There are few ties that bind quite like family does. Chef/television personality Tim Norman will tell you that himself. Growing up in St. Louis, MI, Tim worked his way up from a prison sentence to becoming co-owner of his family business Sweetie Pies, owned by his mother Robbie Montgomery.
While the latest season of he and his family’s reality show Welcome To Sweetie Pie’s just premiered this past week on OWN, Tim’s mind isn’t just set on cooking. His experience in prison has inspired him to reach out to newly paroled and homeless people and offer jobs and help. On top of that, Norman’s an aspiring musician, with a new album called The Bi-Polar Project coming soon. Tim’s got both food and music on the mind, so we sat down with him to talk about his beginnings, his favorite music to cook to, and his jealousy of Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies.
1. On his beginnings as a chef:
TN: Well, I went to prison at the age of 17. My mom was working there and working two jobs as a nurse. After I did 10.5 years in prison, my mom opened Sweetie Pie’s, which was originally gonna be a pie shop, and by the time I came home, it had evolved into a full-fledged restaurant. It was like the little hood spot that everyone would go to after church, so I put myself into it as much as I could to help market it. While I was away in prison, I studied writing and acting, and Shakespeare specifically, so when I came home I enrolled in college, was working at the restaurant, and writing plays, and I transitioned from writing plays to writing television shows. That’s how the Sweetie Pie’s/Oprah connection came about; me trying to make it out of small-town St. Louis at the time and trying to get away from the restaurant, and then writing a show about the restaurant, and then it fell into Oprah’s hands.
2. On the latest season of Welcome To Sweetie Pie’s:
TN: This is our fifth year on the air and the ninth season premiere, so we’re almost at season 10. Traditionally, the show has been about myself and my mother running our family business [Sweetie Pie’s] and our crazy family. We all just moved out to LA and opened a restaurant there, and we took about eight people from St. Louis with us to open it, so it’s kinda like a Beverly Hillbillies type of story with all these country folks going out to this big city trying to do this small southern restaurant. Everyone’s out there trying to eat healthy and juicing and eating vegan and gluten-free, and we come in with this country soul food (fried chicken, corn bread). People come in and ask us “Does this have gluten in it? Is it sugar-free?” and we say “Hell no” (laughs). You’re gonna see us adjusting to life in LA and the temperature and people’s mentality in LA.
3. On working with Oprah Winfrey
TN: It’s been a blessing, man. Coming from my background, everyone knows that St. Louis is a rough city, and having served 10 years in prison, I was never supposed to be in the position I’m in right now. There aren’t many positive stories of people who’ve had to go through pitfalls in Black communities, so people didn’t think that it could happen. It’s a blessing to make it and work with a company like OWN…[Oprah’s] accepted me and my past and given me a second chance to explore these opportunities with open arms, so it’s a blessing because your past doesn’t have to dictate your future.
4. On Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies
TN: I have not, man. And I’m mad because she beat me to it, too (laughs). I’ve had one done for almost a year now, but I put my focus on the transition to LA. We have a sweet tea line that’s in 105 stores in six states, so I was gonna do another push with the soft drinks before I got into the frozen foods, but I have a pie developed, done, and ready to go; everything except the package. [Patti LaBelle] did 2.3 million in sales last week or some shit. All the Wal-Marts and places are sold out, so I’m mad she beat me to it.
5. On The Bi-Polar Project
TN: It’s very eclectic, man. I’m calling it The Bi-Polar Project because it’s so different. I think as people we lock ourselves in boxes, but everyone listens to all different types of music. I’m sure you have a country song that you like or a rock n roll song, an R&B song, a pop song. But when it comes to artists, they tend to be locked in one genre most of the time. I chose the name because I’m all over the place musically. The first song we’re releasing is me with Migos out of Atlanta, so it’s a pretty nice club banger, if I do say so myself.
It ranges all the way from rap to R&B to pop. I’m not gonna disrespect country artists by stepping into their realm (laughs).
6. On the best music to cook to:
TN: That’s a good question, man. When I’m kinda in the zone and I’ll be somewhere for a long time, I turn some Biggie on; both Ready II Die and Life After Death. I put that on shuffle because it takes me back to my high school days. I’m a Midwestern/Southern guy who listens to a lot of East Coast (laughs)
7. On Billboard’s Top 10 Rappers list and his personal Top 5
TN: Did you see the list? In my opinion, I don’t think Ghostface should’ve been on that list. I don’t think Kendrick [Lamar] should’ve been on that list because it’s a little too soon…I think Tupac definitely should’ve been on that list; I think that was a complete diss. And if you’re gonna put a new artist like Kendrick on there, I don’t see why you wouldn’t put Drake on that list, just based off of hits. He surpassed Diddy, he’s got so many hits…My top 5, in no particular order, I’ll say Jay [Z], Biggie, Pac, Nas, and Eminem.