Head Chef of Manhattan’s Lalito and Culinary director at Cherry Bombe, Kia Damon is all about remaining true to herself.
Donned the “new face of New York’s food world” and “one of 16 Black Chefs framing the future of food,” the 25-year-old has already accomplished far more than most culinary professionals will over a career’s time.
Despite her success, her journey has been anything but a cake-walk. As a queer black woman she says that the open racism, misogyny and homophobia that she experiences within the industry along with her history in fast-food chains and having to cook for herself from an early age have shaped her craft. We took a step into the kitchen with Kia to talk her morning routine, how her southern roots come to life in her food and why letting kids into the kitchen is key for change.
01. How do you describe what you do?
I’m a chef and currently the Culinary Director of Cherry Bombe. Along with cooking to my heart’s content for myself and clients, I’m building the culinary program of CB. That means researching and scouting new talent, conceptualizing content, strategizing on how to expand our reach and eating my way through women-fueled restaurants. I’m currently gearing up to produce our second cookbook.
02. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
First things first I’ll eat ya brain haha…when I first wake up I take a few moments and I check in with my body. I stay in bed and I stretch a little bit. I have sciatica and my hips shift a little and my sleeping patterns often make it worse. So I take the time to see how my body is feeling before I jump out of bed.
03. What’s your favorite piece of work you’ve created?
My duck confit mac and cheese! I cure and confit the duck from scratch with a special spice blend. Then I use the duck fat to make a béchamel and I go from there. I usually have to plan it about 3 weeks out from start to finish. It’s a labor of love.
04. What’s your biggest influence?
I credit being from the south as my biggest influence. It taught me how to be generous and patient. No one is in a rush down there. Even the cooking is about taking your time and taking care. We also have a large respect for our elders . From that, I’ve learned how to stop talking and to listen. I pride myself in my ability to listen. I also learned how to be kind, but sharp and quick witted. My cooking is very southern and so are my morals and values. Not in the stereotypical sense, but in the way that I am giving and I value my community. I have a warm, motherly spirit within me that I know for a fact has protected me thus far in New York. They call it having an old soul.
05. What’s your dream collab?
Honestly, Nike! I’ve had this big idea on how to work with them for some years, but I’ll be quiet for now. I don’t want to jinx it.
06. How does movement play into your work?
Being a chef takes a huge toll on your body. There are long hours on your feet, carrying heavy produce and packages, running all over the city for events… it definitely causes some wear and tear while also building strength. Now that I split my time between an office and the kitchen, I incorporate movement that keeps me active but also restores my muscles after difficult jobs. I do a lot of cardio and I’m slowly getting back into yoga and cycling.
07. What’s your favorite Recreational activity?
Cycling! I own an orange Surly Crosscheck that I named Yams.
08. What’s your best tip for Doing Things?
Don’t overthink it! You can do small things every day, like taking a longer walk to the train or doing some stretches while you’re attempting a new weeknight recipe.
09. What’s your favorite meme?
Right now I can’t get enough of Idris Elba choking during his hot wing interview. I laugh at it all day, every day and it’s painfully applicable to my life.
10. Where is your favorite place to move?
I really used to enjoy the historic St. Marks trail in Tallahassee. I could ride for miles and veer off to a spring or go all the way out to the lighthouse. Here in NY, I like walking around the parks.
11. What do you want to see more of in the world?
I want to see more culinary programs for the children! Who knows where I would be if I had the tools as a child to explore my interests in cooking. Society vastly underestimates kids and their ability to know themselves and what they want and I don’t think being a chef is something that’s presented to them as a reality. I felt so much independence once I began to cook on my own. Let the kids in the kitchen!
Be on the lookout for announcements from Cherry Bombe on the release of their cook book. In the meantime, you can find out more about Kia and her restaurant La Lito by following @KiaCooks and @LaLito on Instagram.