I was introduced to Chris Castro and his wife Tricia through my sister-in-law Maggie. Maggie was hosting a food swap, a once-a-month get together, initiated by the Castro’s, where friends and foodies bring homemade food to exchange. Chris brought his own home cured bacon. I was impressed by what everyone brought to exchange, but especially the bacon. I met Chris and Tricia that day, but I didn’t really get to know them until last week, when Megan DeShazo and I went over to the Castro’s home for breakfast.
After spending the morning with their family, I was not only impressed with their food, but with their hospitality, kindness, and candor. There was no sense of hurry or stress. I could tell that sharing time with each other and with their friends is a priority. Chris and Tricia operated as a team, preparing breakfast and sharing stories. Seeing how their son Benny helps inspired me to involve my daughter more in the kitchen. Chris made brioche donuts and coffee while we talked about food, family, and life in Oklahoma City. Enjoy the lovely photos by Megan DeShazo and interview with Chris below, and connect with Chris at The Maker’s Table Bacon Curing workshop on Thursday, August 21st. Tickets available here.
Where did you learn to cook?
Chris: I grew up in a household that cooked all the time. Growing up, my mom always fixed a real breakfast and we would sit down to eat, even on a school morning. So when I went to college, I was like I can’t not cook–I can’t eat something out of box. It started with just me calling my mom and asking her how to make things she made that I liked. Then, I started to get cook books, real basic cookbooks. I still have the first cookbook I ever got, it was a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. That seemed pretty classic.
Tricia: And we still use it.
Chris: Yeah we do. I just got in there and started making stuff that I liked at restaurants and just went from there.
Have you ever done any professional training?
Chris: No, it’s all been trial and error and just making stuff that I like. Making something and then seeing what I like about it and changing what I didn’t like or leaving it exactly the same. I think that’s really been it. Just cooking as much as I possibly can.
Who does most of the cooking?
Chris: I’d say its both of us. We both like to cook so we kinda have a weird dilemma where it’s not whose turn is it, but can it be my turn? Please?
Tricia: It seems like in summer, I do more of the coking and during the school year, he does more of the cooking.
Chris: We both really love to cook. When we first started dating that was the thing we really shared. I think Tricia was a lot more advanced of a cook, for sure, when we first met. I’ve learned a lot form her. She’s always making Thai food and taking me to the Asian market. I didn’t know a lot of this stuff.
Tricia: I’ve since been surpassed. [laughs]
Chris: It was fun to learn from a pretty girl. It’s always been our thing that we shared and loved. We would go out of town and go to a grocery store and that was fun to us. That still continues. Now we have Benny and he loves food. Tricia is really good about trying to get him in here and having him make stuff with us. Sometimes it’s not the easiest, but they have their own way of helping. It’s always been something that we really enjoyed and have a lot of fun doing together.
Tricia: He makes really good brown butter Rice Krispie treats.
Chris: Yeah, that’s his thing! We were laughing because he had a friend over and they were playing superheroes or something, and he says, “Charlie, do you want a fruit water?” So he goes and gets a glass down, puts some fruit in it and fills it with water. Then he takes it to his friend and they both try it and he’s like, “It’s really good isn’t it?”
What or who are you biggest influences in cooking?
Chris: I would say some of it is how I grew up: my ethnicity and my mom with her use of Mexican ingredients. Also, Instagram is pretty big. I love looking at it and being like I’m going to try that or what would it look like to make that here on my own or my own version of that. I feel like I’ve met a lot of really cool people in food through Instagram. I got an opportunity last summer to do recipe testing for an app from Edible San Francisco. It was a lady I followed on Instagram who works for Williams-Sonoma as a food stylist. She’s really nice and takes really beautiful photos. She had a call for testing for this app that her and the guy from Edible San Francisco were doing. I got to test. They sent us these secret recipes that we weren’t able to share until the app was out. How many did we test, Tricia? Was it eight?
Tricia: I think so. We threw a dinner party just for those recipes.
Chris: And we had to follow them to the tee and just do exactly what it said.
Tricia: Which was hard for us!
Chris: We had to take the recipe and make it exactly as the instructions said and take notes and photos. It was a really fun experience
Tricia: Aslo, with instragram you get a glimpse into other people’s kitchens that you wouldn’t normally get to see. I think about this lady from Norway or Denmark and she takes food pictures every morning. You would never get to see that!
Chris: Yeah, it’s really fun.
What do you like best about your kitchen?
Chris: It’s open and, we are pretty hard on the kitchen, so I like that we can’t really mess anything up. And when people come over it just ends up being where people come in and hang out and have a cocktail.
How did you come up with the name of your blog, Salt and Smoke Food?
Chris: I had wanted to do a food blog for a while, and the name came about because it’s two things that I use a lot when I make food: salt and smoke. You can make basically anything taste good with those two things. And I like that it’s kinda manly.
What ingredient can you not get enough of right now?
Chris: Salt. We love this Maldon Smoked Sea Salt that we get at Whole Foods. We put it on everything. We actually had to take it off the dining table because we caught Benny just sitting on the table eating salt. It’s so good. We were using just the regular Maldon salt and once we found the smoked kind we’ve never gone back. We actually take some with us when we go on trips. When we’re getting ready to leave the house we’re like, “Did you get the salt?”
What kitchen gadget can you not live without?
Chris: Probably our cast iron skillet. We use it all the time. We use it to make bread and pie and cook meat. We probably use it every day. That’s another thing that we’ll take with us when we’re traveling, if we’re staying somewhere and not sure if they have a cast iron skillet, we just take ours along.
Tricia: And the juicer too, right? We use that almost every day.
Chris: Yeah, we found this juicer at an antique store in Norman. That’s Benny’s job anytime we need something juiced.
Favorite local eatery?
Chris: Pho Cuong on 30th and Classen. It’s so good. That’s the place we always take my family when they come in from out of town. It’s so good. There was a guy from San Francisco who ate there and said it was the best place to get pho in the country.
Describe a favorite meal.
Chris: I always ask for the same meal every year on my birthday. It’s this pasta with red sauce that Tricia makes. She makes it every year and it’s always a little bit different. So every year, I always ask her to make it exactly like she did last year, and she makes it even better.
Tricia: I change it a little every year, but it always has honey, cinnamon and wine.
Chris: Most red sauces have sugar in them, but the honey just makes it that much richer.
What is the most satisfying part of your making process, and why?
For sure, when you sit down and people try it. Seeing their reactions. I always think that for people who don’t cook, just to have them make one thing that they’re good at that people will love and want them to make again. That will make a cook out of anyone. That is hands down the most satisfying part.
Your full time job is a graphic designer at Finch Creative. How interconnected is your role as a designer and your love for food?
They are very interconnected. Part of it is that the guys I work with all love food. Scott [Scrivner] and Grant [Hill] both come to Food Swap. When we were looking to bring someone else on, we let him pick the restaurant to see what his food tastes were because food is something we all love and we wanted to share that. When we were in Norman, Grant and I used to do a big meal on Friday where we would cook a ton of food and everyone who came would chip in $5 for ingredients. We want to start doing something like that again soon.
What do you love about living in Oklahoma? Have you always lived here?
I grew up in California until 7th grade. I love living in Oklahoma. I never thought I would say that. I was actually probably heading out of here, but I met Tricia. People are really friendly, but I think what I like right now is that there are a lot of people who have stuck around and invested in making Oklahoma City better rather than just moving somewhere else. We’ll have people from out of town say that Oklahoma wasn’t like this when I lived there. There’s a lot of energy for new things and creativeness. And Oklahoma City doesn’t have the competition. It’s nice because people will refer people who are in the same field.
You’ve done some awesome collaborations with local restaurants (the Castro at Empire Slice is probably by all time favorite pizza). What kinds of projects are your favorite and do you have any more coming up soon?
Chris: I don’t have anymore scheduled right now. I did cocktails at Dutch for Christmas shopping. That was actually one of my favorites because I love making cocktails. I was up there for probably three hours just shaking two cocktails that I had made up for them while people were shopping. It was just fun to chat with people that I knew from Instragram but had never actually met. And that Empire Slice House beer dinner was super fun. I had never done anything like that and it was really intimidating to go to a place like that where people love their food. To go there and add to what they’re doing and pair it with beer. I had never done that. I like stuff like that a lot. Another time, I made croissant donuts for Cuppies & Joe, and we didn’t really know how many people would buy them so I prepped probably 250 ahead of time and they were gone within 45 minutes. It was crazy. I was back in the kitchen and they’d call back saying somebody just bought six and I’d drop them in the fryer. It was a blur. I definitely want to do more like that. I have no aspirations to have a restaurant, but I love cooking and doing cooking classes. That’s what I really enjoy: demonstration and cooking classes. Tricia and I, when we first got married, we used to teach cooking classes at a little place in Norman called International Pantry. We did it together and it was a date night for a lot of people. We cooked together all the time so it was really fun. It’s real open and real conversational and people ask questions. You start getting regulars. As long as it feels social, that it my favorite kind of thing.
Photos by Megan DeShazo | www.deshazophotography.com