A Taste of New York | A Conversation with Camille Becerra of De Maria + A COCKTAIL RECIPE
A Taste of New York | De Maria
A Conversation with Camille Becerra
By Leslie-Anne Sternick
In a city like New York where brunch lines can wrap around the block, De Maria is a refreshing alternative and is quickly becoming a new favorite among the eager brunch crowd, especially since you can make reservations. Sitting on the edge of NoLIta, this gem boasts a welcoming European atmosphere, much like the charming palazzo-facing cafés of Italy. Opened earlier this year by executive chef Camille Becerra, who has been the mastermind behind a handful of other restaurants including Café Henrie and its highly Instagrammed Dragon Bowls. Every dish at De Maria is plated like an art-form. Unable to resist the beautiful blend of flavours, textures and colours, we caught up with the chef to talk about her inspiration and her no fail menu for cooking off the clock.
Why did you want to become a chef?
There are so many factors in my life that contributed to my becoming a chef. Growing up, my aunt used to make these beautiful meals and bring the entire family together over them. Later, I would spend my early 20s traveling around and cooking at different restaurants. It exposed me to a great number of different styles and techniques. I’m also a very visual person and I love to work with my hands. Cooking allows me to create things that are both aesthetically pleasing and nourishing.
What is your most memorable experience you’ve had in your cooking career?
Most recently, I cooked for Cecile Richards, the President of Planned Parenthood, at a benefit for the organization that was hosted at my friend Lela Rose's home.
We love de Maria and the feel you’ve achieved, how did you come up with the concept?
We wanted to create a spacious, neighborhood spot that serves food all day. The goal was always for De Maria to be a hub for creatives, the community and food-focused individuals. I like to think of the restaurant as a “third space,” a part from the home or the office, where people can come together for as much or as little time as they please.
De Maria is such a unique and beautiful name, how you came up with it?
We turned around De Maria in an unbelievably short period of time. Leading up to the opening, we still didn’t have a name for the restaurant. I found it very hard to come up with one without yet having seen the finished space or created a menu. We knew we wanted to call it something feminine, but that also had multiple meanings. One day we took a trip to Dia Beacon, where there’s a ton of work by the conceptual, minimal artist Walter De Maria. Something just clicked when we saw “De Maria.” In addition to drawing from the artist’s namesake, Mary is also the ultimate female pop icon.
Talk to US about the decoR.
I worked closely with design duo The MP Shift on the interior design. The inspiration was mid-century all day cafés in Europe that are located in front of historical plazas.
Your food is delicious and very unique, especially the brunch menu. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get inspiration from going to the market and from the diversity of NYC. I like to use traditional flavors and ingredients but transform them in a contemporary way to make creative, clean food. Some of my major influences are from Japanese, Mediterranean, and French cuisine.
What is the thought process behind the chicory seaweed salad?
I'm loving the chicories and seaweed salad with avocado and hazelnut. The spirulina, greens, and seaweed together make for a crunchy concentration of superfoods. After I eat it, I always feel like every cell in my body is fulfilled and happy.
I’m sure that your family friends are always asking you whip something up, do you have a go-to meal when you're cooking?
I cook whatever I'm craving at the moment. The finished dish usually consists of ancient grains, beans, a yogurt sauce and heirloom vegetables.
Visually, your food looks like works of art, so colourful and filled with different textures. Do mediums outside of food ever directly inspire your cooking?
Photography and architecture, for the most part. I love how certain homes dictate your lifestyle, and transitively how you eat. For example, the Luis Barragan house and studio in Mexico City’s design directly corresponds to how the architect lived his life.
Shades of Green Cocktail (Courtesy of de maria)
1 oz. tequila
.5 oz mezcal
1 oz. Velvet Falernum, mixed with kiwi purée
1 bar spoon La Favorite Barbados rum
Shake to temperature. Serve over ice. Garnish with kiwi slice.
Photography by Alison