The chef extraordinaire behind Mae, Maya Lovelace cooked for years before starting a supper club. “I knew I wanted to be a chef around 17,” says Lovelace, adding that she has “the typical Southern grandmother story”—sitting on her grandma’s knee while learning the fundamentals of cooking. She studied cookbooks like The Silver Palate and The Moosewood Cookbook and also watched cooking shows led by Justin Wilson and Julia Child on PBS.
“Julia Child is a giant in women’s history as much as food history. Her sense of kindness, you know: Don’t take it too seriously, and have fun at what you’re doing.” By the age of nine, Lovelace was cooking family dinners once a week.
After moving to Portland and her tenure at Beast, Lovelace was working two jobs (Bollywood Theater and Tanuki), but she still needed a creative outlet. So she put on her first Mae dinner in honor of one of the strongest women in her family. “My grandmother passed away about six months after I moved to Portland. I couldn’t afford to fly home for the funeral, so I created a project in her honor.”
“I think one of the important things women can do is keep in mind the women who have come before us—our mothers and grandmothers—and try to do things that will make them proud,” says Lovelace. For President’s Day 2017, for instance, Lovelace and a team of Portland chefs raised $12,000 for Planned Parenthood, through the Delicious Resistance group.
Lovelace says her first tip for local chefs seeking to launch a pop-up is to be grateful you live in Portland. “We have a really permissive climate here, with restaurants willing to open their spaces to young chefs.” It’s also key to find a person who is not only a host of your space but also a mentor. “I’ve been working out of Old Salt Marketplace for two years because owner Ben Meyer and I bonded over our grandmothers,” she says.
One final bit of advice is to have a really clear idea of what you’re all about. “Treat it like restaurant, and think about the entire experience, not just a couple crazy dishes. Think about the story and how you’d like to make the space your own for a single night.”