Week 4 of 2017's Get In The Kitchen Challenge // Athena Calderone of Eyeswoon

Diane Lieu

Athena Calderon eyeswoon

We're so excited to have designer & food lover Athena Calderone of Eyeswoon leading this week's challenges for our LAST week of 2017's Get In The Kitchen Challenge! Like Ellen, this bad ass boss lady fires at all cylinders and works as an interior designer and home chef. We're so inspired by her way of seeing and how effortlessly she is able to intertwine design and food to create amazing meals and tables!

Quick Facts

Hometown: Long Island, NY
Experience: Interior Designer and creator of EyeSwoon. Lover of local and seasonal cooking and creator of beauty. Currently completing my first cookbook, to be released in fall 2017 with Abrams.
Current City: Dumbo, Brooklyn + Amagansett, NY
Favorite/least favorite Ingredient: Favorite, lemon and chilis. Least favorite (don’t hate me), foie gras.

 athena calderon eyeswoon chef cook

Of all the dishes you make, which would you say has been the most challenging/inspiring?  

I actually love a challenge when I am in the kitchen. It makes be a better cook and helps me refine my skills. I found that throughout the development of my cookbook, it was the simpler recipes that challenged me. I am an intuitive cook and the process of precisely measuring each and every ingredient to document it took the creative joy away from the development at the time, and the results suffered. I really had to find my footing to keep the creative freedom as I cooked, as I felt my ingredients, but to still document it. So with this, it often took three to four times to get the balance and flavors precisely right. Something as simple as a roasted and pureed cauliflower soup was particularly pesky!

As far as my most inspiring dish, it is when a recipe comes together completely by accident, when you really find yourself moved by the ingredients at hand and create food that checks off so many boxes -- textural, bright, acidic, sweet, sour, spicy and savory. Not too long ago a friend was making a slow roasted fish. I found a half a bomb of fennel, a jalapeño, and Meyer lemons, and suddenly a pungent relish turned a simple meal into a spectacular one. Creativity and discovery in the kitchen has always been my happy place. I developed a braised pork stew for the fall section of the book that is my most inspired dish. It is stewed with sage and sherry, prepared with honey and habanero roasted squash, finished with a gremolata of parsley, chive, walnut and pomegranates, and finally brightened with the zest of orange.

eyeswoon athena calderon chef apron cook

What types of recipes/foods really catch your eye?

I love to be swooned by the beauty a plate of food can provide. Aesthetics reign supreme in my world. They just alter the overall experience of a meal. So I opt for food that is layered and textural, has a pop of color and is served in a beautiful bowl or platter. Even something rustic, like a bowl of ragu, can be alluring with just a hint of chopped parsley and a fresh shaving of coarse cheese as opposed to the finer pre-grated varieties. I can not begin to tell you how often I adapt a recipe for the visual impact.

eyeswoon athena calderon cook chef apron

How does food & design blend together in your world? Will your cookbook feature both parts of this world of yours? (SUPER excited for it!)  

The visual is everything to me. I am guided by aesthetics in everything I do, from the meals I create to the rooms I design. I approach food and design in exactly the same way. I build a dish by layering flavor and texture -- it’s the same philosophy I use to curate a space. What will shock the eye or palate? What is unexpected, juxtaposed, opposing?

The overarching theme to the cookbook, which will be titled Cook Beautiful, is how to create a beautiful meal. My eyes, as much as my taste buds, guide me in the kitchen. My true passion—what really makes me swoon—is creating beauty. We all eat with our eyes, right?  Food just tastes better when beautiful. So with that, my goal is to demystify the beauty and offer tools on how to keep things downright simple while offering swoon-worthy tips on how to elevate the appearance of your food.

Because our "Get in the Kitchen Challenge" is inspired by New Year Resolutions, would you mind sharing one of yours for this year?

I have been a yogi since i was 21 years old, but in the past few years, as life has gotten significantly busier, my practice has been severely diminished. I have committed to daily meditation, 20 minutes per day in the morning, and yoga at least 3 times a week. I want to model dedication, perseverance, and taking care of both my body and mind for my son. I am also trying to not respond to emails or be on my phone or social media after 6pm when I am home with my family.

stuffed fish athena calderon eyeswoon

Alright, so what are your 2-3 challenges for this week? Any tips?

People hardly ever cook a whole fish at home. So take this opportunity to go to your local fish market and take home a whole fish. It is also the perfect vehicle for a light yet satisfying winter meal.  My favourite way to prepare it is stuffed with vibrant winter citrus, herbs and shallots.  And for a true showstopper steam your whole fish encased in salt which allows the flavors to stay sealed in a swoony and flavorful envelope. 

Perhaps another simple on is to create one pot meals like a chicken and veggie soup, or lentils and hearty root vegetables.  Whats great is that you can make these in a large batch and the refrigerate and freeze well for individual servings when you are limited for time and want a warming home cooked meal.

Getting to the green market twice a week, even in winter, is a continued goal and challenge I set for myself. Supporting the local farmers, cooking with ingredients that are rooted in a local and sustainable belief system, and most of all, using food that is seasonal and grown right here in NY.