…I would work to bring good food to areas it doesn’t exist and to change the way America produces its food. In urban communities, projects like school gardens and rooftop farms can bring fresh crops to communities without access. They also provide a sense of community and pride. In poverty stricken areas around the world, clean water is the first step. Then there are also charities that give goats to families to make them financially independent and also offer a wonderful source of renewable nutrition. The thing in common about all these many charities is getting the aid directly to the people in need and working at the community level. I think the food industry has to make sweeping changes. Americans have industrialized our food system so that it is leaching off the land and causing greater pollutions. We waste so much of our yield. It’s time to change that.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Aurora Satler, author of The Ultimate New Mom’s Cookbook. For five years, Aurora worked as the creative director of Many Kitchens, an e-commerce site devoted to promoting the best small-batch artisanal food throughout the nation. Previously, Aurora owned her own New York City catering company and wrote for Chile Pepper Magazine.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What inspired you to become a chef (or restauranteur)?
Dinner parties were what got me started on my whole culinary journey. I have always had a huge love of large gatherings and finding the perfect meal for an occasion. I was working as a private bartender after college and just got to chatting with the host mostly about food and things I was currently cooking which led to my first catering job. I started creating dinner parties for clients and with a smart nudge from my then boyfriend, now husband, decided to go back through culinary school and pursue the passion.
What has your journey been like since first stepping foot in a kitchen?
My journey has been very exciting. I have really worked to carve out the domestic space of cooking and marry it with the professional side. I am not a restaurant chef and have never wanted to work on the line. I love the intimacy of cooking for a specific client (whether it was my catering clients, or a brand I’m recipe developing for or my children as I developed my cookbook). For me food is a creative medium that I can nourish and throw my heart into.
Do you have a specialty? If so, what drew you to that type of food?
I am best at elevated family meals. I always have a touch of the familiar comfort foods but then a bit of creativity to make the dish mine. My family is from the Pacific Northwest and I grew up eating off the land. We would pick local blackberries, fish for salmon and trout and go clamming and crabbing for the best the ocean had to offer. Everyone in my family cooks so I’ve been exposed to a lot of “chefs” in the kitchen. My mother is the most experimental and always trying new ingredients and cultures. My grandmother sticks to the classics but taught me to make a mean pie crust and my father taught me the best ways to beef up the classics.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef?
I actually filmed a pilot for a TV show on my catering company. Engle Entertainment created a pitch tape which they shopped around. I had no idea if we were picked up if my clients would ever sign on to being filmed. I didn’t know truthfully if I wanted to be filmed. It was just an avenue I wanted to explore softly. Thankfully we were turned down because we were just really good at what we did. Even though I worked with the most entertaining and amazing women, we were just too professional for reality tv. No one wants to watch a show where nothing goes wrong and even though I’ve had my ups and downs cooking in NYC apartments where the ovens had never been turned on since purchase or where there was an power outage in the kitchen and we had to cook on hot plates in a master bedroom, there was never the possibility that I wouldn’t do my job or lose my cool.
What is your definition of success?
For me success would be the ability to grow on what I’ve started and continue to hone my skills as plating styles and fad ingredients and food photography changes. I’d love to create more cookbooks. I also want to build a larger home styling studio. I am a mom now of two kids, my son is almost 4 and my daughter turns 1 at the end of the month. I love what I do but also want to be there for them, to pick them up from school and attend their games or whatever they get into. For me success is doing what I love and not having to sacrifice my family to get there. I want to be a working mother and excel at both words fully.
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
I have lived through a lot of companies closing shop. These were companies I loved that either changed hands or closed down. Chile Pepper Magazine was sold and still runs today but not with the team I had the privilege of working with in NYC. Many Kitchens closed shop this last November. Valentina was truly a mentor and great friend and it was really sad to say goodbye to that chapter of my life. I had the opportunity to work with Many Kitchens since pre-launch so I was actually able to help build that company. It was an incredibly rewarding experience. So I guess some of the hardest moments have been closing shop and starting again and finding out “ok, what is next.”
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
My first cookbook just came out 3 months ago and that has been a whirlwind. Since it was released in the summer while a lot of outlets were out on vacation. I still have quite a few publicity plans for the book. I also have another book finished in my head that I have to get down on paper. But that book is actually an illustrated children’s book so I have to replace my knives with artist pencils for that one.
What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
Find your passion in the field and follow your own path. There are so many avenues you can pursue in the culinary field. Figure out the life you want to have and the career that suits that.
What is the key to creating the perfect dish?
Balance textures and flavors but also keep a dish simple. Don’t do too much or it will overwhelm. Have fun. Use the freshest ingredients. Make it exciting yet still familiar.
It is said that food is a common ground that brings people together. As someone who makes food for a living, what does this saying mean to you?
We cross cultures and continents by sharing a meal. In an age where tech and politics are keeping people either locked into a screen or embattled in a debate, it is increasingly important to be able to sit at the table together. Food is a gateway to opening discussion and finding roads to empathy and understanding. On a local scale, food brings families together. A large goal of my cookbook was to get people cooking again and eating together. It is good for the soul and so important for young kids to see that. It’s not about the picture you share of your meal on social media, it is about the flavors you tasted and company you shared. Food is better when shared.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You don’t have to work in a restaurant:
My culinary school definitely won’t agree with this one but restaurants aren’t for everyone. Yes they are wonderful training grounds but not if you don’t need that particular training for the career you want to pursue. I knew I never wanted to work in a restaurant. I don’t want to become nocturnal. I hate wearing a chef’s whites. I love to cook but am happiest in my own kitchen, cooking in a flowy dress and in bare feet (I can feel my instructors shuddering here). But that works for me when I am recipe developing and styling and shooting food from my home studio. When I had my own catering company, I just developed a uniform I felt comfortable in that my clients also adored: a simple black dress. I was cooking in their homes and knew them. It would have felt so stuffy to don a chef’s attire.
2. Work harder on your knife skills:
I really don’t have much need for a perfect tourne in the meals I style but a sloppy knife stroke is pretty apparent in print. I need to hone my knife skills to this day because I also cook on camera. The guilt I feel if the director needs to do another take due to a sloppy cut on my part is pretty significant. I’m supposed to be the constant so adding time to the day and cost to the shoot from a mistake on camera isn’t really acceptable. Especially when there is a team of extremely talented chefs in the kitchen.
3. Don’t be a snob but never be sloppy:
Every meal doesn’t have to have a Michelin star. You can’t do fine dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You have to enjoy simple faire from time to time just to have a healthy diet. Plus there’s a real joy in the simple pleasures of good raw ingredients like the perfect peach or heirloom tomato. Yet you can’t be sloppy with food in any way. If I see a sloppy kitchen I lose my appetite because I’m pretty sure the food isn’t cared for. You have to handle food with care and take pride in the cleanliness of your workspace.
4. There is a world that marries the domestic and the professional:
Being a home cook can seem to denote a lack of skills. I think cooking that intimately is a skill in and of itself. You are sharing the meal you’ve created and seeing it experienced in real time. The rewards of a good home meal are visible immediately. There is also an art to making the domestic divine.
5. Never settle for an adequate meal:
If you work in this field, it is your job to make a dish that makes someone feel something. It could be comfort or it could be the burst of a new and unexpected flavor. Food should never be mundane or unappreciated. I’ve spent a lot of time going to the heart of food, from working with local farms to even hunting and gathering it myself off the land. Food needs to be appreciated which is harder to do the more packaged/processed it is delivered. Even if you’re not working in the field, strive to justify the time in the kitchen by really loving what you’re making.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would work to bring good food to areas it doesn’t exist and to change the way America produces its food. In urban communities, projects like school gardens and rooftop farms can bring fresh crops to communities without access. They also provide a sense of community and pride. In poverty stricken areas around the world, clean water is the first step. Then there are also charities that give goats to families to make them financially independent and also offer a wonderful source of renewable nutrition. The thing in common about all these many charities is getting the aid directly to the people in need and working at the community level. I think the food industry has to make sweeping changes. Americans have industrialized our food system so that it is leaching off the land and causing greater pollutions. We waste so much of our yield. It’s time to change that.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to cook for and why?
I like to have a personal relationship with the people I cook for or to offer recipes I’m confident families will love. Actually the idea of cooking for a famous stranger is a bit daunting for me. I’d really like to cook with the farmers and pioneers of The Brooklyn Grange. I have a deep admiration for everything they are doing. They are revolutionizing our farming industry. In my busy Astoria neighborhood, I can actually walk my kids to a farm and show them how food is grown (it is so much more impressive than my own garden and SO much more accessible than a trip where we have to rent a car to get there). I would love to cook more meals for my community and to work in ripples to make a greater change starting one meal at a time close to home.