You wouldn’t know it by the looks of my very kid-friendly home but I have a real eye for design. Mind you I can’t sketch a proper stick figure but I know what I like and many would say I have good taste. One of my favorite design blogs on the web is the uber popular Design Sponge and my favorite section is “In the Kitchen With…”. Every week a different food lover and design enthusiast is featured sharing one of their favorite recipes and stories about food. It didn’t take long before I started doing a little digging to see who was the mastermind behind this great column and I found Kristina Gill. This Nashville, Tennessee native who currently resides in Italy with her husband stumbled upon this gig quite unexpectedly and now nearly five years later its one of the most popular food features on the web. In addition to her work on Design Sponge she can also be found over at Photographer Matt Armendariz’s blog Matt Bites where she indulges readers with her periodic cookbook reviews. Did I mention that Kristina is also a fabulous photographer in her own right? But what surprised me most during my correspondence with Kristina was not the fact that she is a self-taught cook, relying on cookbooks with pristine recipes to help her navigate around the kitchen, but instead the incredible work that she does in her day job…yes, she has a day job. Keep reading to find out why Kristina is indeed one of the coolest food chicks in the game.
TBTB: Tell me about your culinary journey, how did you find your way into this wonderful world of food?
Kristina: It’s interesting to be asked about my culinary journey, because what I do on the web isn’t really what I spend most of my time doing. I am a development adviser, specialised in emergency food assistance. I spend my days following and reporting on crises in the least developed countries where immediate and medium-term food assistance is a necessary reponse. There are high profile emergencies, like the famine in Somalia, the drought in the Horn of Africa, the floods in Pakistan, the instability in Libya, the earthquake in Haiti. But also the chronic situation in Sudan, Darfur, Chad, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…you get the idea. I began my career working on conventional arms control treaties… Not what you were expecting, I’m sure… So how did I get to Food Editor? My In the Kitchen With column was an idea I was tossing around with Grace, the founder of DesignSponge, and she said DO IT! So I began working on that, and gradually started to photograph the submissions, and over time (from 2007 to now), the column became more and more like a proper recipe column. It’s really just a small break from my regular job, which can be very overwhelming.
TBTB: What is your first great food memory?
Kristina: Do I have a first great food memory…? I definitely have food memories. My earliest food memories all revolve around the table that was in our kitchen growing up. Though you couldn’t tell by looking at me now, I was always the last one at the table because I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I had finished my food. I obviously didn’t like what I was served because I think I spent most of my childhood sitting at the table. I don’t remember at what point food became “great” for me though…maybe it was a slow transition, and maybe it was when I ate Heinz 57 steak sauce one year at university on a baked potato and it was like I had gone back in time. So many memories flooded in. I think then I realized that eating certain foods could trigger great memories.
TBTB: Who or What inspires you most in the kitchen?
Kristina: The idea of bringing enjoyment to whomever may eat what I prepare is inspiration. So if I know that someone coming over really loves chocolate cake, or that my husband is really looking forward to trying a new recipe, it inspires me to do the best I can do. Also, great food photography in magazines and books inspires me.
TBTB: Favorite Ingredient?
Kristina: Salt. I can’t lie. And butter. But I have many more opportunities to use salt than butter.
TBTB: Favorite Kitchen Tools?
Kristina: Food processor, pressure cooker, a good cutting board, knives, and the dishwasher.
TBTB: I’m a firm believer in the art of the Sunday Dinner, which is a common practice throughout many African‐American homes. Every Sunday after church I sit down with my parents, husband, kids, and countless other relatives to what is arguably the best meal of the week. The conversation is good and the food is always great. What do you do for Sunday Dinner, and can you share a recipe that would be appropriate for my next Sunday Dinner?
Kristina: Once the weather cools down, Sunday supper is Curry Night for me. I wish I could tell you that I had my own special recipe, but I don’t! I use the most amazing book, I Love Curry by Anjum Anand (Quadrille Books). The weekend is the only time I have to test recipes, so that’s when I use my books and test and shoot the recipes from the column.
TBTB: Best piece of advice you can offer to the next generation of Chefs/Writers/Restaurant Owners, etc. who are aspiring to enter the Food Business?
Kristina: I don’t think I have any special advice that is specific to the food business. I think the best thing which sounds so cliche is just figure out what it is you love and pursue that. You may have to pursue it as a hobby until you can make a living from it, but always pursue what makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to change your trajectory if what you’re doing isn’t making you happy. Life is too short to spend it doing something that you aren’t happy to wake up to each day!
*Below is one of Kristina’s favorite Curry Recipes that I will definitely be trying out on my Sunday table sometime soon, Thanks Kristina!
This is a lovely, mild dish whose start ingredients are sweet-sour tomatoes and, of course, the fish. It is easy to cook for a delicious midweek meal, but also elegant enough to impress your friends. You can choose any fish you like; I like to use fish steaks in most of my curries, but monkfish also works well (though if you use monkfish, don’t fry it before adding to the curry; just tip it straight in). This is lovely with a pilaf or Indian flatbreads.
1 tsp tumeric
salt, to taste
500-550g firm whtie fish steaks, such as halibut, halved
7 tbsp vegetable oil
6 green cardamom pods
12 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, quartered and deseeded
10g fresh root ginger, peeled weight
6 fat garlic cloves
1/4 – 1/2 tsp chilli powder (spicy)
1 tbsp ground coriander
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp single cream
handful fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
Rub half the turmeric and a good pinch of salt into the fish and leave to marinate as you cook the sauce.
Heat 5 tbsp of the oil in a non-stick saucepan. Add the whole spices and bay leaves and, once they have sizzled for 10 seconds, the onion. Cook until golden brown.
Meanwhile, blend the tomatoes, ginger and garlic until smooth, adding a splash of water to help, if needed. Add this paste to the pan with all the spices (except the garam masala) and salt, to taste. Cook over a medium-high flame, stirring often, for 10-12 minutes, until the spice mix (masala) releases oil droplets. Reduce the heat and brown the paste for a further six minutes to intensify the flavours. Add 500ml water and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for six or seven minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Meanwhile fry the fish. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan until very hot. Add the marinated pieces of fish and cook, undisturbed, for two minutes. Turn and cook for another two minutes or so, until golden brown. Add the fried fish, garam masala and cream to the curry. Simmer for antoher three minutes so the fish finishes cooking and starts to absorb the sauce. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve scattered with chopped coriander.
Reprinted with permission of Quadrille Books.