"I went to this small little culinary school near Cape May, New Jersey, by the beach. I really didn't have the money—I'd just been traveling for a year—but it was in my home state, so it was affordable. The curriculum was based on classical French cuisine, a great history lesson in the French Brigade system and noted chefs from that time. I went to work for a macrobiotic chef in Philadelphia, and then he recommended I work at this retreat center in New Mexico. It was in a valley, with mesas on both sides. Just beautiful.
After all of that, I came to New York and worked in a number of restaurants, and at one point, I opened my own restaurant in Brooklyn, Paloma. I've opened a lot of restaurants in the meantime, either as the sous chef or the head chef, and I kind of love it. There's an excitement and a chaos, and a level of focus required for those first six months. It brings out a lot in you...mostly frustration. [Laughs] But every restaurant has been a good playground to help you understand your frustration and anger. I think that makes you a better person.
Every day starts with a moment to myself—whether that's a quick meditation or having tea or coffee at a coffee shop. It's time when I don't have to be around anyone. As soon as I get to work, I have 10 people who are asking me questions, and then there's the dining room and front of house, and then partners and customers and friends... You're always surrounded. So the quiet time is very important. Then I go to work—I'll either take the day to train a new employee or somebody that I feel needs a little nuturing, create a new menu item, or just make food.
I think I've developed my own personal style of cooking, which feels good. I think with anyone in any art or any field, your work comes up through a series of experiences, and you feel good about your understanding about your craft, and then it becomes a creative thing. I cook the way I want to eat, which is really what gives a chef their own style—how they like to eat is how they approach food. I like simple cuisines, with an understanding of health, great quality, and ingredients that are really nutured. Mostly, I'm eating rice and some form of beans. Maybe over greens—I love fresh, crunchy salads.
Every morning, just because it’s really important for my taste level—and I shouldn’t say this, but I sometimes smoke–I like to be hypersensitive about my oral hygiene. That means oil pulling with cocconut oil for 20 minutes, which melts in your mouth and has great health benefits. I put it in my mouth and rinse while I take a shower, and I hold on to it for as long as I can. After I do that, I’ll brush with Tom’s Flouride-Free Antiplaque Toothpaste. Sometimes, I’ll dip my toothbrush into a little bit of charcoal, brush with it, and then rinse again.
I use this French bar soap in the shower that I buy at Essex Market. I like how it makes the bathroom a little bit fragrant, too. It's from Provence, or something, the stamp always wears away. It's not overly scented, either. I'm very sensitive to scents, because as a chef, your sense of smell can save a dish from burning. When I do wear scent, I use this Coqui Coqui original Eau de Cologne. I believe that someone should only put perfume on a freshly bathed, naked body. If you put it on your clothes, it's too strong.
The French soap is only for my body—for my face, I use this Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser. I put it on before I go into the shower, while my face is dry. It says exfoliating, but it's meant for everyday use, and it still cleans really well. Imagine being in a kitchen, getting all this oil and grease all over everywhere. That's what I go through. [Laughs]
Right now, I have this Herbivore Lapis Oil that I've been loving. It's interesting because even though it's an oil, it's not so dense. It's super light. Sometimes I'll use a mist before I apply it—I generally just make my own, but right now, my friend gave me this one she made, Linné Refresh Mineral Mist. I love this Caudalie Beauty Elixir, too. If my skin needs something extra, I use these Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Peel pads. I don't have any right now, but they're good. The other exfoliant I like is this Aesop Tea Tree Facial Exfoliant. It comes in a powder, so I just mix it in with my Tata Harper cleanser once in awhile. I love that you can add it to anything.
Sometimes I use the Origins Drink Up, which is an overnight mask. I like that it's not oily, and that I can put it on at night, really thick, and go to sleep with it. This Linné Botanicals Smooth Balm is a body product, but I like to put it around my eyes and on my eyelids. I love that shimmer look, and it's good for potential wrinkles. If I don't have it, I'll just use shea butter—and because my hands are always really dry from the heat and water, I'll put the rest on my hands and arms.
I actually have a highlighter compact that I put shea butter in [Laughs] so when I go out, I can use it. I'm kind of very hippie about my makeup. I'll do the shimmer around the eye with something, and then I'll use the Bobbi Brown Pot Rouge in Pale Pink. Everything is creamy and moisturizing. And I like blush because with my complexion, my skin just burns in the sun. In the winter, I have this Organic Pharmacy Self-Tan that's made out of all-natural ingredients like beet root extract. I think because my skin is on the olive side, when I don't get any sun during the winter, I look green. I need to warm it up.
Sometimes, I wear mascara. When I do, I only wear this Bobbi Brown Longwear Mascara in Black—again, because it's super creamy, and the brush is super thin. I also always have the Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer for undereyes. It doesn't look dry, ever. It soaks up and conceals really well. But whenever I think of makeup, I think of Georgia O'Keeffe, who never wore much of it. She had this very natural appearence. I'm drawn to that look.
My friend Martin Christopher Harper has cut my hair for over 10 years. But now, every once in a while, I get invited to the Nexxus showcase salon and they cut my hair. I use either Nexxus or this Sans Ceuticals Moisture and Protein Infusion Shampoo. I wash it once every two to three days—it's super thin, so I just want to clean it. And I moisturize with Nexxus' Humectress Serum. I always blow dry my hair, so moisture is necessary. I always use mousse, too—either the Nexxus Mousse Plus or the Bumble and bumble Full Form Mousse.
I don't dye my hair anymore, but I used to do it all the time. I've been every single color—platinum blond, bright red, super dark black, I did the whole thing. Now I should, because I'm getting a lot of white hairs. But I wear a lot of hats in my line of work, so I never have to see it anyway." [Laughs]
—as told to ITG
Camille Becerra photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New York on June 2, 2017.