Chef at Chattanooga's Amada Tapas & Wine melds family influences from around the world

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Chef Adam Lawson of Amada poses for a photo in the dining area on Monday, February 13, 2023

Adam Lawson, executive chef at Amada Tapas & Wine, a new favorite place for tapas on Chattanooga's Southside, says he owes it to the influence his parents had in the kitchen while he was growing up in Michigan.

"Both sides of my family love to cook traditional foods from their respective traditions," he says. "On my mother's side, we cooked mostly Polish food, (and) my mother spent a few years of her life in Spain. A lot of that experience was reflected in her cooking, even when she made American dishes."

Lawson's father is from the South, where smoking meats, foraging for mushrooms, fishing and preserving fruits and vegetables from the family garden were common occurrences.

"I can definitely say those experiences influence my style of cooking," says the 25-year-old.

It's this fusion of flavors he brings to the table at Amada.

Here, he talks about what Amada adds to dining on the Southside, enjoying life in Chattanooga and sharing his love of cooking with his young son.

Q: How long have you been in Chattanooga?

A: Since I was 16. I moved here with my father. That was about 10 years ago, and I fell in love with the rivers, streams and mountains. Swimming and fishing are my favorite pastimes, and I have a 5-year-old son who loves doing those things with me.

Q: Does your son like to cook with you?

A: He's very interested in what I do and loves to come sit down and eat here at Amada.

Q: Did you go to culinary school?

A: No, but I am not opposed to the idea of going to a prestigious school one day. I'm sure that I could learn a lot by going; however, wisdom and experience is unmatched in the kitchen. As far as short-term plans for expanding my knowledge, I'll continue to read, study and embark on culinary tourism. Regardless of formal education, this is my life's work, and I'll strive to show off my capabilities.

Q: What other restaurants have you worked at?

A: My first job in a professional kitchen was at Beast + Barrel. Then I spent almost two years at Bridgeman's Chophouse at the Read House when it opened up for the first time. I've also worked for two years at Whitebird at The Edwin hotel, where, for a short time, I worked with Khaled Albana, chef/owner of Calliope. Khaled's style of cuisine intrigued me, bringing different techniques and approaches to Chattanooga. Then I worked at The Chattanoogan for Chris Moore, executive chef and culinary director of Ascent Hospitality. She has a vibrant approach to food that I learned to appreciate. I was really impressed with her arsenal of ingredients.

Q: Whom do you consider your mentor?

A: Chef Dao Le and chef Kenyatta Ashford, who I worked for at Bridgeman's. Under their guidance, I learned a considerable amount about fine cuisine and kitchen professionalism. And chef Chris Moore. Not only do I appreciate her work, I appreciate the support she's given me. I can truly say I look up to her. Chef Chris and chef Dao have genuinely cared about my success from the start, and their being proud of me is a huge driving force in my journey.

Q: What's your earliest cooking memory? What did you make?

A: Pit-smoking pigs and fish on my father's side. Hogs, both wild and farm-raised, were always abundant, and they were great for large get-togethers. Fish were the same way, with the Great Lakes being so close by to where we lived in Michigan. The techniques and utilization of the animals intrigued me for sure. Around the same time, my mother was big into pickling and preserving, using her experience from life on a farm and her trips to Europe. I definitely think back on my memories and experience when trying to perfect techniques and recipes here at Amada.

Q: Tell me about your menu. I know that you offer tapas. What makes them so popular?

A: Our menu has a variety of 28 different tapas. They're generally small plates but can also be large plates that are shareable. We try to include something for everybody while staying humble to Spanish favorites, such as fried manchego, chicken croquettes and octopus. We have a large variety of seafood and meats, while also having several vegan and gluten-free options. This concept is supposed to bring a lot of variety and flair to the table, each dish having a lovely pairing from our large selection of wines. It's a dining experience that brings a lot of energy and excitement to our restaurant.

Q: Which tapas is your favorite on the menu?

A: The yellowfin tuna. It comes with thinly sliced shallots, green onion, serrano peppers, pea puree, herb crumbs and cumin microgreens, and is garnished with Red Tobiko flying fish eggs, yuzu (a citrus fruit), olive oil and sea salt. The delicate flavors of the other ingredients pair perfectly with the quality of the A-grade tuna loin. When we bring paella back on our spring menu, that will take the place as my favorite dish on our menu.

Q: As the Southside continues to grow, what do you think Amada offers to the area?

A: Not only do I think we have a lot to offer the area, I think the area has a lot to offer us. With all the developments in the area this spring, it's sure to make this area a lot more vibrant. We've participated in Wine Over Water and would love to be part of Mainx24 next year and do more pop-ups in the area. We definitely feel we are what this side of town needs in an ever-expanding Chattanooga. With us having a lovely and bookable space, great food and drinks -- and hopefully cooking classes -- we feel we are a perfect addition to the Southside area.

Q: Do you change your menu often? If so, what's on tap for the spring season?

A: It's amazing seeing what our menu has evolved from compared to what we initially envisioned. We love to do specials, so we do them almost weekly. We give each of our kitchen staff the opportunity to create a dish of their own -- with chef's touch, of course. If it fits into our menu, then you will see it there. As far as spring goes, we plan to show off different dishes with very vibrant colors with a lot of seafood, pork, vegetables and cold soups to cool you down on a hot Tennessee day.

Q: What three people would be at your dream dinner, and what would you serve?

A: Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Andrew Zimmern. All three are very esteemed food critics and chefs. I idolize Marco Pierre White in particular. His resume is astounding, and to this day, he keeps the simplicity and basics in the cooking world. His masterclasses show off the finest work I've ever seen done in a kitchen. And I would serve them something completely in my comfort zone, such as a traditional herb-crusted lamb rack. I've selected these gentlemen because I can't think of a group of people who would make me more nervous to serve, like they would.

Q: Describe your perfect date night in Chattanooga? Where would you eat, and what would you do?

A: I think the perfect date night includes a lot of fine wine and raw oysters. Easy Bistro is known for its oysters and wine selection, so I would have to make a stop there. I haven't eaten there yet, but I've heard a lot of good things about their food and chef Erik Niel. I have not had the full dining experience at Amada since it opened, so I would definitely have to come and enjoy our tapas and wine selection. Another would be Calliope, with its cocktails and Khaled's Jordanian cuisine. It looks like a wonderful spot to stop on a date night.

Q: What ingredient or dish is your Achilles' heel?

A: You can always try your best to master it all. At the end of the day you can't always nail everything. I've dabbled with baking and cakes, and I just don't have a knack for it. I've been successful and other times not so much, but I've come to the conclusion that I just don't like doing it. It's not as fun as coming up with a seasonal menu with perfectly balanced flavors. However I do enjoy creating and making desserts, just not with all the necessary precision of baking.

Q: What food is your secret addiction?

A: Raw or undercooked meats. You can see some of that influence on our menu with the carpaccio and yellowfin tuna. I love beef, lamb, venison, elk -- all medium-rare. I love going to Totto and other restaurants with sushi as much as I can. Traveling and going to raw bars are definitely one of my favorite leisures.

Q: Is there a particular cookbook or website you turn to for inspiration?

A: I have a growing collection of cookbooks from many different regions. Since I became executive chef of a tapas restaurant, I've been studying Spanish cuisine a lot more. "Curate" by Katie Button has a lot of good inspiration and sets a lot of standards for Spanish-American cuisine. One day soon I would like to eat at Curate, her restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina.

Q: Are there any chefs you follow on social media?

A: I follow many renowned chefs and local chefs on social media. I love seeing their work whenever possible. I would like to increase our media presence, obviously. I love supporting the trade, so, to me, anyone in the industry is worthy of a follow.

Q: Name the kitchen tool you couldn't work without.

A: If I had to choose one tool to work with, it would be my coveted 8-inch chef knife.

Q: Is there a tapas recipe you'd like to share?

A: This is a sauce we serve with our seared salmon and broccolini.

Mojo Verde Sauce

2 avocados, peeled and halved

Juice of 1 lemon

2 cups of chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 serrano pepper, roughly chopped

Salt and white pepper, to taste

1/3 cup light extra-virgin olive oil

Soak avocados in lemon juice for 10 minutes, discard juice, then combine avocados in a food processor with cilantro, vinegar, garlic, cumin, serrano pepper, salt and white pepper in a food processor. Blend on low, and slowly add olive oil. Add water to the sauce, if necessary and puree completely. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Excellent as a sauce for salmon topped with chopped green onions for garnish.


-- Where: Amada Tapas & Wine, 1413 Chestnut St.

-- Price range: $7-$28

-- Hours: 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 4-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday

-- Phone: 423-654-3816

-- Online:

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