On a recent Monday afternoon, Michelle Tam, the mastermind behind Nom Nom Paleo, walks into the Spright offices, gives the team a big hello, and then immediately gifts us all red high-top Nom Nom Paleo socks. Then Michelle gets busy in our office kitchen, whipping up Vietnamese Pork Lettuce Cups and a batch of Paleo Sriracha for our hot sauce-loving team.
In case you’re not familiar with Nom Nom, Michelle is something of a celeb in the Paleo world. After working as a hospital pharmacist for fourteen years, Michelle quit her job to focus on recipe development and blogging. What started out as a Tumblr blog to document her Paleo musings has morphed into one of the top Paleo recipe sites with a New York Times bestselling cookbook, podcast, and app. And it’s a family affair: her husband, Henry Fong, is the other half behind the brand, and their two adorable boys serve as recipe tasters and occasionally appear in pictures on the site. While watching Michelle cook — OK, we helped a little! — we got the opportunity to chat with her about the brand and how recipe testing is a good metaphor for life.
Image from Nom Nom Paleo
OK, for people who might not be familiar with your backstory, how did you get into Paleo?
“My husband and I were in our midthirties, and we weren’t feeling good. He discovered Paleo, which basically to us means eating unprocessed foods and being mindful of what you’re eating. I wasn’t on board at first, but once I tried it, I felt so great that I started a blog to make it easier for other people to try it themselves.”
That’s awesome. I remember you told me before that when Henry first started, he didn’t really try to push you to be Paleo.
“That is totally true. He found out about it and just dove right in. I was like, ‘Why are you not eating my food and why are you not trying to convince me to eat what you’re eating if you think it’s so great?’ I think it’s because he had been with me for so long that he knows that he just can’t tell me what to do. I have to discover it on my own and decide to do it or else it’s a no-go.”
What were you thinking about when you first started blogging?
“When I started the site, it was a very basic Tumblr blog. I was just collecting recipes and talking about places that we went to eat. It was really about my personal journey. I didn’t think anyone else would read it. Slowly but surely, it kind of grew. When it grew to be too much for me to do on the side, I quit my night job.”
How long has it been since you quit that night job?
“Only a little over a year.”
Wow. And how are you feeling now, a year and a half in?
“I’m feeling great! There is kind of that constant stress of having to produce content. I’m always on social media and trying out new things, but there is also the freedom of being my own boss, which I love. I get to see my kids a lot and I’m able to be a full-time mom and do this while they’re at school and when they’re sleeping. The sleep has been great. Once I stopped working nights, my memory got so much better and I’m so much nicer.”
Going back to the Paleo thing, do you ever get sick of Paleo in the sense that you are making Paleo food all the time, you talk about Paleo food, and you are the face for Paleo? Do you ever just want it to stop?
“That’s a good question. I think for me, it’s a lot different now because I’m not super strict about it. I realized that it is a lifestyle thing that I want to keep doing for as long as I can. I’m not perfect about it, but I know which foods make me feel better and which ones that won’t if I indulge in them. I’ve also been doing it for five years now, so it’s just normal eating for me.”
So you also have two little ones. Big O and Little O.
“Yeah, they’re not so little anymore. They’re almost going to be eight and 11, so they’re getting to be big.”
Image from Instagram
Now that they are getting older, are they starting to realize that they are semifamous and that you’re using them in your social media?
“My older one has started to get embarrassed by stuff easily. He’s getting to be a tween. We never put the kids on social media if they don’t want to be. Right now, they mostly like participating and doing things, but if they don’t want to do it, we don’t do it.
And are the kids strict Paleo?
“Well, I control what they eat when they are in the house. I pack their lunches and I make their breakfast and dinner. When they’re outside the house, they have to make their own decisions. Little O has issues with gluten, like I do, so I he’s pretty good about being careful about what he eats. I think the whole point of raising kids is to raise independent little people, so we trust them to do the right thing. If they don’t, then they have to deal with the consequences of whatever it is.”
What are kitchen gadgets you absolutely can’t live without?
“My cast iron skillet is probably my number one thing that I work with. And my InstantPot is something I love, love, love. It’s an electric pressure cooker and it’s so much better than a slow cooker, it’s not even funny. A good kitchen knife that you keep sharp is also indispensable. That’s kind of it. I really like my silicone spatulas. They are heat resistant — they are great. I’ve also heard that it’s great to have a cast iron skillet in a zombie apocalypse because you can use it as a weapon, cook with it, and use it for exercise because it’s so heavy.”
Oh yeah, that’s solid. Have you ever had an idea for a recipe, made it, and found out it was the most disgusting thing ever?
“Oh, for sure! That happens all the time. Because I have this blog and I get instant feedback, I have to continue refining the recipes so that they actually work. One of my things that I pride myself on is that I try to make sure my recipes actually work. If you follow it the way I say, you will get something that won’t take a ton of time and tastes good. Or good enough that you won’t want to quit cooking forever. Different recipes take different amounts of testing. Sometimes it’s gross, but the Chinese mom in me can’t waste food even if it’s gross. Recipe testing is like life — you’re going to have failures before you find success. You have to not be afraid to fail. The ultimate prize will always be better. You have to be willing to fail and eat failures.”
And finally, what is your number one piece of advice for a Paleo newbie?
“My piece of advice is that you need to stick with it for 30 days. If you do it for a few days and quit, you’ll never know how you’ll truly feel if you ate whole food for a month.”
1. What’s your go-to indulgent food?
“Chocolate. It’s not even an indulgence, it’s just a daily thing.”
2. What’s the last thing you ate or drank?
“For breakfast, I had cold brew coffee with some almond milk and leftover beef shank stew from a few days ago.”
3. Who inspires you?
“My husband inspires me a lot, because he is someone that I think is pretty fearless.”
4. What is your spirit animal?
5. What is one thing that you’re super into right now?
“I really want to get a pull-up. By the new year, I want a strict hang pull-up.”