The Roaming Kitchen, Food Blog
Cristina has lived all over the world and feels most at home in her kitchen. She believes food should foster community and seasonal foods and ingredients are worth waiting for. Cristina was on the board of Slow Food NYC and The Roaming Kitchen was a finalist for Best New Blog in Saveur’s 2013 Best Food Blog Awards.
I am so happy to have Cristina Sciarra of The Roaming Kitchen here on the show.
On Writing About Her Food Adventures:
I had been living abroad. I lived in Spain for one year and then I moved to France for a year. In France I lived on a market street. Six days a week we had two butchers and a baker, a cheesemonger. I really fell into the habit of buying ingredients on a daily basis and cooking things on a daily basis.
I came back to New York to go to graduate school for writing. I studied for an MFA in fiction writing. It was a natural marrying of two really strong interests, writing and food, because I think in essence, a recipe is a story to be told. I started to create my own recipes and I wanted some place to write them down before I forgot them and couldn’t cook them anymore.
I love Spain. I studied abroad there and then I lived there for another year. Especially Madrid is where my heart is. I do love Spanish food, but I would say now, at this point, I’ve been with my fiancée for six years and I have spent a lot of time with his family. They live on the western coast of France where they do the oysters and the mussels and the sea salt. Watching my mother-in-law prepare these dishes with a duck she got from her friend’s farm down the road and really, really fresh ingredients. I think that’s influenced me hugely.
Of course it’s French food but more than that it’s local food. Here I frequent the farmers’ market. I’ll buy things that look good. I come home and I think, “What can I do with these things?”
In my mind that’s an extension of what she does in her own home too. As far as cuisines, I love French, I love Spanish, I love Italian, that’s what I grew up eating. I guess I love North American because that’s where I happen to be and that’s where the ingredients are that I’m buying.
Really, the most important thing to me is local, high quality foods then using your imagination and mixing cuisines in order to make something delicious.
On Attending Culinary School in Paris:
I think the culinary school system in France is probably a lot different than culinary school in the States. Just as far as I know, from the people who have gone here, it seems to be more about cuisine styles. Again, this might be too much of a sweeping statement, but at the Cordon Bleu it’s very old school French style teaching. It’s a militaristic style of teaching. Most of the chefs are old men and they are not afraid to yell at you if something goes wrong.
I went for the basic course which is the first third where they teach you basically everything you need to know. They teach you how to cut things properly, and make a stock, and poach a chicken, things like that.
The upper classes are more difficult things and perfecting dishes. I really learned all the building blocks of cooking there. I think for me it was such a valuable education. What does it mean to braise something and chemically why do you do that? Why is it different than a different style of cooking? Although some days were terrifying, the base education was really, really valuable to me.
The basic program was supposed to last three months, but I only had a little time left in France. I thought I would do the accelerated program which takes three months' worth of work and puts it in about six or seven weeks, I guess.
I was there all the time from the early morning to late at night, five or six days a week. It was intense.
Basically the day oscillated between sitting in on a lecture where the chef would speak in French with a translator or in English. He would demonstrate three or four dishes. There would be a big mirror on the ceiling so you can see what’s happening.
In your practical class after that you would be cooking one or two things that he demonstrated.
This was late summer too I will say. It’s a lot of apparel. You’re wearing a lot of clothes that need to be a certain way, so it was very, very hot and a lot of time on my feet. It was one of those experiences I will never forget. While it was really intense it was so valuable to me. I am so lucky and grateful that I got to do that.
On a Kitchen Disaster Before Culinary School:
I made my friend run down to the supermarket and get the pre-made pizza bread that are completely done. They are like bread. You just have to stick them in the oven. I don’t know why I thought this, but I rolled the dough very, very thinly. Way too thinly and then put it in the oven for 20 minutes. It was black, completely charred, a mess. My friends were pretty patient through all of this. Most people like eating free food so it went over pretty well.
There was a farmers’ market one day a week on our campus. I did start going there. That was probably the first farmers’ market that I attended on a somewhat regular basis. That year was really, really trial and error. I remember I made my friend a carrot cake. I was very proud of that because it actually turned out okay.
There’s still so much that I don’t know. I think cooking is such a large subject that I could study and practice my whole life and there would still be more to learn. I think that’s part of what I find so interesting is that it’s endless. What I can do and how I can improve, new tricks I can learn, new flavor combinations. I think that path sort of starts there. It’s just been sort of chugging along ever since then.
On the Slow Food Movement:
Slow Food is actually an international organization that started in the 80s in Italy when McDonald’s first came into Italy. It was a reaction to that. It’s now all over the world. The New York City chapter, we’re under the USA umbrella, but we’re actually the biggest local chapter in the country. We really are in support of food that’s good, clean and fair.
We have several school gardens teaching kids how to grow their own food and how to cook their own food. We have a monthly Slur, which is a happy hour where people can come and talk to members of the board. We have a book and film club which I used to work on where we try to get films and have a panel, or we have book events with the author. Sometimes that includes a cooking demonstration.
We had a woman who wrote a book about making fresh cheese. We all got to try some of this fresh cheese. We work in this general goal of really trying to raise money and awareness for environmental and fair practices in cooking and food production.
We’re actually very lucky in New York because we have many, many farmers’ markets. You could go every day to one or more. We have great access to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Hudson Valley. There’s also a company called Good Eggs, which is now in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Brooklyn, and they’re moving to Manhattan and New Orleans.
I love ordering from them too because fish, for example, it’s very hard to know if you’re getting good fish or not unless you have a source that you trust. On Saturdays there’s a local fishmonger, a day boat fishmonger at the farmers’ market but if I wanted fish on a Wednesday, it’s difficult to know. Good Eggs provides really high quality well sourced fish and meat. Frankly, it’s like a grocery store, all kinds of things. We’re quite lucky here. It’s not so difficult to eat really well.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I don’t really watch any cooking shows.
I will wait until Top Chef is over and binge watch the whole thing. I think every year the cooks get better and better and better. I enjoy it.
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
I have a list of them on my website. I like different ones for very different reasons.
I like good writing a lot so someone like Oh, Ladycakes who writes vegan dessert recipes, but that’s not my preference. I always read because she’s a gorgeous writer and the photographs are beautiful, the same thing with Bon Appetempt.
I definitely would try her recipes but the thing that keeps me coming back is her voice. How original it is, what great read it is. I’d say the same for Dash and Bella. The writing is so evocative and it’s very family-based, about her family. It’s gorgeous, it breaks your heart every time she writes something.
I’d say those are the three that I go to. Those are my top three I would say.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
I’m the best at Instagram of all of those. It makes me happy, I guess those bloggers that I just mentioned and some more. So many people post such beautiful things and once you get to know someone a little bit when they post about their family or their life it’s a pleasure to see those pictures.
I have friends who live in Europe and South America, to see their posts, what they’re doing is really a gift. It’s a way of keeping in touch with someone you love but lives far away.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
I’m the wrong person to ask this because I’ll give you a very long list.
To be the most basic, I would say black pepper, fresh ground black pepper, have a kosher salt and a flaky sea salt, have an olive oil for cooking and an olive oil for finishing, a more flavorful fancy pants olive oil.
I think if you have those things there’s a lot you can do with those things. You can open a can of beans from your cupboard and mix all of that together. If you have some herbs put it in there. If you have some radishes or cucumbers put it in there. That’s half of dinner already and leftovers for tomorrow.
Name one ingredient you cannot live without.
Olive oil. I have several olive oils and it’s fun for me. We went to Spain over Christmas to visit my fiancée’s family. They make great olive oil in Spain. I bought a few to bring home. That’s something I love to do also, is buying special food stuffs when I’m away and being able to come home and use them in my own kitchen. Olive oil, salt and pepper, but olive oil I think is fun.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
That makes my life better, well, I would say certainly those big cookbooks that serve as a guide. So in something like the New York Times cookbook, you’re going to find everything in there. Those are my outside cookbooks. The ones I like to look at all the time. What else? I have several Cook’s Illustrated books. I like having a great, great background. Then I have some restaurant cookbooks, some blogger cookbooks. But, really Nigel Slater, his books are the ones I come back to. I read all the time. There are quite a few. I think that’s my favorite.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I usually leave the music choices up to my fiancée. He plays stuff I like and I don’t have to think about it too much, but I will say I do watch a lot of Hulu shows when I’m cooking. It’s a good excuse to watch things that don’t perhaps need your full attention.
I also listen to a lot of books on tape. I fly through books on tape when I’m cooking. That’s the most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon I can think of, cooking and listening to a book on tape.
I’m listening to 1984 right now. I’m halfway through.
Keep Posted on Cristina:
I would say Instagram is probably my favorite method of social media. You’ll always see me posting there the most. I have a Facebook page for The Roaming Kitchen. I also do updates and articles there and just check in back into to the website.