Tim McDiarmid’s culinary business is a multifaceted, expansive enterprise that takes on the audacious challenge of getting her clientele to rethink everything they think they know about food and food culture. This audacious concept of thinking about food as a relational, interactive, performative and aesthetic experience is the brainchild of a bright, introspective woman who has never, ever been content to lead the cookie-cutter sort of life.

Born on the western coast of Canada in an alternative community of draft dodgers and hippies, she knew she was never going be part of the mainstream. “I grew up in a dome!” she confesses. “All of the culinary trends that are happening now, including locally sourced food and pulling from your own garden, were sort of normal to me,” says McDiarmid, whose childhood on a farm, with parents who had chosen to move away from a comfortable, suburban lifestyle, informed her ideas about food and life. “My mom grew our food. We lived a good solid 45 minutes away from any sort of big grocery store. This was a lifestyle choice, so much so that we even had no indoor plumbing for a while,” she recalls.

To counter that “off the grid” home life, McDiarmid attended a mainstream small town public school. There her counterculture upbringing came to the fore and began to inform her identity politics. Her clothes were different, her ideas about the world were different, and even her lunches were different. While the other kids had standard Americana sandwiches made of processed lunch meats and cheeses, she says, “I had bee pollen and lentils.” Though she embraced her against-the-grain sort of life, she was restless by nature, and her goal after high school was “to get away as quickly as possible.”

She said that although she was a typical antsy teenager, the seedlings of the startup magnate she has become were taking root in high school. “I was one of the underground leaders. I wasn’t the prom queen. But I was a leader,” she recalls.

She matriculated at the University of Victoria and earned a degree in creative writing, Plagued by a restlessness that would be both her burden and her engine for the remainder of her young life, she was looking for adventure wherever she could find it: “I thought I might be a journalist in a war-torn country. I thought that might keep my mind occupied enough that I wouldn’t go crazy.”

In 1993 she moved to New York, which allowed her to experience a world totally different from her small town childhood. She worked in fancy restaurants, took a break to help a friend run an organic farm and then came back to New York to find inspiration in and around the artistic scene there. Her friends were all craftsmen, artists, artisans and entrepreneurs. Everyone collaborated on expansive, dreamy projects that allowed her to grease her creative wheels and hone her leadership abilities. She did some interior decorating work and saw the value in deep, connected collaborations with others who shared her creative spirit and innovative mind.

McDiarmid moved to San Antonio in 2010. By that time she had a child and a marriage that was in the process of dissolution. The realities of life had forced her to be more pragmatic, and she was looking for new challenges. “I hadn’t written a résumé in my life, and I was 39 years old. The first time I tried to write one, I ended up writing a résumé for someone else, someone I didn’t know. It certainly wasn’t me,” she says.

Finally she started asking herself the kinds of difficult, soul-searching questions that would lead her to invent a unique culinary space in San Antonio, this new town she had adopted. She started asking herself, “Who do I want to be?” “Where do I want to eat here in San Antonio?” and “What do I want to feed my kid?” It sounds cliché, she notes, but necessity truly is the mother of invention. “I had a young kid. I was a single mother. I was working out of my house and trying to start a business.”

The business started as a catering company that would defy all of the tacit rules of catering. She wouldn’t have servers in dark pants and white shirts. She wouldn’t have clients choose between fish and fowl. Instead, she would create a unique artistic culinary experience for her clients that focused on every detail, from the eating space to the design of the plate on which the food was served. Each plate would be handcrafted and made to order. And here’s the clincher: It would all be a surprise. The client wouldn’t necessarily have a huge hand in the menu. McDiarmid thought of her work the way a true visual artist does. A great artist doesn’t produce a work of art to match your sofa, and great food shouldn’t be churned out in a homogenous, cookie-cutter way, either. This was not only a big concept, one she’d have to teach to her clients and her community, but it was a hard one to execute on her own. She remembers, “I was so weak and vulnerable. It was a pivotal moment. You have to trust yourself and look at your experiences. Hone your ideas a little bit to where they make sense.”

McDiarmid focused on what she loved: family-style eating, inclusivity, beautiful, unpretentious foods.. She created surprise pop-up restaurants all around the city. She had conceptual parties for groups of people where she’d teach her customers what it meant to eat in a way that was big and bold and far from the mainstream. It was a huge risk, but people started gravitating toward her ideas, and, most importantly, toward her food. She would feature a different artist for each party. She never told her guests what they were eating or even where they were going. The whole thing was a big, beautiful, unpredictable and slightly chaotic adventure. It was a genius idea that took off immediately. Her tickets became the hottest ones in town.

Finally she moved away from pop-ups. She had been doing them every six weeks. They were expensive, and the pace was grueling. She had to think of another innovative way to bring her culinary concepts to a bigger audience. She had proven herself in San Antonio, but it was time to take an even bigger risk.

Three years ago, in 2012, McDiarmid hired a sous chef. Next came an assistant. She realized that if she was truly going to make a go of her business, she needed help. Now she has expanded from catering, to food delivery services, to cooking classes, to event planning and to consulting. Her business sees it as a mission to “help others realize their food-related dreams.”

Her next concept is a brick-and-mortar “grab and go” shop with prepackaged foods for food-conscientious consumers. She is excited about the future. “I fully believe in this new concept. The market is there,” she says. She recognizes that in moving ahead with a brick-and-mortar shop, she throws off her own self-imposed shackles — ones that have guided her through her whole life: “Stay restless, don’t commit, go where the wind blows you.” But she knows it is time to plant her flag. She says, “I really know what I want, and I guess I am going to have to go get it.”

Originally published in “San Antonio Women”, by Women in Business, May 19, 2016