The chef at Amada Tapas & Wine in Chattanooga combines family influences from around the world

Adam Lawson, executive chef at Amada Tapas & Wine, a new favorite tapas spot on Chattanooga’s south side, says he owes this to the influence his parents had in the kitchen growing up in Michigan.

“Both sides of my family love to cook traditional dishes from their respective traditions,” he says. “On my mother’s side, we mainly cooked 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 was making American dishes.”

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

“I can definitely say that those experiences influence my cooking style,” says the 25-year-old.

It is this fusion of flavors that he brings to the table at Amada.

Here he shares what Amada brings to dining on the South Side, enjoying life in Chattanooga and sharing his love of cooking with his young son.

Question: 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 enjoys doing those things with me.

Q: Does your son enjoy cooking with you?

A: He is very interested in what I do and loves to come and eat here at Amada’s.

Q: Did you go to cooking school?

A: No, but I’m not against the idea of ​​ever going to a prestigious school. I’m sure I could learn a lot by going; however, wisdom and experience are unparalleled in the kitchen. As for short-term plans to expand my knowledge, I continue to read, study and undertake culinary tourism. Regardless of formal education, this is my life’s work and I will strive to show off my abilities.

Q: What other restaurants have you worked in?

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 first opened. I also spent two years working at Whitebird at The Edwin hotel where I briefly worked with Khaled Albana, Chef/Owner of Calliope. Khaled’s cooking style intrigued me, bringing different techniques and approaches to Chattanooga. Then I worked at The Chattanoogan for Chris Moore, chef and culinary director of Ascent Hospitality. She has a lively approach to food that I have come to appreciate. I was really impressed with her arsenal of ingredients.

Q: Who 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 lot about fine cuisine and kitchen professionalism. And Chef Chris Moore. Not only do I appreciate her work, I appreciate the support she has given me. I can honestly say I look up to her. Chef Chris and Chef Dao have genuinely cared about my success from the start and their pride in me has been a huge driver in my journey.

Q: What is your earliest cooking memory? What have you made?

A: On my father’s side smoking pigs and fish. Pigs, both wild and farm raised, were always plentiful, and they were great for large gatherings. Fishing was the same way, with the Great Lakes so close to where we lived in Michigan. The techniques and use of the animals certainly intrigued me. Around the same time, my mom was big on canning and canning, drawing on her experience from life on a farm and her travels to Europe. I definitely think back to my memories and experience perfecting techniques and recipes here at Amada.

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

A: Our menu has a variation of 28 different tapas. They are generally small plates, but they can also be large plates that are shareable. We try to include something for everyone while remaining humble about Spanish favorites such as fried manchego, chicken croquettes and octopus. We have a wide variety of seafood and meats, while also having several vegan and gluten-free options. This concept should bring a lot of variety and flair to the table, where each dish is a nice combination of our large selection of wines. It is a dining experience that gives our restaurant a lot of energy and excitement.

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, spice 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 match perfectly with the quality of the A-grade tuna loin. If we bring paella back to our spring menu, it will take its place as my favorite dish on our menu.

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

A: Not only do I think we have a lot to offer the environment, I also think the environment has a lot to offer us. With all the developments in the area this spring, this area will certainly become a lot livelier. We participated in Wine Over Water and would love to be a part of Mainx24 next year and do more pop ups in the area. We certainly feel we are what this side of town needs in an ever-expanding Chattanooga. With a beautiful and bookable space, great food and drink – and hopefully cooking classes – we feel like a perfect addition to the Southside area.

Question: Do you often change menus? If so, what’s on tap for the spring season?

A: It’s amazing to see what our menu has evolved from compared to what we originally envisioned. We like to do specials, so we do them almost weekly. We give each of our kitchen staff the opportunity to put together their own dish, of course with the chef’s touch. If it fits in our menu, you will see it there. As for spring, we plan to show off several dishes with very vibrant colors with lots 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 highly regarded food critics and chefs. I especially idolize Marco Pierre White. His resume is amazing and to this day he maintains the simplicity and basic principles in the world of cooking. His masterclasses show off some of the best work I’ve ever seen done in a kitchen. And I would serve them something completely in my comfort zone, like a traditional rack of lamb with herb crust. I have chosen these gentlemen because I cannot think of a group of people who would make me more nervous to serve as 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 involves a lot of good wine and raw oysters. Easy Bistro is known for its oysters and wine selection, so I should 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 haven’t had the full dining experience at Amada since it opened so I should definitely 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 place 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 messed around with baking and pies, and I just don’t have a talent for it. I’ve been successful and other times not so much, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t enjoy doing it. It’s not as fun as coming up with a seasonal menu with perfectly balanced flavors. However, I do enjoy crafting and making desserts, just not with the necessary baking precision.

Q: What food is your secret addiction?

A: Raw or undercooked meat. You can see that influence on our menu with the carpaccio and yellowfin tuna. I like beef, lamb, venison, moose — all medium rare. I like to go to Totto and other sushi restaurants as much as possible. Traveling and going to raucous bars are definitely one of my favorite pastimes.

Q: Is there a particular cookbook or website that inspires you?

A: I have a growing collection of cookbooks from many different regions. Since I’m the chef of a tapas restaurant, I’ve become much more immersed in Spanish cuisine. Katie Button’s “Curate” takes a lot of good inspiration and sets a lot of standards for Hispanic American cuisine. 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 like to see their work whenever possible. Of course I want to increase our presence in the media. I like to support the trade, so to me everyone in the industry is worth following.

Q: Name the kitchen tools you couldn’t live without.

A: If I had to choose one tool to work with, it would be my coveted 8-inch chef’s 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 chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 cloves garlic (coarsely chopped)

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1 serrano pepper, coarsely chopped

Salt and white pepper, to taste

1/3 cup light extra virgin olive oil

Soak the avocados in lemon juice for 10 minutes, discard the juice and combine the avocados in a food processor with the coriander, 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 seasoning if necessary. 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: 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm Tuesday – Wednesday 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm Thursday – Saturday 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm Sunday

— Telephone: 423-654-3816

— Online:

Please contact Anne Braly at [email protected] or