The Sit Down: Carolina Santos-Neves

When it comes to cooking, Carolina Santos-Neves has some serious street cred: A graduate of the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute, Carolina has lived all over the world in places like Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Russia, and Portugal, where she got to experience the food first-hand and “take a deeper dive into the culture and history.” She now calls New York City home, where she is a chef and recipe developer, a food editor, a broadcast personality, the co-founder of the N.Y.C. restaurant Comodo, and a food-education activist. There doesn’t seem to be ingredient she doesn’t like or want to try cooking with because, to her, they all give her the chance to be creative, meet new people, and most importantly, to keep learning. Now that’s what I call raising your game.

Her childhood: “Where I grew up, in Brasilia, I used to gnaw on sugar cane. I have very fond memories of waiting as the bamboo plant–looking ingredient was peeled and cut up into chewable pieces. No wonder I have a sweet tooth.”

Her career: “Food has always been something I’ve been drawn to, whether it was in relation to a new restaurant, a new dish, or getting people together to come over for dinner. I certainly dreamt of owning a café or restaurant, but didn’t know whether I wanted to have that dream become a reality here in N.Y.C. Eventually it did and I’ve continued to find so much happiness in food largely because of the opportunity to create experiences for people; to share my knowledge of flavors, ingredients, and tips from places I’ve had the [good] fortune to visit and experience.”

Her favorite meal of the day: “Dinner or a late lunch that takes hours. I grew up in a family that always ate dinner together, so I generally have my bigger meal then.”

Her passion projects: “I’ve worked closely with groups like the Bubble Foundation, an organization that enters schools [over the span of] two years with the goal of creating a healthy living and eating curriculum for the students and staff; and Parsley Health, which is focused on changing the way we view medicine [and promotes] leading a lifestyle to support our bodies. At the N.Y.C. coworking space The Assemblage, I collaborated with my friend, ayurvedic nutritionist and cook Noël Graupner, on a food program that focuses on eating seasonally, locally, and according to ayurvedic principles. I also recently joined forces with Seek Food, a company creating flour using crickets—yes, yes, I know … crickets—but crickets are an ingredient eaten in so many parts of the world, and it’s nutrient rich and incredibly sustainable. I think it’s all about us all playing our part, and as the general public begins to understand more and more the power of food as medicine, I think change can happen.”

Her style: “When it comes to food, the intention is to make cooking feel accessible. There’s so much beauty in simple [cooking]: the idea that an ingredient, if delicious, doesn’t need so much. I love being playful when I cook. I love to mix and match flavors from all over, and I tend to become obsessed with a flavor (curry, harissa, anchovies) and then use it on everything.”

Her must-haves: “Food-wise, in (or outside) my fridge, you’ll always find crunchy, salted almond butter (freshly ground or from Traders Joe’s), tahini from Seed & Mill, shallots, Hu Kitchen dark chocolate, and some kind of frozen dessert like frozen ginger candies or frozen bananas. I’m obsessed with flat-leaf parsley, ripe avocados, canned sardines, and entube harissa paste from Jacobsen Salt Co. Also, the best salt is from Cornwall, in the UK. A solid skincare regimen; I like Dr. Alkaitis and Peet Rivko products best. I love red shoes, whether they’re sneakers or Rothy’s. I’m pretty much the most untech-like person ever, but certainly my iPhone so that I can stay in touch with friends and take photos but that’s about it … unless a food processor and blender count as technology!”

Her inspiration: “I draw my inspiration from travel, from looking at magazines, from [art], from trying other people’s food. Memories inspire me, too; I love cooking based off of nostalgic moments and family history. My mom has been a true inspiration to me for many years, too. She introduced me to so many aspects of the food world. I’m inspired by the idea that each day is new. I’m inspired by feeling strong physically and mentally. I’m inspired by the idea that I’m still [learning] to understand myself and how others work.”

Her go-to dishes: “I like keeping [meals] super simple: a whole fish, roasted veggies, a ribeye. I love to grill, but that’s not always an option in the city, so I love slow-cooking meats. And [making] ceviche.”

Her favorite kitchen tools: “I love a beautiful kitchen knife, like those by Korin. And a cast-iron pan is everything!”

Her motto: “Every day is a new day—and anything can happen.”