Kia Damon

Photos by Eric Helgas

Kia’s been in New York for less than a year. In that time, she’s risen to the top of the much-beloved restaurant, Lalito. Read about her ascent to “Executive Hunty” and how she thinks about cooking for feeling and cooking for function.

I was raised in a hospitality hub, in Orlando, Florida. Everyone works in restaurants, you know, waitressing, hosting, all that. I have been always very fond of what goes on in the kitchen. My grandma always had something on the stove, so being surrounded by food in that way, we didn't eat out. I was around people who cook all the time. So honestly, I'm not surprised that I've made it to where I am, as far as what my career is. It just feels right that this is what I'm doing with my life. I genuinely love food, and I take it very personally. My first actual cooking job was at Chipotle. It was super-fast, it was super-intense, it was super-sad, but it was the first job someone gave me where they let me engage physically with the food. That was the first time someone actually paid me to do it.

From there, I dipped around to other jobs, small cafes, food trucks. I started to do my own pop-ups and I went by Kia Cooks. I started the Supper Club from Nowhere, which was a dinner series I put out there to celebrate and acknowledge the work that black women have put into food and hospitality. I got to know some cool people and suddenly found myself in the midst of the northern food scene without physically being here. My friend saw that Lalito was hiring for a sous chef and forced my hand to apply. And now, about seven months later, I’m the Executive Chef at Lalito, or the "Executive Hunty" as I refer to myself. I'm very transparent about what I'm about and what the space is about. It feels very particular to me to call myself the Executive Hunty. That kind of language isn't present and the food world is the way that it is.

I am a very big fan of the low and the slow. I love low, slow cooking. It's so satisfying to me. When I really go there with cooking, I love stuff that takes time because it feels good to cook in a way where I don't feel so much pressure, and there's excitement and time and care in each of the steps. The way I like to eat is a bit lighter. I drink a kombucha a day, maybe two. I try to cook things that feel good in my gut and give me the power that I need to do stuff. So slow and low for the feeling, light and bright for the function. A lot of people in New York eat while they're walking; eating just to ingest stuff and to go. I've been thinking about how people need food to fuel them in the right ways to get the job done. I try to be really cognizant of what I'm eating to get the job done, like my porridge. It's super filling, packed with mad fiber. It's such a blank canvas. I can do whatever I with it and change it up, depending on how I'm feeling.

Pilar Bakery, I stan. I think it's fantastic. I remember coming up here from Florida and being like, “There are no Cuban bakeries.” I went somewhere, a place that will not be named, to get what I hoped would be Cuban food. It was one of the worst meals I've had since being here. I was heartbroken. I saw an article about Pilar Bakery and I checked it out and it's the real deal. I need things like that to keep me sane up here in New York and it's nice to find another Floridian.


Brown Rice Farina Porridge

Kia Damon

Serves 1 to 2

"It's super filling, packed with mad fiber. It's such a blank canvas. I can do whatever I want with it and change it up."

Ingredients

 

2 cups nondairy milk

 

¼ teaspoon salt

 

½ cup brown rice farina

 

1 tsp tumeric

 

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses


Steps

  1. Bring the nondairy milk and salt to a boil over medium high heat.
  2. Add the brown rice farina and lower the heat to its lowest setting.
  3. Cook for 3 minutes, and stir in the tumeric.
  4. Cook for additional 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more nondairy milk if the porridge is too thick.
  5. Serve the porrdige and drizzle with pomegranate molassses.