How Abby Tankersley fosters community and love through cooking.
Story & Photos by Mallory Harris
From the time she spent with her grandmother inside the kitchen cooking meals, desserts and anything a person could consume, Abby Tankersley has stepped into the kitchen to create more memories and share her joy of cooking with everyone around her.
“My grandmother taught me how to make kolaches, and I haven’t made those in a while, but that’s kind of where I started,” Abby said. “When I would go cook with her, I would cook with her and then I would try to replicate it, and mine never came out like hers.”
Walking into the Tankersley home, you’re immediately welcomed with bright colors and a full wall of books about music, cooking, memoirs and so many other interests. Just a few from their collection include “Uncommon Sounds” by John Engel, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” by Willie Nelson, “Will Write for Food,” by Dianne Jacob and “Dinner with Jackson Polluck: Recipes, Art & Nature.” Each member of the family has their own section. For example, there’s the section full of children’s books and photos of when their children were young. Kevin Tankersley, Abby’s husband and senior lecturer in the journalism, public relations and new media department at Baylor, has portions dedicated to his love of music and the time he went to the Final Four matchup in 2003. Still, it’s clear that the love Kevin and Abby both have for food seems to dominate every bookshelf within the house.
While Abby’s joy for cooking started early on, she spent years teaching elementary students in Waco before starting her technical career and graduating with honors from the culinary arts program at Texas State Technical College in 2013. Right out of school, Abby found herself cooking for a restaurant with a very limited menu that included meals that were gluten-, sugar-, dairy- and nut-free as well as vegan. Once that venture ended, 10 years later, Abby has continued to find local ways to share her skill and spread her passion.
“I just like to experiment,” Abby said. “Once you know what works and what you like and what you don’t like, then you can just do whatever.”
The Tankersleys work in tandem both inside and outside the kitchen. Kevin typically plays sous chef and clean-up crew in the kitchen when Abby makes a meal, and outside they are food editors for Wacoan magazine. Each month they put together an article that corresponds with life at the moment or something that inspired them, with Kevin usually writing the story while Abby finds a dish to match. Sometimes the story comes first and then a dish, and other times it’s the opposite, Kevin said.
Nearing their eighth year as food editors for the Wacoan, Kevin explained how each month brings a new challenge with their choice of content. For example, in the November 2022 issue, they wanted to have a story centered on the idea of bringing more people around the table, with the song “Crowded Table” by The Highwomen as inspiration. As they continued throughout the month trying to figure out the story, Kevin said it just wasn’t coming together. It was until Kevin remembered a special moment in church with that song in particular that the story finally came into view.
“For the past few years, the way we’ve done communion at church is we’ve passed out these little prepackaged communion containers. There’s a wafer on one side, you flip it over and there’s juice on the other side. We started doing the little packages during Covid-19 and so a month or so ago we did communion like we’ve done in the past,” Kevin said.
“In the past, there would be several stations around the sanctuary and at each station a deacon would be there with a loaf of bread to tear off a piece. You take the piece of bread and move to the next deacon, and they have the cup of juice,” he said. “ When we did that for the first time in two and a half years after Covid-19, I was pretty emotional because I missed that more than I thought. And so while we were partaking in communion like that, the worship team was singing this song ‘Crowded Table,’ which is not a church song at all, but it just so fits in this moment.”
Recounting the memory in the Wacoan article, Kevin explained how the song brought people together in that special moment. As the Tankersleys try and have as many people as possible around their own table, Kevin shared how they bring his students to their house during the Thanksgiving season and cook them a meal. Connecting the dots in every aspect of his life of a crowded table, the article finished with a collection of soups they chose to showcase at that Thanksgiving meal.
Continuing to be immersed in their church and in the community, Abby cooks a meal about once a month for the kids residing at The Cove, a safehouse for high school-age teens who are experiencing homelessness. Even though it’s hard to please multiple teenagers at once, Abby said, she enjoys having the opportunity to help those who are going through a hard time. Also, because it’s in the district she used to teach in, Abby said she feels a special connection to the kids there and offers cooking lessons during the summertime. It’s fun to teach a new skill to those who are interested, she said, even when teenagers don’t have a filter.
“I’ve done cooking lessons there and some are more interested in it than others. You know, some will stay with me the whole time in the kitchen and then some will leave,” Abby said. “I just love the kids. Sometimes they’re like, ‘Oh, that was so good,’ and other times they’re like, ‘That’s gross,’ and [it doesn’t matter] if you spend hours in the kitchen all day making whatever they’re eating, they will tell you how they feel.”
Abby’s love and joy of cooking doesn’t come from recipes or working in a kitchen. It comes from trying new things, mixing it up and staying inspired. She enjoys the community that surrounds her and uplifts her talent. She has two main tips for anyone who enjoys baking:
1. Get yourself a scale
2. Splurge and buy the expensive butter because it will make all the difference.
“The more you cook, just like anything, the more you practice at any kind of skill the better you are going to get. Just like that pie crust, I can look at a recipe and say I like this, this and this and don’t like that and so we can take that out, and then we will sub this in. You just know what works,” Abby said.