Chef Tobias Cooks Talks About Switching Gears to Follow Her Childhood Passion of Becoming a Chef

by JR Valrey

Stockton, California is gaining a reputation as a northern California cultural hub, in contrast to the reputation it had over the last few decades as the main destination for Black and Brown families that could no longer afford to live in the Bay Area. Black people and culture are resilient; wherever we set up shop, we will creatively learn how to use the untapped environment, to create something new. Tobias Cooks is a middle aged married woman with children, living in Stockton, who decided to switch gears in life, and follow her childhood passion to become a chef. After going back to school, she is now not only a chef, but has a televised cooking show that has been nominated for awards.  

JR Valrey: What is the story behind how you became a chef? 

Chef Tobias Cooks: At the age of 38 years old, married with four children, I had decided to start my childhood dream of becoming a professional chef. This decision was not easy to come to, as I would be starting a second career. I attended culinary school in my adopted hometown of Stockton, California, at San Joaquin Delta Community College and earned two degrees: in Culinary Arts and Baking. This dream took me three years as a full-time student, while still raising my children at home. 

JR Valrey: Who were some of the cooks that inspired you, growing up? What did you like about each cook?

Chef Tobias Cooks: My childhood was filled with the most amazing home cooks: from my Grandmother (Granny), to my Auntie Dolly, my love for cake comes from my late God-Mother (Mama Moore), and I cannot forget about the church ladies, that cooked every single Sunday, and at all of the events. The first real chef that inspired me, as a child, was on PBS-KQED local TV station, in the San Francisco Bay Area. I remember watching “Yan Can Cook” with Martin Yan, “The Frugal Gourmet”, “Jacquees and Julia Childs”, and “Eating with Lidia”. My last inspiration would come from an unfamiliar place, my old neighborhood “Corner Store” off of 38th Avenue, in Oakland, California. I would ride my bike, in the fifth grade, just to catch them cooking in the store kitchen. I would sit on my bike for hours, looking through the window, as they would prepare American Chinese food from scratch, cook to order.

JR Valrey: What made you start a cooking show online? What’s the name of your channel, and how has it done? 

Chef Tobias Cooks: “Cooks Thyme with Chef Tobias Cooks” is my cooking show, which I started over the 2020 summer of COVID-19 lockdown. I was at home cooking dinner, and my daughter suggested that we should film a cooking show. My husband already was my videography and photographer, so we had a home studio setup. So it all made perfect sense, to produce a cooking show, of our own. I had a radio show where I cooked. I have done countless live food demos, in front of an audience. We taped the first season in a week, and edited it by the third week, and uploaded it to my YouTube Channel. 

JR Valrey: How have people responded to your show and your cooking?     

Chef Tobias Cooks: At first it was slow, I had to promote the show on my Facebook page by October 2020, and it took off. People started to share it, comment on the page and channel. In March of 2021, our cooking show received three nominations from the “Taste Awards”, TasteTv including “The Viewer’s Choice” for “Best Home Chef in a Web Series”. Also “Cooks Thyme with Chef Tobias Cooks” was picked up by PluggedTV Global Roku Network, to air our first season which took place in February and March of 2021.

JR Valrey: How has your vegan journey been? What made you want to be vegan?

Chef Tobias Cooks: My vegan journey first began 21 years ago, as the mom of a young child that had certain reactions to food, later she was diagnosed with celiac disease. In the early 2000’s, no one had ever heard of gluten free foods, and there were no trendy grocery stores to cater to this diet. I had to get creative when preparing her meals, by shopping from the local Asian, Indian, Hispanic grocery stores/stands. At the same time, she decided to become vegan, and then my younger sister joined her, and then later a few of my close family members. My daughters are responsible for me learning how to cook vegan gluten free dishes. Now I am a farm-to-fork chef. I trained at Google when I worked on their campus. It can be challenging to make vegetables and fruits taste like a favorite meat dish, but It is a whole lot of fun when people are surprised, and really enjoy my recipes.

JR Valrey: What do you think about the vegan restaurant movement sweeping the Black community all over the nation?

Chef Tobias Cooks: It is hard to get away from the fried chicken and fried fish (laughing), however, with the use of eggplant, jackfruit, and mushrooms it can be a yummy vegan dish. I have a cooking video titled “Vegan Fish” that often makes people laugh. But honestly veganism / vegetarianism is nothing new to the Black community. During slavery and share-cropping, many Black farmers had limited resources, and grew their own vegetables and fruits like greens, beans, nut trees, and fruit trees. If we look at many of our traditional meals, they all are with some type of vegetables, and many of our desserts are made from fruits. Today, African American cuisines can now utilize organic substitutes for the processed sugars, white flours, and animal meats. As our healthy food alternatives grow, our knowledge of a better diet will increase. 

JR Valrey: What kinds of food do you specialize in cooking?

Chef Tobias Cooks: I am best known for my cannoli and pastries. I have been able to incorporate my vegan knowledge of food, and I can make a delicious vegan “Apple Turn-over” that won’t make you miss the butter. The “cannoli” will always be my claim to fame! When I had operated my bakery and cafe, our vegan pasties were a crowd favorite. 

JR Valrey: How could people taste your food? How could people keep up with you online?

Chef Tobias Cooks: My website is the best way to keep up with everything that I am doing. Also my social media page has all my upcoming events, my radio shows, and information on how to contact me. How could people taste my food? “Pop-ups”! Hopefully, I can have some this summer, in light of COVID-19. Currently my cooking show is filming season 2 and 3, while gearing up for release of my cookbook. I also have written an indie comedy short film scheduled to be screened in 2023, regarding my experience as a middle-aged Black woman trying to break into the culinary world.

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