SABOR: Carolina Santos-Neves, Founding Partner at Cómodo, Loves Travel and Smokey Foods
"SABOR" is a food & wine and lifestyle series that savors Latinos' zest for life and passion for home and family.
The Brazilian-American chef grew up everywhere. Her father, a diplomat for the Brazilian government, travelled extensively, taking her with him as moved about the world. These days, Chef Carolina identifies as a Brazilian New Yorker. However, her father is from Brazil, her is mother from Ohio. She was born in Switzerland and raised in Brazil, New York, and Mexico City, where she met Felipe, the executive chef and co-owner of Cómodo.
"When I was young, I didn't know that food was a huge part of my life, but as a family we always sat down and had dinner," Chef Carolina told Latin Post." We constantly travelled, lived in different places, and in doing that we were engulfed in the culture, the food. Before moving to Mexico, as ridiculous as this might sound, I didn't know what a taco was, because everywhere else it's very different than what a taco really is. Also, burritos really don't exist in Mexico. I got to know the culture of food there."
Both her mother and grandmother were great fantastic cooks, putting delicious meals on the dinner table every evening, every morning and during lunchtime. Both women were extremely influential to Cher Carolina, her grandmother preparing delicious vegetable root stews and buttery mouth-watering sweets, and her mother preparing delicate beef dishes with mustard dressing and Parmesan cheese, as well as corn bread loaf and heart-warming pecan pies.
"Her pies, I think, are still among the best that I've had ... especially the pecan," said Chef Carolina. "On Thanksgiving, she literally makes 10 pies, and I'm like, 'But mom, there are only four people coming.' So we eat pie forever and ever. The pecans are toasted and set within the caramel ... there's tons of caramel on top. My mother has always been really humble with her cooking, always saying, 'Oh, that didn't really come out great.' I say, 'What are you talking about? It's okay to make delicious food and take ownership for it.'"
Thanks to extensive travel, Chef Carolina was exposed to "out there" dishes and ingredients early on; edgy menus always made it easy to anticipate upcoming meals and it made it fun to prepare them. She had the opportunity to work in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother, who imparted on her a fondness for sensational flavors, fresh ingredients and culinary experimentation.
"I love cinnamon, I love smoked paprika -- anything smoky. I like smoked fish or a smoky vinaigrette," said the former editor at Epicurious. "We've made smoked ice cream with a handheld smoker at Cómodo, as well as cinnamon ice cream. I love adding Moroccan spices and mixing it with cinnamon ...I use that combination a lot. Also, I'm obsessed with anchovies. I use those all the time. I had an avocado toast the other day with an egg ... and I thought, 'add anchovies.' I've made anchovy dressing, or even a pasta recipe with salmon and anchovy butter. I'm also a sweet and salty person, so I'll add honey randomly to things or I'll add a piece of fruit to some salty meat. Also, always bananas in desserts, for sure."
The idea of owning a restaurant came to Chef Carolina after stumbling across a charming restaurant in Paris. It had five items on the menu, and once the food was gone it was gone. The concept stuck with her, although it wasn't the most financially responsible concept, at least not in New York City. Nonetheless, Chef Carolina reconnected with Felipe and they began to cook together, eventually opening Comodo with Felipe's wife, Tamy Rofe.
"One of the things about running a things that very hard, but make sure that people are happy and enjoying it," said Chef Carolina. "We're working more and more to make sure we're doing great things, including working with a fisheries or working with a local farmer, and Comparti, ️our catering company, is really growing, evolving. I want to focus more and more on working with kids, and focus on health and wellness. After that, we'll see."
Interested in learning how to make Chef Carolina's mother's Corn Bread Loaf? Find the recipe below!
Corn Bread Loaf
1 ½ cups all purpose flour 1 ¼ cups yellow cornmeal (The best is stone ground, white or yellow. Some say yellow has more flavor. I usually use yellow.)
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup milk
½ cup buttermilk (substitute with whole milk plus a tablespoon of vinegar to measure ½ cup)
1 cup fresh corn kernels, or frozen, thawed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). Grease 9 x 5 loaf pan (or three smaller pans) with margarine. Dust pan with cornmeal, shaking out the excess. Mix first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Whisk eggs, oil, milk and buttermilk in medium bowl. Add egg mixture and corn to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325 degrees F (163 degrees C) and continue baking until tester comes out clean, but a little moist, about 1 hour or more. Cool bread in pan on rack for 30 minutes. Turn out bread onto rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover tightly and store at room temperature. Heat before serving.)