T H E T H O M A S S O N S
It was on a frosty early January morning when I finally got to catch up with the Thomassons whilst visiting my family during the holidays. We sat down in front of the crackling fireplace and began talking over our warm cups of coffee. In this portrait series, I shall introduce you to my sister Laura and her husband Zane, how they met, their view on the hospitality industry and adventures in staging.
But let’s rewind a few years back when Laura worked in Boyne City at the family-owned vacation resort for the University of Michigan Alumni whilst studying Hospitality at university in Budapest.
Laura: It was there at the resort where we met while I was working as a baker there for three months. This is the kind of place where people take their families to spend the summer there.
Zane: I was part of the Management Team and we were cooking for five hundred people per meal. All of our other hands and help were international students who came for the summer as an opportunity to work overseas. Laura was one of the bakers. As we spent more and more time together, we developed serious feelings towards one another. Then we decided to enter a long-distance relationship. From that moment on, everything went pretty quickly.
Braised Leeks, Trumpet Mushrooms, Mushroom Ketchup, Black Garlic Agrodolce, Beet Micros
Having a completely different career set out for himself while still living in Ionia, Zane was eventually drawn to cooking after he got a dishwasher job at a kitchen in Grand Rapids.
Zane: The pace of the new place was very intense. People there worked hard and they were serious about the work. It was interesting for me to see what the cooks were doing in the kitchen. Some people have their family cook a lot, that’s why they love food, but I didn’t get to experience a lot of those of things at a younger age. It was just exciting for me to be able to try out a lot of things that would’ve been weird to me because of the way I grew up. I worked very hard so I could do some prep work or jump on the line when needed. That was really when I started cooking and how the seed was planted.
For Laura, it was quite the other way around. She always watched cooking programmes to feed her never-ending hunger and love of food. Despite having contemplated between being a teacher or a baker when in 12th grade, fortunately, thanks to her family’s support she chose to pursue the latter.
Laura: I basically grew up watching TV Paprika all the time. My interest in baking was prompted by seeing how the big stars Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, and Nigella prepared the dishes and cakes. I worked part-time at a tea house and focused all my energy on getting my pastry chef certificate. Soon after that, I moved back to the States and we got married.
One of the many handsome sourdough loaves made by Laura
New Orleans Calas ― Rice fritters with black & green cardamom, served with dark chocolate― tahini sauce, white peach coulis and creme anglaise
The Thomassons have since relocated to Chicago, where they are forging their culinary path together. After successfully completing staging at various Michelin star restaurants in the States and overseas, Zane is now part of the team at Elizabeth, a fine-dining farm-to-table Michelin star restaurant. Headed by Head Chef Iliana Regan, they serve innovative seasonal dishes which are mostly fruit and vegetable-focused, using foraged ingredients infused with Midwestern roots.
Zane: There were two main reasons I wanted to work here. I was already familiar with Iliana’s journey to becoming a Michelin chef, having read her memoir Burn the Place. It’s a highly recommended read regardless we are in the same industry or not. Secondly, having come from the same region, I find her cuisine philosophy, the sustainable farm-to-table aspect to be alike, and the ingredients she uses are based off from the Midwestern influence. In the beginning, cooking was just a job for me. Back then I didn’t really develop a culinary philosophy as far as what I believed in. But because everything I have been exposed to at work and on a personal level cooking for me is about preserving certain traditions and helping people appreciate different cultures whilst having creative freedom and being more sustainable in the same time.
Laura: Baking for me is about making people happy and receiving appreciation for the effort that went into making each individual piece. It’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day, it’s very rewarding. Most of the things I know about baking come from myself. It’s a self-taught process learning from the mistakes you made and figuring out why they happened. When I first started my Instagram page, it kind of took off as a hobby but then it slowly dawned on me that it’s basically part of my resumé. It’s actually a useful tool for having it because it enables me to see my past mistakes and also how much have I progressed over the years.In Laura’s family, everyone works in various creative fields where there are certain crafts and artisanry involved. Her creativity lies in the way she produces pastry and desserts using her own hands. She secured her first job as a Pastry Chef with the help of her culinary Instagram page Only a Little Mess where she posts photos of her amazingly delicious sourdough loaves, croissants, macarons and other mouthwatering pastry.
Laura is currently part of the team at North Pond, a farm-to-table and Michelin star restaurant. Headed by Head Chef Tim Vidrio, they are renowned for their French-American cuisine and their continuous support of small local farmers, growers and producers.
As a married culinary couple, Zane and Laura are agreeing to the challenge of both attempting to cut waste and protect the biodiversity. For Laura, one of the ways she contributes to the development of more sustainable agriculture is using locally sourced flour and ingredients when making sourdough bread.
Zane: We now have the science and the knowledge so we know more about how soil biology and the how eco-system works. We are realising that some of our farming techniques and practices are quite detrimental to the way nature works. People now are trying to get back to working with nature symbiotically. What we eat is what nourishes our bodies. We should be more aware of the whole system and the cycle that goes into the way food is produced and how that affects the earth and the soil. It’s overwhelmingly more important then people realise it on a day to day basis. We both share this goal.