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I come from the philosophy that if everyone knew how to cook, and cooked for themselves and for others, the world would be so different.
We went to New York City to talk to Camille Becerra, chef, entrepreneur, and writer, about health, sustainability, and taking care of her skin from the inside-out and the outside-in. Read on to walk the city streets with Camille.
Camille Becerra creates dishes that are healthful but not too healthy. Simple but unexpected. Beautiful but not precious. It’s about finding the balance.
As a chef, entrepreneur, and writer, her life requires balance. However, she isn’t making all the rules. As Camille sees it, our bodies know what we need better than we ever could.
“Your body craves certain things. Sometimes you are craving something sour, or you’re in the market and you’re like ‘I need to have those strawberries.’ Or maybe you’re walking past the kale and you’re like, ‘I have to have it.’ That’s your body telling you that you need certain things. Your body is subconsciously making that connection.”
In the morning, Camille likes to meditate and check Instagram, where she mainly follows photographers, designers, and artists. “This acts as an inspiration to view things in different ways. It informs the visual lessons I’m always trying to learn by.” (In fact, she’s teaching as well as learning. One of Camille’s creations, a colorful Dragon Bowl she made at New York’s Café Henrie, became a full-blown Instagram sensation in 2016.)
Camille loves waking up with hydrated skin, so she takes her skincare regimen seriously. “If you rise and your skin is fresh and healthy it sets you up to make going about your day better.”
Predictably, her breakfast is both healthful and exciting. “Once I get up I drink either a lemony turmeric sparkling tonic, saffron water, a savory adaptogenic broth or seasonal fruit milk. I’m currently obsessing over strawberry milk made with coconut milk, coconut cream, tonka bean, and pink salt.”
Camille was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New Jersey. Just out of high school and unsure of her path, she took a gap year and traveled. She landed a job at a Mexican restaurant in North Carolina and found that she loved the camaraderie of working in the kitchen. She started culinary school the next fall.
While in culinary school, she worked with a macrobiotic chef who mentioned that a Zen monastery in New Mexico needed a cook. That was all it took. “I cooked and I meditated for almost two years. One year in New Mexico and a year outside of Los Angeles.”
At the time, the roshi, or Zen master, was an 88-year-old Japanese man who didn’t speak English. He would administer the koan practice, a riddle to help get closer to one’s true nature.
“I was a 19-year-old kid from New Jersey. We grew up in a very urban neighborhood, so it was really nice to get this nurturing, spiritual practice young.”
Meditation is still important for maintaining her balance. “Once or twice a week, I’ll go into meditation to sort things out – to be intentional and grateful for what I have. The city is so competitive, so I’ve realized that it’s so important for me to understand what I have and be really grateful.”
She also brought some culinary lessons home. The cuisine served at the center was vegetarian, with roots in Japanese monastic cooking. “It really grounded my love for vegetarian cuisine, the use of different grains and vegetables, and different preparations and fermentations.”
After her time at the Zen monastery, Camille moved to New York and her career took off. She worked at the iconic East Village vegetarian restaurant Angelica Kitchen, then opened her own place in Brooklyn named after her daughter, Paloma. She competed on Top Chef season three. After losing her restaurant to a fire, she worked as executive chef at Navy in Soho. She started a residency at Café Henrie, where she crafted her now-famous Dragon Bowl. In 2017, she opened DeMaria in Nolita, which won a James Beard award for design. Now, she’s taking a hiatus from the restaurant industry and working on a new projects, including a book.
She spends her days “going to the market, developing recipes, and researching different holistic approaches to food and eating – just always learning, really. Then applying my findings into very simple, beautiful dishes.”
As always, she returns to her cravings for guidance. “For recipes, I mainly rely on my cravings and hankerings as well as what’s at the market that speaks to me. Spice markets and ethnic grocers are very inspirational, too. Especially when I travel, I’m very into finding traditional techniques and dishes.”
“There’s the philosophy: if it grows together it goes together. So I’m always wanting to make these food combinations that aren’t necessarily very normal, but they actually make sense if you think about it. That’s very intriguing to me, especially in the world of vegetarian cooking.” A current combination she’s loving? “Cherries and cucumber.”
Camille cooks with seasonal ingredients, both to get the best product and to promote sustainability. “I incorporate sustainability in most aspects of my lifestyle.”
To keep her footprint low, she opts to cook at home. “I don’t order take-out or delivery. I eliminate plastics and make my own yogurt. When I shop, I am careful to not bring things into my home I don’t need.”
“I find that I spend money on things that I can’t even show for,” she says. “I spend a lot of money on food and skincare and incense. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothing.” While she keeps her wardrobe slim, her hat collection has become legendary.
“Working in a professional kitchen, you always have to have your hair covered. I got to a point in my career and was like, ‘I don’t want to wear a baseball cap or a bandana.’ I felt more and more comfortable in and a hat.” She likes the protection of a hat, whether that’s from “the sun, the elements, or just wanting to hide under something.”
In addition to her work on the book, Camille often hosts dinners and events. She likes to invite guests into the kitchen to share the experience. “When people are included, the connection is deeply broadened. I think it’s powerful and important.”
“I come from the philosophy that if everyone knew how to cook, and cooked for themselves and for others, the world would be so different.”
When she makes it home at the end of the day, she winds down with music, books, incense, tea, and skincare.
“I love waking up to really hydrated skin, and that doesn’t happen without a proper nighttime regimen. I’m always on my bike. I’m sweating. It’s dusty and dirty on the streets of New York. That whole process is really important to me.”
She washes her face, puts on a tonic, a spray, and moisturizes really well. “I love the Rich Cream as a moisture treatment. It’s not oily, so it’s not going to stain my pillowcases.”
When her skin is craving something balmier, she reaches for the Revitalizing Hydrogel Moisturizer. “I had a really great experience with the Hydrogel. The other day, I went to the beach and I forgot my sunblock. I got sunburned on my face, but I got home, took a shower, and put a nice coat of Hydrogel on my skin, and the next day I was not red! I was not sunburned. I couldn’t believe it!”
As with her cooking, Camille’s nighttime regimen is dictated by what her skin is craving. When she tunes in and listens, she finds that her body already has the answer.