make, with no extra pots or pans to clean! I’m a big proponent of maximizing the flavor-to-hassle ratio.

nomnomfaverecipes[Photos from Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong / Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2013]

Did you have any recipe fails while doing development for your cookbook?
Of course! I didn’t want to put anything in the book that I didn’t absolutely love, so we diligently tested our recipes numerous times before deciding whether they were good enough for the cookbook. Some didn’t make the cut, while others had to be tweaked and refined over many iterations.

For example, I made five or six versions of my Carrot + Cardamom Soup before I was satisfied with the balance of flavors, and then I tested the final version twice more to make sure I had it right. In the end, it was well worth the effort, but my family was completely sick of eating carrot soup every night for a week.

carrotsoup[Photo from Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong / Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2013]

Do you have any advice/tricks for people who are thinking about paleo but need a kick-in-the-pants to start?

A lot of people are freaked out about Paleo because: (A) they think it’s a deprivation diet that’s limited to eating boring, unpalatable foods;  (B) they think it’s ridiculously difficult to eat this way; and (C) they can’t imagine never eating their favorite [FILL IN THE BLANK] again. So they never even start.

I get where they’re coming from. I have my hands full as a night shift worker and busy mom, so it’s important for me to find ways to make cooking as efficient as possible. Also, despite my emphasis on convenience, I’m a foodie first, and I refuse to waste my time in the kitchen preparing dishes that are anything less than delicious.

But Paleo can be simple and insanely delicious. And you don’t get kicked out of the club if you treat yourself to an ice cream sandwich once in a while. It’s not the end of the world if some gastronomic off-roading happens. (Frankly, these occasional detours can be fun!) As long as we keep picking ourselves up and moving in the right direction, we’ll be fine. A bump in the road won’t derail us—and it certainly shouldn’t stop anyone from getting started on his or her journey to better health.

Man, I love transportation-themed metaphors.

What do you like to do that doesn’t require a) firing up the stove and b) wearing workout clothes?
My secret passion: Watching trashy TV shows, reading trashy magazines, and surfing trashy websites. I have no idea what’s happening in Congress, and my knowledge of geography is hazy at best, but I can tell you everything there is to know about the feud between Lady Gaga and Perez Hilton.

One thing you will not, cannot, do not want to eat…
I’ll try anything once, and I’ve eaten everything from bear paw stew and alligator steak to bird spit soup and fried worms.

But I won’t try natto again. It’s been years since I last slurped down a big bowl of slimy fermented soybeans in Japan, but just thinking about the texture makes me shudder.


Anything else you want people to know about you?

When I was fifteen, I got struck by a truck while crossing the street, and hit my head on the pavement. Explains a lot, don’t you think?

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  • Lisa D. says:

    You two are both so freakin’ funny. Thanks for this today… I needed the chuckle!

    PS Already preordered. I got on that train the moment the book was announced.

  • Gaby says:

    OMG! I didn’t know she had a recipe for Peruvian roast chicken! Now I must buy the book.

  • Casey says:

    So very excited for the cookbook! Thank you for posting the interview!

    Speaking of ordering books, did you know your original Well Fed is one of the Kindle Daily Deals today? I laughed when I saw it right next to three other cookbooks specializing in donuts, cake pops, and bread.

    • Mel says:

      I *did* know about the Daily Deal, but I hadn’t looked that the page. That’s hilarious! Almost all the others are dessert books… GO real food! YAY!

      • Diana VP says:

        I got mine, even though I already have the paperback. AND, I ordered 6 more as gifts for family & friends! Too bad though that I didn’t think to click from your website, so you would get double-benefits. Sorry. 🙁

        Oh, I even sent the link to two of my favorite farmers, one of whom thanked me and downloaded your book on her Kindle! Good things come in small packages. 🙂

  • Vanessa says:

    Such a great candid interview! I am patiently awaiting Food For Humans to be delivered!

  • Nom Nom Paleo would be my favorite Paleo girl but for you. It’s a very close second, and I love cooking from both of your genius recipes. Pre-ordered long ago.

    I plan to spend my entire January cooking almost exclusively from Well Fed 2 and Food for Humans!

  • dane says:

    i want to tell you that we got your books recently. and those czech meatballs are “slap your mama good.” the first time my wife made them, half of them were eaten before they could be taken off the baking sheet… and that was after we’d already had dinner (which had nothing to do with the meatballs).

    we freaking LOVE your cookbooks. we also eat the chicken fried “rice” quite often.

    THEN…. since you’re a genius, i stole your idea of thumbing through a Hungarian cookbook. so we found one at the library. and we are woking on a few recipies, except making them more gluten-free.

    the bottom line is: we freaking love you.

    OH! and i almost forgot. i read your roller derby book this summer on a Navy ship. i left it on the ship when i was done, in hopes that others can enjoy it.

    thanks for this awesome article, because michelle is pretty much freaking awesome, too.

    • Mel says:

      Hooray for Czech meatballs — but not for slappin’ your mama 😉

      Really glad you liked them!

      Also, I love when you call me a genius. It’s really fun to paleo-ize old school recipes, isn’t it? I love that.

      Thanks for reading my Roller Derby book, too. You know a whole bunch about me now, eh?

      Congratulations on tackling the Alcatraz Sharkfest! When I lived in San Francisco I dreamed of doing the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, but the swim was too intimidating. That is some serious shit.

      Keep me posted on how you’re doing! Happy training!

  • Diana VP says:

    Love the questions … and the answers. Together you two make the best funny-bone appetizer, to go with lunch! Loved it!