Camila Casañas wears many hats. She's a holistic private chef, herbalist, community builder, events curator, and producer, amongst other things. She's the name behind Camila Creates, her platform to celebrate living with intention. Her work is rooted in the mission of reconnecting to the land and empowering each of us to self-heal. If that weren't enough, she's also a bonafide bean fiend. To kick off 2024 right, we're thrilled to share our conversation with Camila.
Beans are your love language. What is it about beans that feeds your soul?
When I start cooking beans, I seem to naturally slip into a more loving mode. There’s almost something romantic about the process. Cooking beans demands taking deep care in the process. I love the slowness of cooking beans. You have to soak them, rinse them. I season at each step of the process, layering flavors and making a really flavorful broth to cook them with. I find there’s something so beautiful about all the steps you have to take to make them delicious. And, while I set an intention for how I want them to turn out, beans always take on a lifeform of their own. There’s a fine line between undercooking and overcooking, too. You want them to be creamy inside, but still hold their shape on the outside. Every batch is a little different and that’s what makes it a really special ingredient to cook.
"I love the slowness of cooking beans...I find there's something so beautiful about all the steps you have to take to make them delicious."
Well now I really want to dive into your cooking! Do you have a favorite bean?
Not really. I love all beans. I grew up on Pinto’s, so that’s really comfort food for me. One side of my family is Cuban and the other side Mexican. So I ate a lot of black beans too, growing up. My Mexican Grandmother would make these incredible refried beans with pintos, caramelized onions and bacon fat that she had saved from previous meals. She’d serve them with fresh handmade flour tortillas and the whole family loved those beans and tortillas. But, you know, it’s hard to pick a favorite. As a chef I cook the most with chickpeas, actually.
Aside from your love of beans, did your upbringing influence the role of food in your life? And your creative path?
Everyone in my family can cook. I can’t even remember at what age I started cooking. I have a photo of me with a big cast iron skillet and a spatula in my hands, when I was probably 4 or 5 or something. But, for sure my love of beans comes from Latin heritage.
You're a chef and a herbalist. How do those practices influence one another in your work?
I grew up just outside of Yosemite National Park, so plants and nature were always a part of my life. And my dad was an integrative medicine doctor so his appreciation for holistic health really influenced my path when it came to healing/herbs. While I lived in San Francisco and I went to culinary school, but ended up leaving to work at a Top 100 restaurant — which was so stressful and margins were so tight that it influenced how things worked at every level. Everyone got squeezed. It wasn’t healthy environment or lifestyle, and I ended up getting chronically sick from it. I ended up moving to LA and paying more attention to not just what I was eating, but how I was living in all areas of my life. Fast forward a bit and I then started working as a private chef for clients who had a lot of dietary restrictions and would come to me to feel better through food. So, I’m very conscious about how and where I source ingredients and make sure that I honor those impactful ingredients in my cooking.
Artists, writers, and singers often talk about their creative voice - we might not hear about it as much when it comes to cooking. How would you describe your voice?
It took me awhile to find my voice. I feel like that kind of happened over the past couple of years, where my cooking and selection of ingredients have really come together, and how I visually present that. I like to have a balanced bite in my cooking - between texture and flavors. I’m big into adding things like nuts and seeds and creating nutrient dense food that’s fun and flavorful. You could call it comfort food that’s healthy for you.
And, it’s funny, I went through culinary school, but I think a lot about finding my voice was about stripping away what I learned in those spaces. In that world, things are very rigid and are expected to be done a very specific way. You’re imprinted with this masculine, hierarchical framework. It didn’t fit me, because it felt devoid of this loving slowness that I think the soulfulness of cooking deserves. I had to find my own perspective before I felt really confident telling my story. And the closer I’ve gotten to myself the more confident I’ve become in sharing the food that I love, in a way that feels authentic to me and who I am.
There's something very soulful and profound in how you talk about food - it's artful. Are you inspired by other art forms?
Growing up I painted and was into drawing and writing. I think some of that spirit is channeled through my cooking and makes me feel like I have a better opportunity of making a more meaningful impact with food. I approach food with that sensibility - and try to think about the overall experience of how food makes you feel. It’s so much more than just throwing ingredients together. I think food is emblematic of our relationship to ourselves.
"[Food is] so much more than just throwing ingredients together. I think food is emblematic of our relationship to ourselves."
What do you hope for people to experience when they eat your food?
I want them to feel good, nourished, and surprised. Humble every day ingredients can be transformed in miraculous and magical ways. I want to do justice to those ingredients in that way. I recognize how much time and care goes into growing what we eat. So, when I get my hands on it, I want to make it taste good. And I want people to reclaim their relationship to nourishing themselves. Food is profound - but our relationship to food has taken a backseat to convenience. I want to show care and the beauty of slowness through food.
"Food is profound - but our relationship to food has taken a backseat to convenience. I want to show care and the beauty of slowness through food."
Thank you, Camila! We're definitely talking the same language - although it sounds even more beautiful and delicious, when coming from you!
Learn more about Camila at her site, Camila Creates and try her Smoky Rio Zape Bean recipe. It's a stand-out!!