“Rookie of the Year: Chef Kia Damon” Transcript
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Kerry Diamond: Hi Bombesquad, you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe and I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Each week, we talk to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food. Let's thank our sponsor, Handsome Brook Farm Pasteur Raised Organic Eggs. Handsome Brook Farm's secret to making rich, flavorful eggs is simple: The most possible space, the best possible feed, and lots of love. It's a healthy and humane recipe that makes your omelets, cakes, custards, and everything in-between taste better. Get cracking at handsomebrookfarm.com.
Kerry Diamond: Before we get to today's guest, I want to remind you about our summer sustainability project. It's called Cone Only. If you go to an ice cream shop stand or truck this summer, skip the cup and skin the spoon. Get a cone so it's a zero waste treat. If you're out there saying, "Oh, Kerry, I'm a cup girl," I hear you. I used to be strictly cup, mostly because a lot of cones taste like cardboard. But there are so many good cones these days, like the baked chocolate ones that my fave Rococo Ice Cream in Kennebunkport, Maine. MilkMade right here in Brooklyn has awesome cones. You can find taiyaki inspired cones in New York City's Chinatown. You have so many options. Make sure to use the hashtag Cone Only so we can see what you and the Bombe Squad are up to ice cream wise. Thanks to our cone only partners, the New York City and Long Island chapters of Surf Rider.
Kerry Diamond: If the restaurant world was a baseball league and I had to pick the rookie of the year, my money would be on Kia Damon. This young chef is mindful, stylish, and hilarious, and she cooks like a dream at her restaurant Lalito in Chinatown in Manhattan. If any of you are old school New Yorkers, you'll know the location because it used to house Winnie's, the famous karaoke bar. I had lunch at Lalito recently and was so blown away by the food. I had the chickpea guac, the rainbow rice bowl, the crispy sweet potatoes, and more. If I lived closer, I would eat there every day. Kia's food is fresh and bright, just like she is.
Kerry Diamond: If you're a Jubilee, hopefully you got to meet Kia and try her food. She was one of the featured chefs during our breakfast. Before we get to Kia, let's hear a word from our sponsor.
Kerry Diamond: Handsome Brook Farm believes that organic and pastured is the way to go when it comes to eggs. Pastured raised means better lives for hens, better lives for small farmers, and better eggs for you. It's also better for the chefs who depend on rich, flavorful eggs. Handsome Brook Farms own flocks of amazing chefs. Their mother hens count on it. Janine Booth is a mother hen. She's the Australian chef behind the southern-inspired root and bone restaurants in New York City and Miami. Want to learn how chef Janine makes her sweet corn spoon bread? The ingredients include Handsome Brook Farm eggs, some scallions, sharp cheddar cheese, and a touch of heavy cream. You can find chef Janine's delicious egg-centric recipes and videos on handsomebrookfarm.com. Where can you find Handsome Brook Farm organic pasteurized eggs? At Publix, Kroger, Sprouts Farmer Market, Fresh Direct, and many natural food stores across the country.
Kerry Diamond: Enjoy my chat with Kia Damon of Lalito.
Kerry Diamond: So Kia, we're going to start at the very beginning.
Kia Damon: Okay.
Kerry Diamond: Where did you grow up?
Kia Damon: I grew up in Orlando, Florida, the Kingdom of Hospitality, the Mickey Mouse, the Sea World.
Kerry Diamond: Is it weird to grow up somewhere that is so specifically known for one thing?
Kia Damon: Yeah, definitely. A lot of people, when you say you're from there, "Oh, you went to Disney World all the time! Oh, you went 'this' all the time." It's like, no. Actually, a lot of us stay away from those areas unless we work there, which that's what we do. Your first job or your first, what's the word? Initiation, I guess, when you get a certain age out there, you got work at the theme parks. Everyone knows when that period is and you apply. But outside of that, most of us stay away from there because it's a lot. It's too much.
Kerry Diamond: All right, so we're going to go back to the Magic Kingdom in a few minutes. But what was food like in your house? Who cooked?
Kia Damon: The earliest memories of cooking in my house was when we lived with my grandmother at some point. And she was always cooking grits. I know that's not what we'd always eat, but I always specifically remember grits on the back. And then we lived near some water as well. Like, some rinkadink ponds situation with little raggedy fish. But my grandma was catching these raggedy fish and frying them. And there's always some fried fish and some grits on a piece of white bread with some mustard. Maybe sausage. That's kind of what I remember until it was holiday time. And when it was holiday, it was pulling out the turkeys, pulling out the hams, all of that.
Kerry Diamond: Did you cook?
Kia Damon: Yes and no.
Kerry Diamond: Like little kid cooking?
Kia Damon: Little kid? Oh, no, they would not allow me to do any of that. Which is interesting because I know a lot of people have the opposite, like, "Oh, when I was this many years old, I was in there with an apron." No, they were like, "We're handling it, little kids get out of here."
Kia Damon: So I was eating all of the time. I was underneath my grandma when she would make pound cake. Her pound cake, her red velvet cake, and her carrot cake. And I was always there for the bowl.
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kia Damon: And the bowl was always mine, like with me. No shade being the favorite, most beloved grandchild. So I love drama. But me being -
Kerry Diamond: The bowl was a big deal.
Kia Damon: Yeah, I got the bowl.
Kerry Diamond: I always agitated for the bowl. And the beaters.
Kia Damon: Yes! And the beaters. I wanted it all. My other cousins were a bit too old and they were like, "Leave it alone. That's for Kia." But then, my little brother - my younger brother - came along and younger cousins, and then there was competition for the bowl and the beater. And I was pressed. I was so, "Give the beater to your brother! There's two of them." Oh, I was so mad. But I was eating. I was just getting the scraps and just enjoying being around everyone, you know?
Kia Damon: I think it was maybe years later once it was me and my mom and my brothers and my stepdad and all of that where I kind of started having to cook. You know, they go to work and you're stuck there for the summer, you know? We weren't always going after care, like summer situations, so it's like, you have to do something. And I tried to mimic what I saw them doing a lot, which led to a lot of disasters, a lot of, "Kia, that's not an actual piece of meat. That's a piece of ham hock for beans. That's not seasoning, that's meat tenderizer that you just put on there. You can't eat this." You know? I was just like, this is what I remember seeing. So this is, you know, what I'm going to do. There was definitely a lot of trial and error. A lot of burnt rice. A lot of mistrust in my ability in the kitchen. But it was just crazy because now, I'm doing this.
Kerry Diamond: But you didn't burn the house down.
Kia Damon: I didn't.
Kerry Diamond: You didn't injure yourself too badly.
Kia Damon: No, not too badly. I'm here able-bodied and blessed.
Kerry Diamond: So, did you work at the aforementioned theme parks?
Kia Damon: Yes, I worked at Universal. Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: What did you do?
Kia Damon: I started as this program that they call, "Food Rescue". And that's just because it was so many people coming in that they didn't really want to hire people for specific places. They just hired a crew of us who would literally be in a new restaurant every day.
Kerry Diamond: So curious they called it, "Food Rescue".
Kia Damon: Because they needed help.
Kerry Diamond: Why? I was thinking -
Kia Damon: Because it was a situation.
Kerry Diamond: Today, if you said somebody was part of a food rescue crew, I would think you're going in and getting excess food from events and different things to bring it shelters and all that.
Kia Damon: That would be nice, right? That's because you're kind. That's because you have a good heart that you would think that. Absolutely not. We were sent just to help people with the influx.
Kerry Diamond: So you were like an A team?
Kia Damon: Yeah, I'd be like, "Where are we going? Are we staying in the thing? Where's it going? Was it going to Jurassic Park or am I going to the Toonville Popeye thing?" I actually bounced around a lot until I stuck at Harry Potter, which made sense because that was the biggest thing going on there.
Kerry Diamond: Right. Oh, I thought you were going to say because you loved Harry Potter.
Kia Damon: That too, but I didn't want to tell anyone that because, I don't know. It was like a hit or miss. Like if you loved it so much, you would get stuck at certain places to, you know, to interact with guests and stuff like that. It'd be costumes. But sometimes if you loved it too much, they'd like, would it - I don't know. It was weird. So I was like, I'm just going to omit that and see what happens. And I got put there and they were like, let's keep these people. Let's keep her and these other people. And that was so fun.
Kerry Diamond: What was the restaurant?
Kia Damon: The Three Broomsticks. Shout out to you all.
Kerry Diamond: You looked at me like I should know that.
Kia Damon: Duh, no. The Three Broomsticks. And they had shepherd's pie, fish and chips. There was ribs. There was soda bread, which I grew to actually really enjoy. There was the half chickens on there. It was a situation.
Kerry Diamond: Where they themed? Did they have funny Harry Potter-related names?
Kia Damon: Nope.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, okay.
Kia Damon: The food - oh, no. Not in The Three Broomsticks. The food was very, "this", "this", "this". And then I -
Kerry Diamond: It's just disappointing.
Kia Damon: I know, it's okay. But first of all, the inside of it was phenomenal. The inter-activeness. Just the way it looked. Honestly, it was really dope. I would just hear the music on loops. I couldn't watch the movies because all I could hear was the soundtrack going and going and going. But eventually, I moved out of The Three Broomsticks and I was at a Butter beer cart. So I was a Butter beer girl for my last days.
Kerry Diamond: Butter beer.
Kia Damon: Something like a cream soda, but not quite.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, okay.
Kia Damon: And it has frozen or soda. Apparently, there have been major developments in Butter beer technology since I left, which was like, it's been over five years since I've been there.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Kia Damon: But it's really developed and grown. And I think about it sometimes. I find old pictures. It was very great times, but also very bad times. Just because, you know, first job and working with different personalities and people and you know, you may or may not get fired. I was fired. It's fine. But it's fine.
Kerry Diamond: Did you gravitate toward a food job there or did they just assign you to that?
Kia Damon: I definitely gravitated towards food.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, you did. So that was what you wanted.
Kia Damon: Oh, yeah. All I wanted to do was food.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. When did that kind of first manifest itself? The love of being near food.
Kia Damon: Oh, hmm.
Kerry Diamond: Because you weren't really cooking at home until you had to fend for yourself.
Kia Damon: Yeah. Honestly, it was probably around that time. Because I got a job there and I also got a job hosting at a restaurant. It just felt like the natural occurrence of things, if you know what I mean? At first. But since I was already coming from such a food-centered home and all of that, it was like, "Well, yeah, let's get a food service job." Because they're always going to hire, whatever, you know? That's what it seemed like it was at first until the more I got involved and working at a place I was hosting at and just being in the kitchen. And then eventually cooking, you know, more for myself because of dietary things. I think it was definitely around that time that I was like, "Oh, wait a second. I actually like this." It wasn't like, "Oh, I'm going to do this." But at first, I was like, "Oh, I like this and I can do this and it gives me a sense of independence." You know what I mean? Yeah, definitely around - that's when the spark, the Harry Potter spark went off inside of me. I don't know.
Kerry Diamond: Before we talk too much about New York, tell me about your Tallahassee supper club.
Kia Damon: Yeah, so I started a supper club with my good friend Adriana. Shout out to Adriana. She is going to gag. But I started this supper club with her called The Supper Club from Nowhere. And I knew I wanted to do some sort of dinner series pop up situation, which made the most sense because I didn't have a particular space I was working out of, you know? I was listening to Gravy. I love listening to Gravy. And he started talking about Georgia Gilmore and I had heard about her, but not in a great, great, depth. And I listened to this episode and I did my research about her Club from Nowhere and I was like, "Yeah!" I was like, I cosign. I stand. I was like, this is definitely everything that I'm feeling like I want to do with food, you know?
Kia Damon: So I started The Supper Club from Nowhere, right? And it was really scary to do that. It was really scary to put myself out there. Because, you know, people always think - it's like when you were in school and you have all these friends or whatever in the community. And you're like, "Wow, I really want to throw a party. I don't know if these people are actually going to come to my party." And I have to put the party out there. And if I put it out there, I also have to be prepared for people to not care to support it. You know? So I was like, I am going to do this thing, but I'm going to really feel strongly and secure within myself about it so that I don't feel disappointed when people don't show up and I don't take it personally. You know?
Kia Damon: So I went for it, started the Supper Club from Nowhere. Literally around the same time I went ahead and launched myself as Kia Cooks. I went through multiple names, names that I am embarrassed of, until I made it to Kia Cooks. And I launched a lot at the same time with the help of my friends. It is my greatest joy. Yeah. It has brought me so much joy, so much confidence in myself, so much just direction, you know, with food. Because it's like, I'm cooking food and I started to be on Instagram. But it felt I was just literally falling in line with what typical Instagram food bloggers say in the typical food blogger hashtags. And it felt just so inauthentic, you know? And I was like, "What am I talking about? Why am I saying hashtag yummers? Hashtag food porn? Why did I make this French toast ice cream?" I was like, "What the hell?" I was like, "What? What am I doing?"
Kia Damon: So it felt so good to finally bring that out of me and I did dinners, pop-ups. Some I had, at first, when I did them out of my home that I was staying in with my roommates for $10. Like red beans and rice, vegan cornbread, I think greens. That's the way I like to cook, anyway. So just really Southern food, you know? And people loved it and I did more. Did a breakfast version. Did one that was an Solange’s on her “Seat At The Table.” Tried to do them for Valentine's Day. Just, you know. And people enjoyed it.
Kia Damon: I think at the last one I did was on my friend's farm, Katie and Aaron. Their full earth farm. And that was the biggest one and the most expensive one as far as tickets people bought at that price range. And I got the duck from White Oak Pastures out in Georgia. It was such an elaborate labor of love from everyone that I could not have imagined that I would've done that when I was literally in my room with my little 200-whatever rent, you know, whatever. Just dreaming, you know what I mean? Literally not even breaking even because I'm pulling all that money out of my pocket just to do it and then having dishes that are for three days. I could not have imagined reaching that from that. I definitely did not imagine reaching this from that from that, all in the span of a year. It's pretty wild.
Kerry Diamond: But you decide you're going to New York.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: And you connect with Geraldo Gonzales.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Who at the time, was he at Lalito?
Kia Damon: Yeah, G was at Lalito.
Kerry Diamond: He was. Okay. He's one of only two men who I've ever seen carrying a Cherry Bombe tote bag. So I have a lot of affection for him just in general, but that made me love him even more.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: So, you come up there. Do you start working for him immediately?
Kia Damon: No. So I went up there with a friend. When I was in Tallahassee, another thing that happened was that he wanted one of my shirts. My Kia Cook shirts because I wanted a Lalito shirt, you know? And I was like, "Oh, this shirt's so cool. I definitely want to support." So we exchanged shirts. He didn't send me my shirt. Yeah, I know. He didn't send me my shirt. I sent his and then my Instagram was blown up and I saw that he had wore it for Grub Street. And I was like, "What?"
Kia Damon: So I was up there anyway, so I went to visit, got to know all these people, etc., etc. Went back home and before I went to go do some work in Detroit with some other folks for the Allied Media Conference, my friend saw a post that they were looking for a sous-chef. And she sent me that post. And I was like, "Okay." I really looked at it and was like, "All right." [inaudible 00:17:48]. I'm like, "I don't care."
Kia Damon: And she was like, "You should totally apply." I was like, "I should totally not." And she was like, "Well, why not?" And I was also reading Shonda Rimes' "Year of Yes" around the same time. And I was saying yes to everything until that. And I was like, "No, why would I do that?" She goes, "Well, why not? You have everything that's qualified." And I was like, "I don't feel like I do." You know? I have a lot of confidence being self-taught, but I didn't realize I had internalized some ideas about my capabilities because of that. And wasn't even going to give myself the chance to even try. And if it didn't work, at least - you know? Looking back, I'm kind of shocked that I did that because I'm the first one to jump into something, make a rash decision, buy shoes when I have $200 in my account. I am wild in that manner.
Kia Damon: And she's like, "Well, if you don't send it, then I'll send your resume." Yeah, because she had edited my resume. So she said, "If you don't do it, I will." I was like, "Wow, okay." So it got sent and they had reached out to me. It wasn't G at the time. So that guy reached out to me and we kind of tried to link it up. And after I did the work in Detroit with all these amazing people, and that's when I finally really, really met Carlo, who's the GM. And we all spent a lot of really great, beautiful time together. That was also really rough time in my life when that was all happening, you know. They were like, "Can't you just come out? Just do it."
Kia Damon: And I did it. I went to work to work under someone else at the time, but I was just happy to be in a space to even physically be there was just really mind-blowing to me. I touched down the 12th of August and I started working the 14th of August and I have not stopped working.
Kerry Diamond: It's a big move. I mean, New York is not the easiest place to just roll into.
Kia Damon: It's so hard.
Kerry Diamond: It's so hard. So G had left when you were working?
Kia Damon: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: So he was gone already.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Okay, and he moved down to the Caribbean to do a project.
Kia Damon: Yeah, he's in the Cayman's right now.
Kerry Diamond: We're all waiting for our invitation down to the Cayman's.
Kia Damon: They're doing - he's doing his thing out there.
Kerry Diamond: Okay, so for those who haven't gone to Lalito, explain what the restaurant is and what the cuisine is.
Kia Damon: So, Lalito's founded as a Cali-Mexican restaurant, which makes sense, you know, with G being Cali-Mexican. But now that I'm there...
Kerry Diamond: But you have to add that it is plopped in the middle of Chinatown.
Kia Damon: It is.
Kerry Diamond: And what people need to know about New York Chinatown is other restaurants really don't open in Chinatown.
Kia Damon: Yeah, it's very much - I mean, that's their community and their space and all of that, you know? That's why I think about the fact that we're in Chinatown and how we're taking up space in that community. And that, if we're going to be there, then I want things on the menu to reflect that. I want us to be buying things. There's a few places. We get all our fish from around the corner, there's Bayard Meats that we go to to, you know, get specialty things, your last minute things.
Kerry Diamond: So many markets around there.
Kia Damon: Yeah. It's like, if we're going to be here, then we need to respect that and we need to put the money out back into their community.
Kerry Diamond: That's awesome.
Kia Damon: Yeah, for sure. I don't play that. We're right in the middle of Chinatown, so I definitely want to continuously reiterate.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, but that is a neighborhood in transition.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: I was around there a few weeks ago. I couldn't believe all the "For Rent" signs. And all the businesses.
Kia Damon: Yeah, lots of "For Rent" signs.
Kerry Diamond: So many of my favorite places.
Kia Damon: The oldest Haagen-Dazs is gone. That was really sad.
Kerry Diamond: That was one - had been there forever.
Kia Damon: It was forever! And everyone love the Haagen-Dazs. And now she's gone. It definitely is. I mean, a lot of that speaks a lot just changing and people getting hip to what neighborhood they latch onto now. I've been learning a lot so far from just being in the neighborhood and just Popeye, who works at the restaurant who's been there for a long time. He's always putting me on to specific cuisines and things like that. And I'm like, "Yes, teach me!" I don't want to be walking around here ignorant. You know? I refuse.
Kerry Diamond: Good, good.
Kia Damon: I refuse.
Kerry Diamond: And you know the location was a famous karaoke bar?
Kia Damon: Yes, Winnie's. A lot of people are upset. A lot of people come in and are like, "What is this? Where's Winnie's?" I'm like, "Winnie's hasn't been here. She hasn't been here for two years. I don't how many years before that." And I'm like, "I don't want no smoke. I just got here. I don't even..." I don't know.
Kerry Diamond: Winnie's was an institution. But Lalito has the potential to be a new institution.
Kia Damon: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Because the food is fabulous.
Kia Damon: Thank you so much.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us about the menu.
Kia Damon: Yeah, so honestly, if I tried, it's really difficult to describe the food that he was making. I'm going to be honest.
Kerry Diamond: Did you change the menu much?
Kia Damon: It's so difficult. I want to say 35%.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Kia Damon: 35% right now. Should be 50, should be 65, but you know what? I'm not going to beat myself up about. It's 35. I'm working on it every day. Very hard to describe the food that he was making. There's like the pastelon that everyone loves. It's like a veggie version of pastelon with sweet plantains on there. There's the vegan chicharrones that everyone is like screaming about. Chiquitos. Things like that.
Kerry Diamond: How do you make a vegan chicharrone?
Kia Damon: Well, it's this little pasta sheet. It's a pasta sheet that you can get from a Mexican specialty store. And you just fry it. It just poofs. It is pretty. I'm not going to lie, when I first saw one, I was like, "This is the coolest." I can't eat them. It's just too much for my stomach to handle. And then making them all the time, watching fried pasta, I'm like, "I don't want to see it no more." But yeah, really cute.
Kia Damon: Right now, I have the duck on there that everyone loves that I love. That one took a few months for it to look as simple as it does. It took months for me to figure out how I want to do it. Because I was like, "Oh, I want to duck confit and I want to do this and I want to do that." It's like, Okay Kia, think about logistics and pick up time. And you can make a duck breast in an instant, but duck confit, you're looking at three days of prep. And then six hours. You know what I mean? That was like, "Oh, whatever."
Kia Damon: But the duck breast entire salad is my favorite right now.
Kerry Diamond: Tell me what's in the duck.
Kia Damon: So it's a duck breast with this maple marinate on top. And then there's the tiger salad. The tiger salad has pickled carrots, and there's scallions, red onions, cucumbers, celery. It used to have pickled lotus root, which was really pretty, but a lot of people just weren't enjoying that pickled starch situation. Which I could respect, you know? It's pretty, but if the people don't like it, I don't want to waste my time making it, nor do I want to see it come back on the plate. That is insulting.
Kia Damon: But yeah, yeah, yeah. Pickled carrots, etc., cucumbers, ah! The tiger salad dressing that I make in house. That's orange based with all kinds of other cute secret things in there. And I think I've got it a science now where you have this really bright, vibrant crunchy salad. Then you have this really rich duck breast. People have been ordering a lot lately, so I think.
Kerry Diamond: You're on to something.
Kia Damon: I think I'm on. I think I found a formula.
Kerry Diamond: What else is super popular on the menu?
Kia Damon: What else is super popular? Definitely the red curry snapper, I enjoy. I think it's the prettiest thing. And it's so basic, at least to me. I feel like it lets just steaming the Florida snappers, shout out to Florida, with the banana leaf and a lot of aromatics. I feel like it allows the fish to shine the way that it should and just simple food that people enjoy. I think that's what I'm trying to get to. And not trying to crowd it too much with complexity or with doing the most, you know what I mean? I feel like I'm starting to filter out. Once I started to filtering all the voices and things in my life, I realized that I can start filtering through my food.
Kerry Diamond: Now, you're a big thinker.
Kia Damon: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: And you're really thinking beyond the plate.
Kia Damon: A Sagittarius, yes.
Kerry Diamond: Are you a Sagittarius?
Kia Damon: Double Sag, I just found out.
Kerry Diamond: And when we were going through everyone's bios for Jubilee, and I know I mentioned Jubilee earlier. Kia was at her first Jubilee.
Kia Damon: Yeah, my first one.
Kerry Diamond: And worked with the team at Smith Canteen and hung out with us for the day.
Kia Damon: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: It was great seeing you there. We lived your bio. We were like, Kia has the best bio and you talked about wanting to uplift the marginalized voices in all areas of the food industry.
Kia Damon: Yes, I first of all will not take credit for writing that. I was so stuck because it's very difficult to figure out what to say about myself. But someone close to me wrote it. Yeah, no, they wrote that. I was really like, "Oh! Wow. Thank you." But it was true. Absolutely. It was interesting to see that and I was like, "Oh, no, that's everything that anyone really needs to know about me. You know, rare sneakers and all."
Kia Damon: But yeah, I want to lift these marginalized voices.
Kerry Diamond: When did that become something that you were aware of as being a goal?
Kia Damon: When I started the supper club, for sure. When I started the supper club and really started to delve into. Because I always knew growing up black, you just know that things are different or that things were set up. And you never really quite have words for it until you hit a certain point of your life. And you're like, "Oh, that's what this is and that's what this is."
Kia Damon: Then when you have the language for it, it's so exhausting because you just see it. You know what I mean? Before, it was like, "What is this ominous thing? I feel like something is kind of holding me back here." Then you find out what is holding you back and everyone else back and all these things and you're just filled with so much rage. Well once I really started getting heavier into food and seeing that I really didn't have a whole lot of people to look to to figure it out is when I was like, "Okay, well, what the hell?" What the hell is this about? I feel like I can't connect to any of this because none of this is me or my story.
Kia Damon: And then I felt even stronger about that with the supper club when I was like, wow, all of these wonderful, wonderful women - wonderful black women - have been contributing to food from the beginning, you know? And then a lot of people talk about like, well, you know, after slavery or during slavery, but it's like pre-slavery from way over yonder. You know what I mean? It's been happening since then. I feel like it doesn't have to start when we talk about slavery. It's even before that, like what were we doing with food.
Kia Damon: But yeah, once I started to get the language for that and understand that and see that, I was like, I need to put on for the rest of my community. You know? Because I'm a woman and I'm a black woman and I'm very openly queer, as well. It was like, oh my God, all of these intersections of exhaustion. All of these paths of discrimination. It's like, Jesus Christ. Well, I am going to do everything in my power and in my career and my existence to fight against that. And I spent a lot of years fighting against that. A lot of years crying, a lot of years being so frustrated and feeling like I just really could not do anything because of the powers that be and the ways that people do stuff person-to-person. Just everyday interactions. Everyday people who access the things that I didn't.
Kia Damon: So I was fighting a lot. And now that I'm here, where I am, now I have power, which is kind of odd. Or not odd, but just surprising. Now I have power and now I have access and now I have very intense visibility. So, what can I do with all of that? Well, now I'm on the other side in some way that I can open up behind me. Or purposefully seek out folks like me and put them where I am and book people for things or send resources their ways and things like that. Or even just with press and interviews and things like that. Continuously being open about it and pushing back against it.
Kia Damon: There isn't always some grand, huge gesture you can do or some mass amount of money. Because I don't have money or energy like that, but I do have my voice and I can talk really loud for a long time.[crosstalk 00:31:04]
Kerry Diamond: And you have a platform now. You're getting a lot of attention, you're doing a lot of things. The media loves you.
Kia Damon: Yeah, it's crazy. It makes me so shy. Like, what? I literally wake up with the crust of my eyes and lockjaw. And then I go out into the world and the world's like, "Kia, we love you!" And I'm like me. But yeah, now that I have it, I'm done being scared of it or nervous by it. I'm just going to be my absolute authentic self so that people can see me. So I know that a lot of people can see me right now, but so the right people can see me, you know?
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It's also an interesting time in New York. I think, had you gotten here a few years earlier, you might've been very frustrated by what you found.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: There were not a lot of women of color getting attention for cooking.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: There was not a queer community that was as solid as, I think, it is now. You know, thanks to things like Queer Soup Night.
Kia Damon: Yeah, shout out to them. Queer Soup Night. People like Ora and Kim.[
Kerry Diamond: And also Angela Dimayuga. I don't think you can underestimate.
Kia Damon: Angela! Oh, yeah, I love her.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, I think - I don't know if she gets enough credit for the seeds she planted.
Kia Damon: I don't think so, either.
Kerry Diamond: For helping the queer community in New York and food.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Because I don't think it was really - I'm sure it was a conversation.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: It just wasn't as open an conversation, and I think she used her Mission Chinese platform really well.
Kia Damon: Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: It wasn't always that way and I think about it a lot and why. Because, you know, starting Cherry Bombe, there was still a lot of female chefs who don't want to talk about being a female chef. And they don't want to talk about being a female chef. They don't want to talk about being a black chef. They don't want to talk about a queer chef. That's not even a word they're comfortable using.
Kia Damon: Yeah, yeah.
Kerry Diamond: I think it's because people weren't talking because women weren't in touch with each other to know that they had this community and they could. They just wanted to be respected as chefs. [crosstalk 00:33:09] And I do think all chefs first and foremost want to just be respected as chefs.
Kia Damon: Yeah, I totally absolutely respect. There's some people who's like, listen, it's not about this, it's not about this, it's not about this. It's about my food. And I totally rock with that. Because I have my times where I'm like, all right, we can talk about all these things, but can you all not forget that I also cook? Can you not forget that I also am busting my butt to make sure that this food is on point?
Kia Damon: But I am also feel privileged in that I can take up space with these other things and be like, all right, so we all understand that I can cook, right? And you can cook and we can cook. Now, let's talk about these other things that are going on that are stopping me and people like me from getting proper recognition or support or funding. You know? Let's talk about the ways that these identities that we hold are leaving us vulnerable to abuse and really jacked up things in the kitchen and in the world. Having us tokenize when we go do things. I want to talk about it and I also have times where I don't want to talk about it.
Kerry Diamond: I just want to talk about how to sear a duck breast.
Kia Damon: Yeah, do you all want to know how I was on a panel for my good friend with Devon with Yardi. He's one of eater's young guns, like phenomenal. Love Devon [Tenesha 00:34:33]. On the panel, sometimes I just want to talk about my food. I'm tired.
Kerry Diamond: Well, we appreciate everything you do and speaking up and the beautiful food you make. I mean, I had the best time that afternoon at Lalito.
Kia Damon: Oh my gosh, with you-
Kerry Diamond: I brought all the food back and Jess, our associate producer -
Kia Damon: Hi Jess.
Kerry Diamond: - lost it over the food.
Kia Damon: Lost it so bad.
Kerry Diamond: I was like, don't you wish this was next door and we could eat here every day?
Kia Damon: Oh my gosh, yeah, that'd be pretty fun.
Kerry Diamond: The tacos, the rice dishes, the salads. I mean, everything was beautiful.
Kia Damon: Thank you. I'm hoping to do more.
Kerry Diamond: Are you doing breakfast? No, you're doing lunch and dinner right now.
Kia Damon: Yeah, lunch and dinner. And then Saturday and Sunday, I run the brunch show.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, fun.
Kia Damon: Yeah, it's just me.
Kerry Diamond: No, oh, poor baby.
Kia Damon: It's okay. And honestly, I've gotten used to working solo. I'm like, get out of my way.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Quickly, supper club. Is it still alive?
Kia Damon: She's alive. I have been secretly plotting on how to bring that back full force without compromising the integrity of it or just doing anything with it that I don't want to do.
Kerry Diamond: Right.
Kia Damon: You know? So she's there. Kia Cook's dusting her off with some people looking for a re-brand, an re-vamp, all of that. It's time to change things up and shake it because I'm doing all kinds of stuff now. You know what I mean.
Kerry Diamond: Cool. Well, keep us in the loop.
Kia Damon: Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: I could ask you 8 million more questions, but we're going to do the speed round.
Kia Damon: What?
Kerry Diamond: Ready?
Kia Damon: No. What are the rules?
Kerry Diamond: There are none. Just be speedy.
Kia Damon: What? Oh, God.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. Favorite kitchen tool.
Kia Damon: Paring knife.
Kerry Diamond: Song that makes you smile.
Kia Damon: Box of Wheaties by Chris Quelle. Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Favorite ingredient to cook with?
Kia Damon: Coconut milk.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, why?
Kia Damon: She's so good. Also, being a non-dairy hunty. It just gives me the richness that I need without the diarrhea.
Kerry Diamond: I love that everything's a she.
Kia Damon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Your supper club, the coconut milk.
Kia Damon: Occasionally, a non-binary hunty.
Kerry Diamond: Okay, what's a cookbook you love?
Kia Damon: Princess Pamela's cookbook by Princess Pamela.
Kerry Diamond: Give us a little blurb about it.
Kia Damon: So Princess Pamela, she just made this cookbook with the guys, then she disappeared. I purchased the cookbook once they put it out there again. And it's - literally, I was just crying reading the recipes because they're so everything I've grown up on. Like very old school. Things that my grandma, who was born in the '40s was making and she learned to make from her mother. You know what I mean? It's very, in every aspect of the word, it is very, very black and very, very amazing. It's one of my greatest treasures I have.
Kerry Diamond: What is the oldest thing in your fridge?
Kia Damon: Oldest thing in my fridge I think is this little weird bottle of sardines.
Kerry Diamond: Dream vacation travel destination?
Kia Damon: Tokyo.
Kerry Diamond: If you were trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be?
Kia Damon: Ina Garten. I'm pretty sure she'll find a way to make a rotisserie chicken. She'll turn a string strand into a dinner party.
Kerry Diamond: Perfect. Well, Kia, thank you for stopping by. I know how busy you are.
Kia Damon: Oh, I'm literally going back to work.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, we've loved getting to know you. You're the bombe.
Kia Damon: Thank you.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Kia Damon of Lalito for joining us. If you are in NYC this summer, be sure to plan a visit for lunch, dinner, cocktails, brunch, or heck, all of the above. Thank you to our sponsor Handsome Brook Farm pasture raised organic eggs for supporting this season of Radio Cherry Bombe. You folks are excellent. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bomb Media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman and our theme song is "All Fired Up" by the band Tralala. If you're a long time listener and you've never left a rating or review for show, well, today's the day. Thanks for listening everybody. You're the bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Natalie Popkave: Hi, my name is Natalie Popkave and I own Bee and the Baker in Seattle. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Jasmin Bell of Bells Pastries here in Seattle. Jasmin creates custom cakes, gorgeous sugar cookies, and impeccable macaroons. She even teaches first time bakers to flawlessly re-create these intricate confections. Jasmin shows me what drive and dedication looks like.