Journey from Writer to Chef
Words by Melissa Wall - Photos by Mirella Cheeseman
ZADY: Tell us the story of your journey from full-time writer in Midtown Manhattan to professional chef.
CHEF CAROLINA SANTOS NEVES: You never know what certain life experiences will bring you…until you do. I credit my being part of this restaurant as a direct correlation of having moved to Mexico City from Westchester, New York, when I was a teenager. I wasn’t very happy about the move at the time. But it was there that I met Felipe Donnelly, the executive chef of, now, this 45-seat Latin-inspired/American-Latin restaurant on MacDougal street called Cómodo. Twelve years after meeting, Felipe and I reconnected thanks to a mutual friend, and his food. I was writing for a popular food website at the time. We became friends again, and started cooking together.
Z: How did the food of Cómodo bring you together?
CSN: Well, his partner and lovely wife, Tamy Rofe, had been throwing small dinners at their apartment on Worth Street (called “Thursdays at Worth Kitchen”) as a way to maintain a social life while still doing what they love. It was a way for her to write her blog, which she loves, and for Felipe to cook, which he loves. Even though they both had full-time jobs in advertising, every Thursday for a year they invited six guests at a time to their house to eat. These were friends, or people who had heard about them online. At those dinners, guests fell in love with them, and vowed to never lose contact. If you met them, you’d understand why. Those guests are now our most loyal customers at Cómodo.
It wasn’t only the food that drew me to them, it was the way they saw life, their warmth and the ability to make time disappear when you are with them. It was because of that reconnection that I made a career move I had so often spoken about, but didn’t know would come as soon as it did.
Z: How did cooking with Felipe turn into a restaurant?
CSN: For about three months, Felipe and I would meet every Sunday in the afternoon, and invite friends as we would test recipes for the menu. It was truly a labor of love, and an unforgettable good time. On their living room wall hung a board with menu ideas. What worked, what didn’t work…Eventually they made the restaurant happen. And after months of trying to balance my day job with my passion, I couldn’t anymore. I found myself wanting to be at Cómodo even when I didn’t need to be. It hit me then, it was time to take the plunge and leave my job to become a chef.
Z: Tell us about the space.
CSN: The five partners of Cómodo have created a place that we feel people can call home, and that looks like one. It’s simple in its design. We took refurbished wooden tables, white walls and exposed brick, beautiful antique lamps that belonged to Felipe’s mother, and turned it into a living room that happens to be a restaurant. The heart of Cómodo is the exposed kitchen that lends itself to a personal experience for both cooks and diners. Felipe and Tamy rebuilt the space with their own bare hands with the help of their friends from the Thursday at Worth days. It was designed by one of the partners, Whitney Clark. Another partner, William Osborne, helped shape the simpatico way we like to interact with our guests. Tamy is the voice and face of Cómodo. She is the one who welcomes everyone with her smile, her music selection; she is the one guests speak to on social media. Felipe and I have worked on the menu, with the help of the line cooks, but it is our returning customers who serve as taste-testers and ultimately menu creators.
Z: What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
CSN: My favorite dish is the Cochnita Torta, the Kale and Quinoa salad…and the 7-pound cake. I guess that’s more than one dish.
Z: And the inspiration for the cuisine?
CSN: The food we serve is inspired by the personal experiences that Felipe and I have had throughout our lives. We’ve both lived and travel in many Latin American countries. We have a similar palate in one sense, yet it’s just different enough that the menu can feature comfort food with some healthy options. The essence of our collaboration, some would say, was when we were debating whether or not to feature a hamburger on the menu. Instead we decided on a slider that would feature the Pao de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) as the bun, lamb meatballs with cranberries as the middle and a chipotle sauce for dipping.
Z: Why the West Village of Manhattan?
CSN: The location lends itself to working with small purveyors and neighborhood institutions like Pino’s, where we get our lamb, pork products, chicken, Joe’s Dairy where we get our mozzarellas and other cheeses, and Counter Culture Coffee. Every Saturday morning you’ll find Felipe buying a variety of local potatoes for his beautifully crafted Ajiaco soup and fresh eggs for the brunch menu. We’re still in awe as to how lucky we have been to have found such a location with producers that make our food taste the way it does.
Z: What’s next for Cómodo?
CSN: We continue on. We took Cómodo on an 11 city-wide tour and called it Cómodoroots. The purpose was to go back to the roots where Cómodo was born from, the dinner party, and cities that had a special meaning for each of us. Presently, we’re focusing on catering, and the seasonal menus, and some saloonlike nights where we feature friends who are artists. In a city like New York, the opportunities are endless. We’re grateful every day for the people we meet, the people we get to work with and those who have been so receptive to our spot on MacDougal. I’m certainly grateful for the people, moves and paths that have made my life what it is now.
Z: Will you publish a new Cómodo recipe for our readers?
COCONUT QUINOA MEAL
with Dried Blueberries, Fresh Raspberries and Almond Butter
I love oatmeal and I love quinoa. And so when I was coming up with this recipe, I took inspiration from things that I make at home. I love blending sweet and salty, and I really wanted to have a gluten-free and dairy-free option on the Cómodo menu that would sound appealing to all our guests, regardless of their dietary needs. The end result? Our Coconut Quinoa Meal with Dried Blueberries, Fresh Raspberries and Almond Butter. Recipe is super-easy and so lovable!
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- ¼ to ½ cup of canned coconut milk (make sure to mix it well before adding)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons dried blueberries
- ¼ cup fresh raspberries
- 1 to 2 tablespoons almond butter
- In a sauté pan, heat up quinoa over low to medium heat. Add coconut milk and honey. Stir until evenly mixed. Then add dried blueberries. Take off the heat and pour it into a bowl. Top with raspberries and almond butter. And eat!
It’s also tasty to replace the berries with banana and the almond butter with toasted almonds with a touch of cinnamon