Palo Alto's Michelle Tam — a lifelong food lover who has been known to prioritize culinary experiences over viewing world-renowned art while traveling — and her husband Henry Fong have discovered that eating paleo food tastes delicious. And they can prove it.
Tam and Fong created a popular blog called "Nom Nom Paleo" that is award-winning and popular, to the tune of over a million views per month. They are also behind a successful iPad cooking app by the same name.
Tam and Fong will release a cookbook, "Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans," on Dec. 17.
The Paleo diet takes its name from the Paleolithic era, before the advent of agriculture, and models itself on the idea that modern humans will be healthier by emulating the eating habits of their hunter-gatherer ancestors.
For Tam and Fong, it's not just a diet, it's a lifestyle. Living paleo means eating whole foods, which are unprocessed and as nutrient-dense as possible, Tam said. Fong started eating paleo first, and Tam and their two children soon followed.
"For us, we are the middle-aged mommies and daddies, and we woke up one day and said, 'Where did this muffin-top come from?'" Tam said.
"Everything we thought was right (about our diet) led us to where we were," she said. "When I tried eating paleo, I noticed a stark difference in how I felt in terms of energy levels and mood. And my muffin-top went away!"
Before Tam started eating paleo, she said, she didn't often cook at home for herself or family. Her mother is an "awesome cook" and her sister is a professional chef, and she had easy access to great Bay Area restaurants. Now she cooks more often because it's hard to find the food she wants when she's out.
Through preparing paleo foods at home, Tam said she realized that cooking is a learned skill. "I didn't think of cooking like a skill that you have to practice, which it is," she said. "I used to think: 'It's not great. I'm not going to make this again.' Now I think, 'Next time ... '"
Fong said he has observed firsthand the evolution of Tam's cooking since she went paleo. Her culinary art, he says, has "developed into jazz." He watches his wife cook without recipes, improvising by "going to the fridge and picking and choosing what's on the shelves and throwing it together."
He added, "I'm still recipe-bound."
Inspiration for Nom Nom Paleo recipes sometimes comes from what's in the family fridge, Fong said. But sometimes it comes when the family eats out and notices novel flavor combinations on the menu. Other times, published recipes are what influences Tam. Rather than using her cookbooks while preparing food, she reads them in advance to get ideas on how other cooks put together various tastes, and then comes up with her own plan, Fong said.
Tam started the Nom Nom Paleo website three years ago, to share her recipes in a format that she herself would want to read.
"I've always loved reading food blogs, but I never thought I had anything new or different (to write about)," she said. "When I went paleo, there were just a few paleo food blogs, but I didn't think there was one that fit what I was looking for."
In three years, the website has won multiple awards. Tam said her most cherished award is from Saveur magazine, because it is a prestigious food-blogging award. "And she got an engraved (meat) cleaver out of it," Fong added.
Tam and Fong said the idea for the iPad cooking app came to the couple after Fong read an article about cookbooks of the future. "We were cooking with our tablet," Fong said, "and we live in Silicon Valley."
Fong added that he and Tam thought an iPad cooking app would be something different in a crowded cookbook market. They partnered with Y Media Labs, an application-development company in Redwood City, for creation of the app. Recent sales figures state that some 70,000 people have bought the Nom Nom Paleo iPad app.
Tam and Fong said they were not thinking about doing a cookbook until Andrews McMeel Publishing, headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., and famous for publishing cartoons such as Calvin and Hobbes as well as cookbooks, pitched the idea to them.
The website, app and cookbook are all collaborative efforts, Tam and Fong said, and the content of all three reflects what is important to them. They choose dishes that they themselves want to eat, rather than trying to please readers, Tam said.
The cookbook contains some recipes already published on the blog and in the app, but about half are new. While Tam creates and writes up the paleo recipes, Fong is primarily responsible for photographs, cartoons, layout and graphic design.
Tam said the cookbook also includes advice for cooking tasty paleo foods, such as a list of 20 cooking tips and ways to boost umami — the "savory" taste — in your food. The book is also personal, "almost our family scrapbook," she said. "It's the way we like to eat; it's our attitude towards food. We have a fun approach to food, and we want it to be delicious."
Both Tam and Fong said that taste is paramount in the recipes they publish: "It comes from Michelle saying 'I'm a foodie first and a paleo eater second,'" Fong said.
"And in the name, 'nom nom' comes first, before 'paleo,'" Tam added.