Cristina Curp’s The Castaway Kitchen is more than a cooking blog–it’s a whole culinary ethos, as fun as it is serious, all grounded in Cristina’s passion for paleo food that’s rich and satisfying. Cristina sat down to answer our questions about her inspiring family, path to food blogging, curated kitchen, and much more. And be sure to try her stupendously delicious pumpkin spice tahini muffin recipe.
How did you get into cooking?
My mother! Since I was a kid she would send me to school with hot lunches. Penne pasta, chickpea soup, chicken fricassee. I never had peanut butter and jelly. My mom’s cooking was eclectic and I definitely take after her. I’m now known for very interesting flavor combinations, like strawberries in turkey burgers and rhubarb in arroz con pollo. I see flavors like a painter sees color. I can combine and taste them in my mind’s eye before they even hit the skillet. Cooking is my art. When I am creating dishes I really tune into my instincts, letting my senses guide me.
Why did you start The Castaway Kitchen?
My husband is in the Navy, and after we got stationed in Hawaii we were living in a hotel for a month. I was feeling rather shipwrecked. My son was turning two and I had been a devoted stay at home mom with him, but I was ready to break away from that role a little. I had been a restaurant and food truck chef for five years prior to motherhood. I needed something that was just my own, and that was the seed for the blog. I feel like this is what I am supposed to be doing. I love connecting with and helping people through food.
People often think of the paleo diet as being very restrictive. How are you able to transcend these restrictions and make your recipes so rich, satisfying, and even decadent?
I definitely empathize with folks who see a paleo diet as restrictive; I used to be one of those people. It seems like you are omitting all these things from our food, yet the reality is most of these things have been added to our food. The industrialization of the food industry did wonders for the bottom line, but not much for our health. If you focus on what you can eat, nature’s bounty, the possibilities are endless. Forget what you think a meal should be, and think about what your body wants! Brownies made with nuts, seeds, eggs and avocado? Yes! It works. It doesn’t get much tastier or richer than a good steak seared in ghee with garlic and fresh herbs, and that’s paleo! Besides, coffee and (dark) chocolate are paleo too, so there’s that!
You’re making a romantic dinner for two for you and your husband. How do you set the mood and the table at home?
First I get a babysitter, because nothing ruins the mood like a four-year-old asking for more furikake on his plate. For a date night, I’d dust off the record player and put on the Arctic Monkey’s AM–very sexy rock and roll. I’d put fresh flowers and candles on the table. The place settings would sit next to each other–plus a cutting board on the table with olives, nuts, seeds, celery sticks and a killer dip. I’d bring out my best matching plates and my swanky copper flatware from Fab. I’d want to cook something that smells really good, but not fishy or like onions. I really love these langostino tails lately. I’d sauté some of those with brown butter and toss with fresh zucchini noodles. Pour some brown butter sauce on top and garnish with fried sage. I love meals that you can serve in shallow bowls.
If you could cook anything for your personal hero, who would you cook for, what would you serve, and what would you talk about over the meal?
This might sound elementary, but my mom is my hero. She is the strongest woman I know, and I know her–flaws and all. My mom has always been open minded, passionate and ahead of her time. Ana Maria Rabel, a woman who escaped communist Cuba, made a new life, and raised three strong, independent women. She loves light and delicate flavors in food; her palate is extremely sensitive and I swear her sense of smell is better than a bloodhound. I’d make pan seared sea Scallops with saffron served with a simple cauliflower cream blended with egg yolks and bone marrow and hints of citrus. Basil micro-greens to garnish. Lemon thyme custard for dessert made from the recipe on my blog!
How do you curate your kitchen space?
It’s like a giant game of Tetris. My kitchen gets a lot of action. I like plenty of counter space for prepping. My knives, blender (which I use a lot) and spice rack get prime real estate. The end of the counter is the coffee nook. My island boasts a stack of my favorite cook books stacked in a corner and topped with a candle. My multi-clad skillets have their own little shelf, which also holds a few vintage items I inherited from my aunt. I love the tiny little golden spoon. It’s my sauce spoon.
Multi-taskers like my Fab mixing bowls are my favorite. I love functional cooking tools that are pretty enough to serve the meal in, not to mention photograph! I’m a practical gal, and while I need picture perfect props for my blog photos, I don’t have the space to store things we don’t use. Otherwise I keep the walk ways clear and the floor clean. It might seem a little chaotic to the outside eye, but that is my little universe.
What would the kitchen of your dreams be like?
Giant. I want a walk-in pantry with a dry prep area. A cross between a commercial kitchen and Barbie’s dream house. I want a six-burner gas stove with two ovens. Hanging rack of pots over top, and subway tiled walls. Open cabinets with stacks of colorful dishes, bowls, and glasses, and a farmhouse sink. Lots of natural light is crucial. Oh! And one of those cool fridges that talks to your phone.
Beyond the kitchen, where is your happy place?
At my mom’s house. When my sisters and I all visit, which is very rare these days. We always end up staying up too late that first night. Jet-lagged and tired, we talk way into the night and we laugh so hard we cry. The kids asleep in the bedrooms my mom so lovingly prepared for them. Significant others usually bow out too. Everyone we love the most under one roof, and we’re the only ones awake, and that feeling of home is warm and intoxicating and contagious.