Chef Pierre Thiam's Day Off in Berkeley Includes Feasting on Barbecue and Literally Smelling the Roses

Pierre Thiam grounds himself in nature, fresh produce, and treating his family to special dinners in the Bay Area.

By Morgan Fowler and Pierre Thiam

Published on 9/12/2023 at 12:00 PM

Pierre Thiam – Author, restaurateur, and executive chef at Teranga | Photo by Celeste Noche for Thrillist

Pierre Thiam is a chef, author, restaurateur and culinary ambassador. Born and raised in Senegal, Thiam has helped introduce West African dishes and flavor to the world. He is the executive chef and co-owner of the Harlem-based food chain, Teranga. In 2017, he created Yolélé, which sells gluten-free African grains, to create economic opportunities for smallholder farms in the Sahel region of Africa. These days, Pierre finds himself putting down new roots in Berkeley, California where he and his wife swap stories while roaming the East Bay’s famous produce markets — which would become the foundation for his new book, Simply West African: Easy, Joyful, Recipes for Every Kitchen. When he’s not in the kitchen, he’s spending time eating (of course) and exploring Berkeley’s wondrous nature.

[Days off] always start very early for me. I'm an early riser. I try to rise with the sun or slightly before the sun. That can be tricky these days because that means 4:30 in the morning. A practice that I've been doing for quite a while now, at least a decade, is really connecting with myself and also connecting with my ancestors when I wake up. So it's a practice that I've kind of created, but is based on a tradition of my people. I'm from Senegal and we have this tradition of sleeping with a glass of water and waking up and pouring the glass of water to your ancestors. So I do that. I feel like that morning time before sunrise is a special time and I want to honor that. So that's my way to start the day. It's also a meditation in a sense because I just sit down and breathe.

“Monterey Market is just wow. The entrance, the freshness. I go if I’m planning to cook dinner. We try to have a balanced meal with greens and either fish or meat.”

After my ritual, I try, not always, but I try to stay away from any devices for at least an hour. I won't jump from meditation to Instagram or anything like this. So that's something I force myself [to do] – [it] is really a work in progress. But I try to do that at least an hour after waking up and at least an hour before going to sleep. After that, I usually make breakfast and prepare to take my daughter, Naya, to school. These days it's scrambled eggs, toast, butter and jam. For the longest time it was an omelet stuffed with spinach and cheese. And I guess somehow the cereal thing never got me, but my daughter is starting to get into it now. So that's very, very helpful. That saves time. But if we don’t do breakfast at home, we will do brunch at Inn Kensington. They're very friendly there and they actually took a Polaroid picture of Naya. All these kids come there to take their pictures, too. So it's really a fun place and good food too.

Berkeley is full of restaurants and shops that my wife and I like to explore, especially along College Avenue. [The city has] so many choices for fresh produce, too. Market Hall has a really great selection of products, including Yolélé products, which was a beautiful surprise to see there. But I go there for quick snacks or coffee or cheese. Then I like to go to Monterey Market. Monterey Market is just wow. The entrance, the freshness. I go if I'm planning to cook dinner. We try to have a balanced meal with greens and either fish or meat. Monterey Fish Market is next door and they have a great fish selection. This is the great thing about California, the freshness. So this is where I go on a regular basis.

When Naya is home, sometimes we go to the little farm at Tilden Regional Park, a place Naya loves to go. It’s just five minutes from our house and it has cows and pigs and chicken and rabbits and goats and you can feed them. It's just so fun. That kind of thing you wouldn't even expect to see in New York City when we were living there. So I love that part of living here. And another place we love to take Naya to is the Lawrence Hall of Sciences. It’s a really great place. It's huge and there's all kinds of activities for kids and adults and it's just a really great and safe place to spend the day.

If I have a special dinner planned, Lisa and I will go to Chez Panisse, where we always go and enjoy the consistency. Anything from the wood grill or oven is delicious. Horn Barbecue is a barbecue joint in Oakland. Matt Horn is a good friend and chef who is also a pitmaster – he’s the barbecue guy in the Bay Area. We love going there for dinner when we are not cooking at home.

“I love being connected with nature, and that's the best part of California.”

My wife, Lisa, loves to rock climb. We happen to not live too far from Indian Rock Park and she loves it. It's a huge picturesque park in Berkeley. I love Indian Rock Park because it's really beautiful. You have these huge boulders that probably were formed there thousands of years ago. They managed to build the city around those and people started rock climbing there. Also, Berkeley Rose Garden is almost a spiritual experience. [I like] strolling through the garden, especially when it's blooming, admiring the flowers. It's peaceful there. It's just beautiful to be connected with nature in this way. I really love walking around there. And the same thing for the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, it has the same impact on me. There are these giant trees and it’s like you are in a cathedral. I love nature, I love being connected with nature, and that's the best part of California. I always thought I would never leave New York until it happened. And when it did happen I was like, what did I do in New York for so long?