Thomas Tennant, left, and Jonathan Nunez of Tomfoodery.
By Maia King
By the time Thomas Tennant was in middle school, he already knew he wanted to be a chef.
“I knew very young,” he says. “I was one of those kids that watched cooking shows. I was interested in food and eating, and the best way to eat was to cook. At 9 years old I was like, ‘Hey, I made you a cheese sandwich and it has Muenster and Swiss. Tell me how you like it.’”
Deciding that he enjoyed service and hospitality, little Thomas started reading through the cookbooks in his mother’s Miami garage – “The Joy of Cooking” and an old spiral-bound book of recipes from 1936 published in his parents’ native Argentina.
The rest, as they say, is history. Chef Thomas Tennant is now a celebrated name in the culinary industry, with an impressive career spanning Miami, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. Since his first visit to Cayman Cookout in 2010, he has made a name for himself locally as head chef at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and The Brasserie. He has also championed the use of invasive species like green iguana and lionfish as food ingredients, innovating the plate while working to counteract the negative effects of these animals on the local ecosystem.
By early 2021, Tennant and his business partner Jonathan Nunez will open the doors of Tomfoodery Kitchen & Bar in Camana Bay. Already operating for catering, consulting and takeout/delivery services, Tomfoodery offers a fresh restaurant concept that centres on community, both through creating partnerships with farmers, customers and fellow restaurateurs, and through the use of quintessentially Caribbean flavours. The menu includes Caymanian specialties like coconut fish rundown and Cayman-style beef, alongside regional favourites like Jamaican curry chicken and breadfruit salad.
The décor will be colourful and decidedly “Cayman.” Tennant and Nunez engaged a team of artists including Nunez’s wife, Claire Rohleder of 3 Girls & A Kiln, and artist Marc Laurenson of Stoak’d, to construct an 18- to 20-foot seagrape tree with 3,000 to 4,000 leaves made of repurposed and reused materials like coffee filters and wooden palettes.
In order to service a diverse clientele, the restaurant operates counter-service style, largely forgoing formal servers and front-of-house staff. Prices will be kept intentionally lower without sacrificing quality ingredients.
For Tennant, Tomfoodery’s concept revolves around relationships.
“As much as I’m famous for using local ingredients, I just like making relationships with people who do things that I enjoy – people who grow food or focus on invasive species,” he says.
“When you operate with a focus on the people who are sitting across from you and the people in the community, you get longevity,” he says. “When you respect others, they respect you.”
Nunez, whose background is in restaurant management, front of house and mixology, grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he worked in the restaurant industry for nine years before moving to New Orleans. There, he refined his mixology skills, combining the efficiencies of the Baton Rouge bar scene with the old-school craft cocktails of the city known as NOLA.
It was in New Orleans that Nunez met Rohleder. He moved to Cayman two and a half years ago and quickly immersed himself in the local restaurant scene, but it wasn’t until Nunez and Tennant were cocktail-consulting and catering at the same establishment that they really got to talking about brand concepts, and their partnership was sealed.
“I’m taking a business model from what we learned in New Orleans after [Hurricane] Katrina and after the recession, which is trying to adjust the local-to-tourist ratio to more of a 50/50 percentage,” he says. “It’s just reviving ways of being community focused and true to your roots.”
Nunez and Tennant’s commitment to serving the community was evident during lockdown, when they provided approximately 2,500 meals for children in need through a partnership with the Feed Our Future charity. Because both relied on public service lunch structures in their own childhoods, Nunez and Tennant were aware that being out of school could significantly impact some children’s access to daily meals. They decided to donate almost three months’ profits to Feed Our Future and to support the charity by cooking meals for the programme themselves. They have since made donations to Big Brothers Big Sisters and intend to select a charity to support on a monthly basis going forward.
With renovations to their restaurant in Camana Bay, which is located on the northern side of the Paseo in the space previously occupied by Aroma and Lola, well underway, Nunez and Tennant are looking forward to welcoming the community into Tomfoodery by the end of the year. For more information on Tomfoodery, including menus, catering services, cooking classes and retail products, visit tomfooderykitchen.com.
This article first appeared in the November 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “The community approach of Tomfoodery.”