MOM CRUSH: KATIUSHKA
interview by Karin Hesselvik
katiushka melo is a chilean-AMERICAN brooklynite who never stops moving. whether she is working on her performance art, dancing with her toddler girl, or moving around in her kitchen that is lined with rows of EXOTIC spices from her world travels, she is always busy creating and blurring the lines between her passion for art and food. she gives us her scoop on compost-as-art, cooking for a 2 year old, the importance of community, and why fermented ice cream is her latest obsession.
What's the first thing you remember creating?
Some sort of choreography or performance for my family.
What's the last thing you created?
A beautiful dinner for the Pom Pom Social ladies. Ojos de Dios with a bunch of toddlers. And a new flavor of Culture Cream, my culinary project.
What are five things you always keep stocked in your kitchen?
There is always, coffee, eggs, bread, avocado - that way breakfast is a sure thing. And there is always something fermenting.
What is your favorite thing to cook for your family and why?
I love to cook with whatever is in the fridge. Its a weekly challenge to use everything in it before I replenish. Sometimes I get so creative the best dishes appear out of scraps. For a quick and nutritious meal, I make a simple pan seared fish, a grain, like rice or quinoa, tossed with some sort of veggie. Add a little coconut aminos or if your child is more daring, a bit of sesame oil for flavor.
How does your background as an artist express itself when you cook?
Cooking is freeing for me, as is making art. There is a constant overlap between the two. I love to think about food in colors, shapes, texture and temperature. I envision the flavor and the plate as I do a work of art. I bounce back and forth between the two enough to say I am cooking while making art and making art while cooking up ideas! I feel most inspired while creating whether it be in the kitchen or the studio.
Three words that describe your take on motherhood?
Beautiful. Intense. Surrender.
What role does creativity play in how you parent?
Creativity is at the forefront of my mothering. As a child my favorite activities were imaginative play and crafting. With Zuri, I try to always start the morning with music, which means there is a choreography to follow... Dancing makes us both happy. I try to laugh with her as much as possible, and laughing increases the production of serotonin and endorphins. Its a win win! At some point during the day the pencils and paper come out. Right now we are practicing circles!
How has your career as an artist and chef evolved since becoming a mother?
I feel less attached to where I fit in the art or food world. I am happy doing what I love and take it as it comes. I am less stressed about getting more done and conform with doing one thing right. I have become more efficient with my time as there is less of it. The idea of presence in the art/food making process has taken on a new meaning and level of importance. I try to be as present as possible when I am with my daughter and just as present when creating.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU're NOT MAKING ART, DANCING OR BUSY MOMMING?
I run my culinary business In The Mood For - a flavor-first eating experience. We host private dining experiences like our five-course supper club called The Gathering and we also do a In the Mood For Brunch, a monthly pop-up prix fixe brunch. And then there is the Tasting Lab where I've been busy experimenting with my passion for fermentation and working on new flavors for my Culture Cream project. Culture Cream is a living ice cream that has many fermented processes that occur before churning, so it's full of probiotics and therefore easier to digest and good for the gut.
What is your creative vision for In the Mood For?
In the Mood For started as a passion for culture through food. It's a space for me to explore in depth all the recipes and stories collected during my travels and share them with a broader community. I have done different artist residencies around the world which has permitted my spice collection to expand allowing for the literal mixing of cultures, collaborating with indigenous groups from Chile to Mexico, and blurring the lines between food and art related projects.
How does the notion of community play a role in what you do?
In The Mood For is an opportunity to create community around the breaking of bread, a moment to gather and honor our plants, our foraged foods and to learn about the evolving future of food.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR INSTAGRAM PROJECT: COMPOST COMPOSITION?
We produce way more food than the world actually needs. Much of the excess is being wasted and not directed toward those who need it, putting the security of global food in jeopardy. The climate is also suffering due to the amount of excess greenhouse gases emitted to produce the extra food. Compost Composition is not only a political statement but also my attempt to merge the waste from my cooking with my art practice. It's a still life made of all the byproducts consumed within a day or two. It's my Renaissance moment of bringing back the essence and beauty of 17th century still life paintings.
What is your approach to cooking for a toddler? Can you still be creative and adventurous with your menu?
I am always excited to have my daughter (about to turn two) taste everything to see how her tastebuds have evolved. As a new eater, she was always very eager to taste. We travelled quite a bit with her so she has tasted every tropical fruit out there and loved them all. I would say I am a bit less adventurous now as she has lost her lust for new flavors and sometimes tend to stick to the staples that she loves, like artichokes, avocado, turkey, salmon, rice balls, fruit as well as oatmeal and eggs for the morning. She is like her mama, breakfast long and coursed out. I think she eats three breakfasts every morning…fruit while waiting, a bowl of oatmeal then breakfast number three with mama, so either eggs or avocado or even both on a hungry day.
Can you talk about your thoughts on nutrition and how you consider this when buying and cooking food for your family?
Food is very important to me, not only as a creative outlet, or a palate pleasing moment, but also to eat balanced and healthy. The phrase 'you are what you eat' is cliche, but very real. Food is fuel for the 24/7 working brain. Nutrition is key and it's important to balance out the food groups in order to create premium fuel for our babies’ growing brains. Eating well can taste good and doesn’t have to be hard. I take this all into consideration when cooking for my family. Time and energy is just as important, so when cooking, remember to cook a little extra and freeze for a future meal. This will save you in a pinch!
Do you have any advice to share with other parents looking to expand their family's palate and still remain healthy?
Let your child taste what you are eating. Make it the family mantra, to always taste then decide if they like it. Children are creatures of habit. Familiarity breeds acceptance. If you want to expand your child’s palate then have them taste over and over. It may take fifteen times, but don’t stop. I guarantee it will work eventually.
If you are healthy your child will be as well. You create the habits at home. Help your child identify all fruits and veggies by showing and naming what they are before cutting and cooking. Not only will they will become visually familiar, but eventually they will identify with the taste. I always have a bowl of greens at the table. My daughter started by sucking the dressing off the leaves. Over time the whole green has made its way down. Children are always evolving and changing as we all know. Don’t take it personal! Patience is a virtue and be fluid with them.
one lesson from 2017
Speak up. It works! Follow your instincts all the time! And try to take breaks from your cell phone.
One dream for 2018
Building the Culture Cream community.
One thing you'd like to tell another Pom Pom mom trying to figure it all out
Community is what keeps me sane. Thank you to all the mamas, the papas, family and friends who have been there unconditionally. Seek out your pack!