By Amy Nicole Tangel
It may seem impossible to imagine how one can withstand trial after trial and still seem to rise. But one woman who has selflessly dedicated her life to caregiving for others has found a way to rise again taking her passion for cooking to new heights and spreading love throughout her community with food from the heart.
Tashana’s Kitchen all started six years ago at Tashana Small’s Patchogue, N.Y., home as a simple love for cooking that eventually turned into a catering business, and a means to help with additional expenses for her 31-year-old daughter Ishana “Shani” Small, who has suffered a lifelong battle with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS). LGS is a severe form of epilepsy onset during childhood with symptoms of countless seizures and cognitive dysfunction.
The seizures of LGS are known to be difficult to treat with antiseizure medications, and the single mother of two has openly shared not only her fight to keep her daughter alive, but also her advocacy with the public on the effective medical marijuana treatment Ishana has experienced.
“I am just going to keep moving,” she said.
Right before Covid hit, Tashana said Ishana became gravely ill and suffered from aspiration as a result. During this time, Ishana was discharged from her day program and when Covid came along Tashana said there was no place for Ishana to return to when she was well. The day program re-enrollment is still on hold according to Tashana, because of staffing related issues, no weekend respite, and now she has been left with not being able to work outside the home as a result of her need to provide round the clock care with limited help.
When everything shut down, Tashana was hit with a second blow when there was nothing to cook for anymore. She said she couldn’t sell dinners or have a function, but through it all she stayed in a grateful heart and just did what she had to do to keep going.
“I have been affected by it (Covid) in such a traumatic way,” she said.
Catering is Tashana’s biggest endeavor in cooking presently, and is available in Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as all five boroughs. Tashana works alongside her sister, Jazmin McCain, entertainment company owner and manager of Tashana’s Kitchen. Tashana said for years prior to opening her business she would regularly entertain family and friends on weekends, and they would always tell her how much they loved her food; building her passion to take it to the next level.
The first place Tashana said she ever cooked professionally was for a jazz place in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn that needed someone to cook food to bring in clients. Tashana said the owner’s daughter continued to reach out to her after she moved on to tell her the people missed her food.
“The people loved the food even after I left there,” she said.
Tashana said growing up in Brooklyn, she had to grow up very fast and had a very hard life. Her parents both suffered from addiction, so Tashana lived with her grandmother and helped raise her brother and sister. It was during this time, when Tashana said she learned to cook from a young age. She would watch her grandmother in the kitchen, and she said she naturally got a knack from that to cook.
When she was 14 years old, Tashana said the first dinner she ever cooked was beef stroganoff. After her grandmother ate her meal, Tashana said she remembers her grandma calling her friend and telling her she couldn’t believe how good it was.
“It’s really engrained in me from my grandmother and my family,” she said.
Before cooking became her full-time mission, Tashana was an Aide and LPN in nursing. Now retired from that profession due to a car accident that left her with severe back injuries, she has taken that same passion for caring for people as a nurse and applied it to her passion for sharing love through her cooking.
Six years later to date, Tashana said in spite of the Covid setback, she has watched the business grow tremendously. Between social media and always having so many of her self-described “bonus kids” around the house with her 17-year-old athlete son, Joseph Harrison, word-of-mouth has traveled. Her regular dinner nights open to the public happen as often as she has the means to do it, she said, but hosting them as often as possible is her goal to take the business to the next level again; saving enough money to buy a food truck and expand her brand.
“I am at a place now where I want to truly branch out and make it a big business,” she said.
Living in Patchogue for the past 21 years, Tashana said she has never cooked for restaurants or any other business than for her family, friends, and community other than through Tashana’s Kitchen, and is primarily supported with the help of her best friend, Cheryl. Not only does Cheryl help in the kitchen, but Tashana said she is a constant help with Ishana as well.
“You’ve got to start from somewhere. I stay humble and I am blessed because of it,” she said.
While Tashana and her volunteers run multiple ovens, grills and smokers built one piece-at-a-time surrounding her outdoor kitchen, members of the community come and go steadily to pick-up food. For now, Tashana said she pays forward by giving food to her volunteers and their families but she said she hopes one day soon to able to have a paid staff. Tashana tries to make everything as welcoming as possible and even has a section of comfortable outdoor seating set-up for people to wait for their orders. At any given time, you can hear people talking amongst themselves and sharing stories of how they met, know, and love Tashana.
Thanks to her passion for cooking and the support of her community, Tashana has been able to also host dinner events to help keep up with necessities such as repairs for Ishana’s handicap accessible van. Tashana said she was blessed to have purchased the van for only $1 from a dear friend who wanted to help the family stay on their feet, but when the van needed thousands of dollars of repairs, she didn’t despair and turned to her cooking. In the one weekend of opening her kitchen door for the event, Tashana said she earned enough money to cover costs for all of the repairs and couldn’t feel more blessed for all the people who continue to enjoy her food.
“I used my God-given gift to do the fundraiser. That’s what I do,” she said.
Sundays through September starting this Sunday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tashana will be selling take and bake gourmet baked macaroni and cheese cupcakes at the Patchogue Outdoor Market in the LIRR parking lot. Continuing to pay forward, Tashana’s Kitchen will be selling meals at the first annual Robert Permenter Memorial Car Show on June 19, 2021 in honor of her son’s best friend who tragically passed away in a car accident. Tashana said helping others means everything to her and she will be donating half of her proceeds to the Robert Permenter Scholarship Fund.
“The family lost their son, their only son, and then their father a year later,” she said.
As far as favorite foods to cook, Tashana said she loves to cook anything seafood, but no matter what she cooks it is making others happy and she said she lovesthe reaction to people when she gives them their food that she loves the most. Dinners such as crab clusters, jumbo shrimp, smoked sausage, and shrimp jambalaya are favorites.
“It’s not one specialty. I have been blessed. Anything I put my hands on and my mind to I have mastered it,” she said.
Tashana’s Kitchen is located at 76 Thorne St. in Patchogue. Customers are encouraged to call 631-627-9201 to book a catering event or to order meals in advance. You can also follow Tashana’s Kitchen on Facebook and Instagram for future dates and new menu items. For more information about catering and everything else Tashana’s Kitchen, you can visit tashanaskitchen.com.
Feature Photo: Amy Nicole Tangel
Gallery photos courtesy Tashana Small