Calling Thumbtack Home: How our culinary team creates belonging through food
Tammy Nguyen joined Thumbtack in December of 2018 ready to take on a whole new challenge. When she arrived she noticed something unique about our culinary program — how culturally diverse the food was! She sat down to give us her thoughts about her experience here and what it means to her!
I remember my first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. Dressed in my blue uniform, jumper, and tights with little pink hearts, I was ready to take on the world. (Well, perhaps not the entire world, but at least the small playground outside my classroom.) I was so excited to finally start school, just like my big sister. When we arrived, I rushed into my classroom — Room 1 — excited to make new friends. Our class started at 12:00 PM, meaning that we ate lunch before jumping into anything exciting (like coloring inside the lines or writing our names.)
For lunch, my mom had packed me half of a Banh Mi — a traditional Vietnamese sandwich with shredded chicken, fresh veggies, and a special kind of homemade mayonnaise. I’d probably already had hundreds of these sandwiches in my life at my mom’s restaurant that specializes in serving them. They tasted like home to me.
I remember unzipping my lunch bag and pulling out my sandwich with my tiny hands and painted nails. My fellow kindergarteners at my lunch table asked me what I was eating. I replied with a proud smile — “A sandwich!” — which earned looks of disgust and the dreaded response, “Ew, that’s not a sandwich!” It was here that I had my first Lunch Box Moment. From then on, I survived on strictly chips for lunch, returning home each day with my sandwich still in my lunch box, untouched. That sandwich tasted like embarrassment and shame to me.
Fast forward to my first job out of college. I didn’t have to starve on the first day, because my new team took me out for lunch. On other days, I’d still ask my mom to pack a lunch for me. Some days it was rice with thit kho (braised pork belly), and other days it was a full Banh Mi. By then, I had gained the boldness to finally eat my lunch. After a while, I brought Bahn Mi’s in for everyone in the office to enjoy. My team had no idea how healing it was to see them enjoying their sandwiches. It made me proud to be a Vietnamese American. I felt not only accepted but celebrated. On that day, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come since my days of embarrassment on the playground. That sandwich tasted like I had invited all my coworkers to my home for a party.
Today, my mom no longer packs my lunch. At Thumbtack, I’m lucky to be well-fed every single day by our in-house culinary team. Sometimes we have burgers and french fries for lunch, but on other days we get served something spectacular that tastes like home to me. On Asian New Years this year, they served Vietnamese curry and a salad with fish sauce. Not only was it delicious, but it reminded me so much of my mom’s cooking. As I looked around the cafeteria that day and saw over a hundred of my coworkers devouring their lunch, I was struck by the fact that I would once have been so embarrassed by the food. That day, though, I was filled with joy and pride. The curry tasted like a surprise party with hundreds of people celebrating where I come from, and essentially, they were.
The Thumbtack kitchen prepares three nutritious, balanced and seasonally inspired meals a day, using primarily locally grown and sustainably sourced ingredients. They are passionate about providing delicious, healthy, and balanced meals and love the role that food plays in bringing the Thumbtack community together on a daily basis. I’m so grateful to come to work every day at a place that celebrates who I am and where I come from, even with a simple meal.
Now as a working adult (as evidenced by my own health insurance), I’m realizing that the real world is a lot bigger than my kindergarten playground. Out here, the world can make you feel ashamed or embarrassed of who you are — but there are people, places, and meals that feel like home. And I’m so proud to call Thumbtack my home.
Check out @tackitchensf on Instagram for more delicious food photos!