Sofia Branco Kraft
La Cocina showcases women we admire and their kitchens. Part photo essay, part interview, all admiration.
Here is our very first episode of La Cocina, a conversation with Sofia.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Sofia Branco Kraft and I am a creative from Santa Fe, NM. My work is centered around our relationships to food through cooking, gathering around a table for a meal, curating visceral experiences and conversations. I work with food as a cook, stylist, installation artist, recipe developer and throughout most areas of my creative practice. A lot of my work surrounds themes of nostalgia, remembrance and a longing. There is a Portuguese word, saudade, that truly encompasses the feeling of longing, a remembrance, for the absence of something in a way that is sweet and tender. It is a word that has no real translation into english so there is seemingly a bit of language/feeling barrier, but this concept is something I am currently exploring in the cookbook that I am writing that is called, Saudade. To be able to use food as an extension of myself to communicate feelings of care, community and curiosity is something that is very special to me.
Who taught you to cook? What was the first food you ever made?
My sweet Mamma taught me how to cook, she called me her little monkey because I would always be on the counter tops watching and helping (which people thought was insane at the age of two). She says that the first meal I made from start to finish was scrambled eggs. Cooking together is definitely a part of our love language.
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?
My family is Portuguese and food is such an integral part of our culture, with dinners that last hours upon hours into the night. As a little one when I was in Portugal, I had a small special chair placed in the corner of the kitchen at my Vovó’s (grandmother's) house. I loved to watch all of the going ons of the kitchen, seeing everyone in action from my special chair. Specifically, there are dishes like arroz de pato (duck rice) or anything with Bacalhau that always remind me of Portugal, but overall I think what has been passed down to me is the importance of simple meals with quality ingredients. And of course, that there is never too much olive oil or wine at any meal.
What has your relationship been with food over time, has it changed?
My relationship with food has ebb and flowed a lot over time. I grew up in a house where my mother loved to cook and we always had amazing meals and as I said before, I was always by her side in the kitchen since I was very young. Cooking and eating meals together was always a chance to come together and connect.
When I entered my teens I was very influenced by the societal pressures and ideals around body image, and that period of time really shifted the way I felt about and approached food and my body. I adopted a lot of restrictive tendencies and food became a point of contention instead of connection. During this time, I ended up losing track of a big part of what I consider to be my identity. The way body image is portrayed in the media and how worth is tied to our physical being is so incredibly damaging.
To be able to have the relationship with food that I do now is something I am deeply grateful for and I feel a lot of pride in myself for all of the work that I have done around it. Just because food is something that we all need to survive does not mean that we all have healthy relationships with it. There are so many issues connecting to food around access, education, personal emotional connection, community connection etc. And for some it comes naturally and for others it takes a lot of time and energy to come to a place of not only neutrality in regards to food but feeling a deep sense of nourishment.
I am now over 10 years in my recovery from my eating disorder and to have a healthy relationship with nourishment is something that feels essential to me and I explore that every day. In 2019, I was a part of a collaboration where I taught myself how to bake bread and created a food installation where we then facilitated conversations about nourishment. When I personally became disconnected from nourishment, the first thing to go was bread. To have the experience of teaching myself to make bread ended up being incredibly cathartic.To come back into the idea of nourishment through the same way that I had left it. I see my relationship with food now more like a homecoming. A place of comfort, care, creativity, silliness, connection and curiosity.
Whose cooking makes you feel the coziest and most cared for?
Honestly I love most meals that are made for me by someone else. It feels like such a gift, even if it’s top ramen from a packet (although I am very lucky that most of my friends are incredible cooks). When I am on my own I usually graze on random things as I go about my day like the charred broccolini leftover from the night before, which I love, or a slice of bread with a thick slab of butter and some goat cheese. Most of my solo meals are something simple thrown together, so when I do sit down to a meal made by my friends it almost always feels special. My close friends know how passionate I am about food and when they take the time to make me a delicious meal, I feel so close and connected to them. There is something so comforting about someone who loves you taking the time to make you something.
Do you meal plan or wing it?
I prefer winging it. At times I try to meal plan or find recipes to follow but it can feel confusing and disjointed for me, whereas I can piece something together more intuitively by opening the fridge or pantry and seeing what we have and go from there.
We all have our tried and true meals. What is your celebration meal?
Steak always comes to mind when celebrating something. My last steak was a ribeye cooked with garlic, thyme and basted in butter with oyster mushrooms, it was so good.
What is your most well-loved cooking utensil?
Microplane. If you don’t have one I suggest you get one, I put citrus zest on just about everything.
Doing the dishes: soothing or annoying? What’s your relationship to dish washing?
Sometimes I joke that the main reason I love cooking so much is because it means that I don’t have to do the dishes. It always feels like such a chore but when you get into the groove it goes by fast and can be meditative. But in my house I do most of the cooking and my partner does most of the dishes, and that’s how I like it.
First meal you will indulge/a Portland restaurant you’ve missed during COVID?
I am CRAVING the octopus, potato & olive salad from Luce. I would love to eat a couple servings of that salad in one sitting with an order of their GORGEOUS capeletti en brodo. This soup is so delicious, a clear broth with little pasta pockets filled with ricotta and lemon zest. And now I am drooling.