Expert Interview Series: Karista Bennett of Karista’s Kitchen About How Cooking Changed Her Life

Favorite dishes

Karista Bennett is an experienced and passionate chef, writer, and recipe developer whose work is currently published in several national and international publications. We recently sat down with Karista to hear about her surprising evolution as a chef, and also found out what some of her favorite dishes are.

Why did you choose to start Karista’s Kitchen?

I started my food blog as a place not only to house and catalog the recipes I develop, but also for my friends and family to access recipes they’d requested. It sort of took off from there and morphed into a place to connect with enthusiastic home chefs and foodies.

Is it true that you weren’t a “natural” when it came to cooking?

Let’s just say that before culinary school, anything I cooked could have caused a slow and painful death – which is why I went to culinary school. I have always loved delicious food, and when I found myself on a career hiatus and cooking for my family a lot more often, I decided to learn how to cook from the professionals.

After the first class, I sat in my car and cried. I felt like I’d finally found my mission in life: to create delicious, approachable recipes that anyone could re-create – even if they didn’t know how to cook.

What are some of your favorite kitchen memories that influence the way you cook and bake today?

I loved being at my grandparents’ house when it was suppertime. Watching my grandmother cook the evening meal with such joy and pride made the entire meal feel like a celebration. Although my grandmother prepared simple meals, somehow they always tasted like we were dining at a 4-star restaurant. When I cook for my family, friends, or private chef clients or post recipes for my blog readers, my hope is that with every recipe they eat or create, they feel like they’re getting a giant food hug!

Near your home in northwest Washington state, what are some of the food and cuisine options that people should explore if they were to visit that area?

The Pacific Northwest is home to dozens of James Beard award-winning chefs and restaurants. We don’t lack for delicious food here. We have an abundance of Northwest style cuisine, farm to table, Asian fusion, seafood, and much more. We also have a huge selection of craft breweries and distilleries, as well as several gorgeous winemaking regions that are so much fun to tour.

No one should leave the Northwest without a visit to the Oregon coast, which is spectacular. The San Juan Islands north of Seattle are also a gorgeous place to visit, dine, and enjoy the outdoors.

When your kids were younger, how difficult was it to prepare healthy meals that they would actually eat?

Because my children began eating whole, fresh foods from the very beginning, they had palates that were easy to please. When they did become particular about food, I typically “sauced” it. They love sauce. I studied French cuisine and learned a long list of sauces; and now, my family will rarely eat anything without a sauce. A common question at my dinner table is “where’s the sauce?” A good sauce, salsa, pesto, chutney, vinaigrette, etc. can ramp up an otherwise bland entree or veggies. If all else failed, I’d top it with cheese.

Finish this sentence, “In my opinion, the most versatile food that I cook with is…”

In my opinion, the most versatile food that I cook with is seafood.

Do you have a favorite recipe that incorporates seafood that you’d like to share with us?

We live near the coast and sometimes do a bit of deep sea fishing or lake fishing, so I’m stocked with fish. Seafood is so easy to prepare, whether pan searing, pan frying, roasting, baking, grilling or steaming. It’s quick and pairs well with most any seasonal vegetable or salad. And it’s great with a sauce! One of my favorites is this Salmon with a Lemon Beurre Blanc.

When you’re cooking or baking in the kitchen, what are some of your must-have utensils and tools?

I think every kitchen should be stocked with a few high-quality knives and a heavy bottomed, well-seasoned cast iron or iron pan. A meat thermometer is a must because it’ll take the guesswork out of knowing when meat and poultry are done.

What is your favorite time-saving appliance, electric, or gadget in your kitchen?

I know this might be surprising, but I love my convection toaster oven. My large oven isn’t convection and it’s nice to have that convection option. It makes roasting veggies a breeze and re-heating leftovers taste better because they’re reheated quicker and get a little toasty on the outside. It’s also handy when it’s hot outside and turning on the big oven is not an option.

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