La Cocina showcases women we admire and their kitchens. Part photo essay, part interview, all admiration.
Here is our new episode of La Cocina, a conversation with Robin Cornuelle.
Please describe your kitchen.
It’s a pretty pared down version of a kitchen: the essentials, only a few pots and pans, a very small European fridge (which means I’m less likely to find spoiled produce buried at the back, but also means that wine takes up 50% of the space). The house is only about 800sqft so the kitchen has to be efficient, and yet it still manages to (mostly) corral my collections of ceramics and wooden spoons. Artist Shiela Laufer made the hand-painted backsplash tiles behind the sink, and I have a redwood carved sculpture by David Wien on the counter. I always have flowers (even if they’re often gutter flowers found in my neighborhood), garlic, lemons, mango chutney, rice, and good butter. My house shares a corner lot with a very old house that I rent to friends - we call it The Commune - and we prepare meals in that kitchen (an 1894 space with 10’ ceilings) as well, and eat together on the porch or in the garden.
What’s your style of cooking?
I *sometimes* follow recipes and sometimes I just look to them for inspiration and make my own (often simplified) version. I prefer simple meals with ingredients I’m likely to have on-hand, and my favorite things to cook are the ones I learn to make by memory. Sushi rice with quick pickles, miso, avocado, and salmon is a meal I could eat every day and can whip up in 20 minutes without much thought or effort. And no dish is safe from lemon zest. Vanilla ice cream? Lemon zest. Pasta? Lemon zest. Pancakes? Lemon zest. Rice bowl? Yes. Zest. Trust me. It can go in virtually anything.
What is your all-time favorite meal, where did you eat it, and with whom?
As a kid, we camped each year near Laie on Oahu’s north shore with friends, dug an imu, and ate the best meals of my life: kalua pig, lau lau, chicken long rice, lomi lomi salmon, sweet potato, rice, pineapple, and haupia.
Who taught you to cook?
My mother Briar is an absolute wizard in the kitchen. Her father had several restaurants in California and then went on to be a winemaker, so it must be in her blood. Food and wine and gracious entertaining are part of our family’s way of life - especially being from Hawaii, where hospitality is woven into the culture.
We love how food can travel through our lineages. Are there things you love to cook that have been passed down from generation to generation?
Our family cooking is a mix of California (artichokes, fresh pesto, grilled flank steak) and Hawaii (shoyu chicken, Siu Mai dumplings, mango chutney, lots of rice). One of my favorite places to eat in Honolulu are the bakeries in Chinatown; their char siu manapua (bao) are my mother’s favorite and were our preferred afterschool snack.
Would you rather cook or be cooked for? Do you prefer to host or be a guest?
I like to cook, but I love being fed. It’s simply the greatest gift someone can give you. I also love cooking with others, dividing and conquering a meal and coming together to enjoy it.
What do you gift to friends who love to cook?
A handmade wooden spoon from Four Leaf Woodshop in Ojai, CA. They make the most beautiful spoons!
Whose kitchen is your favorite/inspires you most?
Donald Judd’s kitchens in Marfa and New York. They’re hardly kitchens in the modern sense, but are perfect to me. They represent a kitchen borne of simple necessity, and I love a good unpolished space.
What books have inspired you most regarding cooking/eating?
I am reading “The Cook and the Gardner” now (by Amanda Hesser, who later founded Food52). It’s full of wonderful recipes and documents her time in France working as a cook in a Chateau kitchen, and her relationship with the gardener that grew her produce. My favorite cookbook is “Cooking For Artists” by Mina Stone. Everything uses some combination of lemons, olive oil, and salt, and there are no bad recipes. And of course Gourmet Magazine under Ruth Reichl’s editorship. I credit the photography in those issues with so much of my present disposition towards food culture.
Artists that inspire you, why and in what way?
Pegge Hopper, who reminds me of home; Milton Avery, for his colors; and Donald Judd, for the artistic way he lived as much as for the art he produced.
MADRE’s tagline is We all eat. We all rest. We’ve asked a lot about eating, so how do you build rest into your day/week/month?
I take naps. There’s no shame in a nap!
Robin's Hawaiian-style Curry
Saute onion, garlic, and ginger in coconut oil until soft and aromatic.
Add sweet corn removed from the cob and cook for an additional minute or two.
Add salt and curry seasonings to taste (spices such as dried red chilis, cumin, coriander seed, lemongrass, etc., or curry pastes such as Thai and True’s red curry paste or Massaman paste). Then add a can of coconut milk and bring to a boil, and then a low simmer, cooking for 15 minutes or so on low. Right before serving, add a handful of spinach.
Serve over rice, with toppings: diced green onions, chopped cilantro, peanuts, raisins, bits of bacon, and mango chutney.
This curry is wonderful as a chicken or sweet potato curry rather than corn, cooking those things ahead of time and adding them in when the coconut milk is added.
To find more about Robin:
Photographs by Naz Sahin