Tell us about your background. What drew you to becoming a chef?
I think I was destined to be involved in food before I even knew I wanted to be a chef.
For starters, food has always been a big part of our family. Every Sunday evening we would meet at my grandma’s house for family dinners, and every Christmas the whole family would get together to cook our Christmas meal. Thinking back, food always brought this feeling of happiness and love. Not so much the food itself, but the feeling of cooking and sharing a meal with somebody.
And there’s the fact that I grew up on a farm. I would say that 50% of what we ate growing up came from our own farm. It made me grow up with appreciation for the hard work that takes to grow and harvest food, to care for cattle, to really understand what real food should look and taste like. I was living the farm-to-table life before it was even a thing. Like I said, I was destined to become a chef.
What is your creative process? What inspires the recipes you create?
What really excites me about food is that the possibilities are endless. I love visiting farmer’s markets and seeing all the different colors and shapes; that is very inspiring to me as my mind starts racing with ideas. I am lucky too that I’ve been able to live all over the world and really get to know different cuisines and open my culinary world. Traveling is still a huge part of my life and that is a big source of inspiration as well.
I also love showing people that eating clean and healthy doesn’t have to be boring or expected. I always look to serve food that is visually stunning, food that is colorful, with different textures and flavors and that makes you excited to try it.
What are non-negotiables for you as a chef when it comes to where your food comes from and the quality of ingredients?
My biggest non-negotiable is to avoid cooking with processed food. As the daughter of a farmer, I love going to different farmer’s markets and talking to the local farmers and learning about their craft and their produce. We have to remember that food is also fuel and we have to be conscious about what we put in our bodies.
My other non-negotiable is buying organic food. It may not always be possible, but it is something that is a top priority for me.
Lastly, my philosophy when I cook is letting good quality ingredients shine on their own. You don’t have to be the greatest chef when you are sourcing good produce – it speaks for itself!
What excites you about the future of food today?
I think this new generation has done a great job of creating awareness around what mass farming has done to the planet and has come up with some genius alternatives, including vertical farming. It’s exciting to see all these new technologies emerging, and although it initially seemed very foreign to me because of my background, it is hard to deny that this is the future of food.
Monica Castillo is the talented chef behind many of the recipes on our blog. Read more of her bio here!