At Chowhound, we love celebrating amazing women doing amazing things in the food industry. From highlighting our favorite female-founded food products, to giving some of the best chefs of all-time the respect they deserve (who also happen to be women, like the infamous Julia Child), we don’t need a special holiday in order to put the spotlight on women. However, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, we will absolutely take any excuse to put an even bigger emphasis on all of the amazing women we love.
We recently interviewed Chef Mia Castro, a finalist on the latest season of “Hell’s Kitchen” and also the most winning contestant ever in “Hell’s Kitchen” history. We asked Mia about what it was like competing on the show, how she formed a friendship with another female competitor (in spite of traditional media trying to pin women against each other), and what she hopes the future holds for women in the industry. Read our full interview with Mia below.
Chowhound: You recently competed in the season finale of “Hell’s Kitchen” (against another woman!) How did you get on the show? Can you please share a little about your experience? How do you think you’ve been able to achieve so much success at such a young age?
Mia Castro: When I learned about the opportunity I immediately jumped on it. I knew Chef Ramsay was a world renowned chef and I figured I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. It ended up being one of the best experiences of my life because it was the first time in my career that limitless creativity was expected from me, and even better, it was applauded and celebrated by some of the best chefs in the industry (including Chef Ramsay). My success is due to my perseverance. I am willing to learn and adapt in an industry that requires a lot of sacrifice—an industry that is ever-changing and scrutinized by social media trends.
Chowhound: I know you lost out to Chef Ariel Fox in the finale of Hell’s Kitchen recently, but I saw where you posted a photo of the two of you together on Instagram and congratulated her, saying “I would like to say congratulations to my friend @chefarielfox on her @hellskitchenfox win on Friday night. It was an amazing experience from the beginning and I’m so happy to battle it out head to head with the very best…” The media traditionally pins women against each other and makes it seem like women are always “cat fighting” with each other. You have clearly taken a different approach. Why is it important to you to support other women?
Mia Castro: The way I see it is that I had nothing to lose when I decided to compete on “Hell’s Kitchen.” I won the most challenges out of any contestant in the history of the show. I received mentoring and encouragement from Chef Ramsay along the way. I gave it everything I had and didn’t even realize I had in me at the time and I was able to represent myself and my country well. So there’s absolutely no need for me to feel bitter or resentment towards her because the experience alone was a win for me. Ariel is extremely talented, hard working, and has a huge heart. She was the best to go up against and we both deserved the win. The fact that I “lost” isn’t a reflection of my character, work ethic, or talent, it just means that this time it wasn’t my turn. I like to spread positivity and try to surround myself with it. I always felt Ariel was very removed from the drama which is why I developed a friendship with her, so I’d rather leave the “cat fighting” to the animals.
Chowhound: Do you feel like you’ve ever been treated differently because you’re a woman and/or minority? How has this affected you?
Mia Castro: I’ve mainly just been underestimated because of my demeanor, but I’ve always handled it by doing my best with whatever I do and allowing my work to speak for itself. I’m thankful that my work ethic has always shined, earning me the respect and support of managers and chefs that have became my mentors. This has been validating to me and has proved to other co-workers that I can be just as good, if not better than them.
Chowhound: Who is an inspirational woman in your life and what has she taught you?
Mia Castro: My Mom. She was the one who “pushed me” into pursuing a career as a chef. She has ALWAYS believed in me and is my biggest cheerleader. A licensed attorney, she’s an extremely hard worker and has always been successful in her endeavors. She’s taught me (by example) the importance of setting goals, to keep your eye on them, and to not stop until you’ve achieved them—without stepping over anyone and always acting with integrity.
Chowhound: What’s your advice for aspiring female chefs?
Mia Castro: People who try to bring you down are probably jealous or scared that your success will dull or affect theirs. Always focus on yourself and your goals (not others), don’t stop learning (be a sponge), find ways to improve yourself and your work, and don’t pay attention to anyone who tells you you’re not good enough because it’s probably a reflection of themselves.
Chowhound: By International Women’s Day 2020, what do you hope has changed or improved for women in your industry?
Mia Castro: I think the world is realizing that women are a true force and that together we can all make changes for the better. I hope that based on this and the fact that we’re making a big enough “stink” to have our voices be heard, men will understand that intimidation, belittling, and name calling will no longer work because we’ve proved with our perseverance and success that we’re just as good as them.
Chowhound: What’s a typical day like for you?
Mia Castro: On a typical weekday I usually wake up and have my morning coffee and breakfast while I respond to emails and review my schedule for the day. If I have time I try to get a run in (sometimes it’s impossible). I go shopping for groceries in different markets in NYC and head to my client’s house to prepare that day’s meals. Once I’ve wrapped up at work, I typically head home, have a simple dinner, and catch up on shows or movies I’ve been watching. My weekends are spent exploring new restaurants and spending time with valued friends that feel like family to me.
Chowhound: What’s your favorite recipe ever to cook?
Mia Castro: I love all the carbs! Preparing risotto and hand-making pasta is my favorite. They are versatile and are both a great vessel that I can use to carry whichever ingredient I want to suit my mood and palate.
Chowhound: What’s the most important tool in your kitchen?
Mia Castro: My (SHARP) knife, and a medium-sized spoon that doubles as a tool for tasting, plating, serving, flipping, stirring, basting, spreading…you get the picture :)
My everyday knife I use is a 6.5″ Mac Santoku. Their knives are light, affordable, and hold their edge well. If you take good care of it, it can last you many years. I’ve had mine for 13 years and it’s still in good shape.
MAC Professional 6.5
A great all purpose knife that'll last you a lifetime.
For spoons, I like the size of the bowl of Gray Kunz sauce spoons and they come in different sizes. I like the medium-sized one because you can get more food on it and also use it for stirring or flipping when you’re cooking. They look stylish and are very versatile.
Gray Kunz Sauce Spoon - Regular, $11.90 at JB Prince
Spoons are for so much more than eating soup.
Chowhound: What’s your favorite pantry and/or fridge staple?
Mia Castro: For the pantry my staples are salt, extra virgin olive oil, pasta, and rice. For the fridge, I always have organic eggs and a block of parmigiano reggiano. With those ingredients, you have at hand the makings for various delicious meals. Less is more.
Himalania Himalayan Fine Pink Salt, $6.99 at Thrive Market
A great salt for seasoning all your dishes.
Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, $5.49 at Thrive Market
A classic flaky sea salt perfect for finishing dishes both sweet and savory.
Jacobsen Salt Co. White Grinding Salt (Coarse), $16.95 at Williams Sonoma
This sea salt is ideal for filling your grinder.
Bragg Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $16.99 at Thrive Market
A great basic extra virgin olive oil for cooking.
L'Estornell - Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $13.90 at Thrive Market
The fruity flavor of Arbequina olives makes this extra virgin olive oil ideal for finishing dishes.
Chowhound: What’s next for you?
Mia Castro: I’m working very hard right now on a few projects that are being currently developed and involve getting some fresh, personal content out (hopefully a cookbook and more TV soon!). I appreciate all the support I’ve already received and ask my followers and fans to just hang in there and please stay with me as I continue to grow and expand as a Chef and professional. The request I always get is ‘when can I taste your food?!’—I will be cooking at the Saborea Festival in Puerto Rico April 4-7, and hopefully a “pop-up” dining experience in New York soon for press and some fans.
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Header image courtesy of Mia Castro/Facebook.