Vegetables take on a sultry, irresistible look when in the hands of our next two subjects and it's easy to see why. Whether they're expounding the virtues of clean, vegan eating or rethinking the way veggies are presented in meat-loving South Texas, Tim "the Girl" McDiarmid and Rebecca Marie "Rebel Mariposa" Lopez are slowly, but surely elevating local produce by the caseload.
While their backgrounds couldn't be more different, the women are working together and separately to provide fibrous options for your next special event. We sat down with each to talk about their story, their food journey and how they're highlighting South Texas produce.
For McDiarmid, the food saga began at an early age. The Canadian transplant grew up in what she called a winter wonderland. "We ate tons of vegetables from our garden. We had such a limited growing time. When I moved here, it was crazy that all year round there would be farmers markets with fresh produce, and no one was using it," McDiarmid said.
Actually getting to San Antonio took her a while, much to our chagrin, as McDiarmid spent 18 years working the restaurant scene in New York, from catering to bartending (and even a stint as an interior decorator). When she finally relocated to San Antonio, McDiarmid, mother to an energetic pre-teen, was looking for a slightly slower pace than that of the Big Apple.
She took a year to figure out her groove in SA and work on her vision.
"A lot if it was, as they say, necessity as the mother of invention," McDiarmid said. "In doing that, I struggled, because I didn't have the luxury to sit back ... I had to make money."
This led to the creation of Tim the Girl, McDiarmid's multi-faceted company that envelops catering, event planning, weekly meal delivery, cooking classes and consulting. Her work became ubiquitous with bright, family-style affairs.
"My whole philosophy is like, you don't have to be vegetarian, but I believe meals should be vegetable-driven. Vegetables should be the highlight," McDiarmid said. She's not one to shy away from much, and this includes animal proteins, but her biggest hits have steered toward produce, which is featured prominently and deliciously on all her menus.
"A lot of time is spent figuring out, without ruining, a vegetable. Covering a vegetable in cheese or pork is cheating, and it's not responsible," McDiarmid said of her process. As Tim the Girl has grown, so have her other ventures. She's helped design menus for Uncommon Fare, a modern-day grocery store located on the ground level of the Cevallos Lofts, as well as the food menu for Rosella Coffee Co. (yes, this means she's the one responsible for your avocado toast obsession).
In 2011, she decided to further her brand by teaming up with furniture artist Peter Zubiate to launch the Special Projects Social, a series of pop-up restaurants and art events around town. During its first year, the SPS was held on a monthly basis.
"I was doing more stuff to meet everybody and figure out what's going on in this town," McDiarmid said. "It took me a while after moving here to get the lay of the land..."
Now held three times a year, the events are evening-long affairs that start with a cocktail hour by Jeret Peña and members of the Boulevardier Group; guests are seated along Zubiate-designed community tables and courses are presented family-style. (McDiarmid loathes plated dinners.) Plates, menus and any centerpieces are usually made, printed and/or screened by area artists.
And although she's created several hundred menus by now, McDiarmid's biggest hits are usually her most simple creations. She and her growing team will make batches of her now famous citrus salad, which uses vibrant citrus, pickled fennel, pistachios, olives and chiles topped with a light drizzle of Salud de Paloma extra virgin olive oil, along with a Tuscan kale salad that combines high-quality olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and finely sliced kale.
"It's sliced so fine that it softens into a cloud," McDiarmid, a knife wiz, said. "It's just about being creative with presentation."
In order to keep the creative juices flowing, the 44-year-old also travels extensively throughout the States and abroad. She's teamed up with a college friend, Bianca Gignac, to help host culinary trips to Italy, aptly named the Italian Fix. During these weeklong jaunts, McDiarmid and co. (the group is made up exclusively of women, usually between the ages of 19 and 77) bounce around the Italian countryside learning about pesto and cheese. "It's a week of awesome," she said.
Although McDiarmid is cherry-picking projects more judiciously these days, she's careful to make sure her vision stays intact. She's hired a staff of culinary goddesses, including Monessa Maria Esquivel, D Martinez, Anna Margaret Fisch Hamlin and Rebel Mariposa, to help broaden SA palates within the scope of aesthetics and design. McDiarmid also serves as mentor and friend.
"The all-female crew just happened, I had different men, but it was a struggle for me," McDiarmid said of male sous chefs who've worked under her. "The ego was always an issue and it was shocking to me."
And as her staff eventually breaks away to kick off their own businesses, McDiarmid stresses the difficulties of jumping into the field.
"I struggled with that when I moved here," she said, while explaining Brooklyn's burgeoning scene and 'the more, the merrier' mentality evoked there. "Everyone did a hands-on, process-based skill, whether it's being an artist or a better chef, there was never a petty mentality."
She added, "It looks easy. I warn them: 'Yes, I appear to have that ease, but it's not an easy road. It's all about balancing money, jobs, projects that aren't necessarily lucrative and feeding them into each other."
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