Camille Becerra is no stranger to departures and homecomings. “We actually lived here before,” the chef and food stylist says, waving around her sun-filled TriBeCa loft. “That day the towers went down, we physically left,” she says of Sept. 11, which prompted her to flee with her then six-month-old daughter to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint, where they lived for seven years. During that period in her new neighborhood, Becerra opened Paloma, a restaurant housed in a converted parking garage, which she named after her daughter. In 2008 the restaurant burned down, and Becerra returned to her beloved loft in Manhattan. URL: http://nyti.ms/1gWM81F
During the past five years, she’s kept herself immersed in the food world, occasionally cooking for a pop-up restaurant series she co-founded called “The Hunger,” as well as parlaying her skills into the realm of food styling. “I think it has changed a lot,” she says of that field. “It looks much more like real food now.” European and Australian food publications like Gourmet Food and Traveler served as early sources of styling inspiration for Becerra, but Instagram has also proved to be a useful and advantageous instructor. “I was on it really early on and started following some really great food photographers and learning from them,” says Becerra, who has since amassed more than 54,000 followers of her own simple, artful compositions. She has also become a fixture on the foodie website Food52 for her column, “Beyond the Basics,” in which she demystifies more intimidating recipes and cooking techniques.
This month marks another homecoming as Becerra steps back onto the line as the executive chef at Navy, an intimate SoHo restaurant co-owned by Matt Abramcyk and Akiva Elstein (Smith & Mills), which officially opens its doors this Monday. Becerra has cooked up a seafood- and vegetable-heavy menu that will complement Elstein’s maritime-themed interior design. And in a city where many chefs bemoan the lack of farm-fresh offerings this time of year, Becerra is embracing the challenge, working closely with a Pennsylvania co-op to source all of her produce from within a 100-mile radius. “My experience has always been about building a great rapport with farmers,” she says. “I love the fact that you’re getting what they give you, and you make something from it. You tap into this sense of creativity.”
From her own cozy kitchen, Becerra shares a list of some of her favorite items for cooking at home.
Essential Ingredients “There just isn’t anything like fresh soy milk or fresh tofu,” Becerra says. Her Soyajoy Premium Total Tofu Kit produces single tofu blocks, slightly larger than what you’d typically find in the market. “It can be a bit of a process, but it’s all really easy,” she explained. “I love it, too, because it’s very sensory.” Other favorite ingredients include smoky ground Turkish Aleppo chili, which she dusts over poached eggs and adds to aiolis; coffee beans by the Brooklyn-based roasters Kitten Coffee (“We’re going to carry this at the restaurant”); and organic Daisy flour, for its remarkably rich texture.
Lo-Tech Favorites The humble mortar and pestle gets serious play in Becerra’s kitchen (“I use this for sauces, guacamole and grinding spices — everything”), while a griddle pan resides on the stovetop for the daily morning ritual of making toast. Paint-dipped wooden spoons are a new favorite for their chic look and functionality. Not one for frills, Becerra adores the durable, aged-looking fabric of her Hedley & Bennet apron. And for final postmeal cleanups, Palo Santo wood incense, which a friend introduced to her six months ago. “If I’ve been cooking a lot,” she says, “it really clears the air.”