Peak into the kitchen cupboards of recipe developer, aquarian kitchen muse, and voracious home cook Vilda Saskia Gonzalez.
Where did you grow up, currently live and any other places that you call home? Any favorite seasons/plants/animals of those places that stick out?
I was born in Gothenburg, Sweden and lived there till I was seven. I moved from there to Savannah, GA, which I called home on and off for 13 years. I left Savannah as soon as I was legally/physically/practically allowed, and moved to NYC when I was 17. The following two years were some of the more formative years of my life; this is where I cultivated my independence, fell in love with a city of my own choosing, deepened my creative practice, and saw the possibility of the world. This time was also formative in a more grim sense, as the intensity of this lifestyle (and many other compounding factors) led me into a pretty chronic bout of auto-immune related illness. I moved back home to the South to heal, and shockingly found that falling in love with the landscape of the Lowcountry was essential to the process.
I now live in Charleston and am very charmed with the life I live here. I consider all of these places home in a way, and relate to them primarily through their agricultural landscapes. In Sweden the season to love most is Summer; the cold water, wild flowers, fresh potatoes, sun filled nights. It’s hard to pick a favorite here in the Lowcountry. I cherish Winter for its respite, and for all of the greens the farmer’s grow! Spring brings with it a particular magic; the scent of jasmine in the air, the year’s first sunburn, strawberries, asparagus, fleeting fava beans, cool evenings, growth abounding.
I have an unrelenting adoration for each passing season. For me, living in such polar opposite regions has cemented that affection even further.
What is your work about? How did you find your way to this work?
Work is a bit of a dichotomy of identity for me. Technically, my work (if we’re defining this as a means to making ends meet) has always been in restaurants. Currently I serve tables, and I’ve been fortunate enough to find steadiness and satisfaction in this line of work for many years.
Beyond that, I’m developing recipes for brands, slowly chipping away at my first cookbook, always cooking at home, baking bread, feeding others, and creating spaces for people to gather and experience the dinner table in a new light through my ongoing dining project Sol-Eir. I’m actually at a bit of a crossroads currently where I’m finally attracting the work that I wish to spend my time doing, which feels very gratifying. This work, in all of its different forms, is about championing a better way of feeding ourselves and others, mostly through the avenue of the home kitchen. It’s a direct celebration of every individual that works tirelessly to improve our food systems, through regenerative agriculture, small-scale farming, seed saving, herbalism, functional medicine, and more thoughtful education.
I came into this line of work in a similar fashion that people probably stumble upon your products; my health was shot and I needed to heal. Through this process, I recognized the significant link between the health of our food and the health of our bodies. By that I don’t mean the healthfulness of an ingredient, but rather the health of the soil and environment that nurtured the ingredient into being. I’m a rather obsessive person, and so when I came to this realization I dove in deep. I’ve spent the last years in research; studying holistic nutrition, reading cookbooks, embracing the terroir and culinary history of where I now call home, forging relationships with farmers and other cooks, and honing my skills.
I feel very grateful because the passion I carry for this work is inescapable. I go to sleep dreaming of how to make better bread, what to do with raw milk, how to squirrel away the season’s berries. I understand that it’s a remarkable privilege to love something so certainly, so it feels like a great obligation to carry that forward.
What is your morning routine?
Mornings used to be a time for me and my boo to share breakfast. Working late nights in the service industry, we don’t really get the chance to unwind over dinner and so a slow breakfast together has always been a priority. He’s going through a bit of a transition with his work currently, and is often out of the house by 8 am. These days I get out of bed, chug a glass of water, and take an iced espresso with me out to our blue lawn chair. I sit there, slowly caffeinating and reading a book in the sun. After that it’s usually a glass of raw goat milk kefir and a piece of toast. Then I get on with the day.
What's your self-care flow? When depleted, how do you refill your well?
When my cup is nearing empty, I sleep like it’s going out of style. That and candle lit baths are my deepest medicines. I turn to nervous system regulating herbs, often in tincture form. I go to the beach, lay in the sun, jump in the ocean. I ask to be loved deeper; to be hugged, kissed, cherished. I drink lots of water and eat lots of greens. I read books, clear my agenda, clean my space, and sometimes just lay flat on the floor.
What gives you the most pleasure in life?
Making bread. Being in love. Improving, even in miniscule ways.
Describe your perfect day.
I’m on a little island called Smögen. It’s where my mother’s mother’s family is from; it’s a tiny fishing town on Sweden’s west coast. I’m there staying in my great aunt’s home. She and her husband wake before the rest of the house, and have the breakfast table set with bread, butter, cheese, hard boiled eggs, homegrown cucumbers, tubed caviar, and strong coffee. I take a ferry, ideally with my mother, sister, and lover in tow, to a tiny island off the shore called Hållö. Practically swallowed by the rocky landscape is a tiny red cottage of a café, where they serve coffee and waffles with raspberry jam. That’s our pitstop before finding an appropriate spot to melt in the Scandinavian sun.
What is your grocery shopping routine like? Any staples?
I go to the farmers market every Saturday. This is where I buy my produce, eggs, milk, cheese, meat, and flowers. I order freshly milled grains from Anson Mills, and this is what I use to make my bread. I go to the grocery store for things like lemons, limes, and other miscellaneous indulgences. Beyond that most of my shopping takes place online. I have an unquenchable thirst for specialty food markets. This is where I’ll buy spices, legumes, olive oil, vinegars, pasta, tinned fish, and unnecessary but life-giving artisanal pantry goods.
What are your top 3 favorite cookbooks/books?
Currently: Ducksoup Soho, Dan Barber’s the 3rd Plate, Ruch Reichl’s Tender at The Bone
Describe for me your perfect picnic spread.
Fresh baked bread, a tin of sardines, marinated feta cheese, grassy olive oil, crunchy vegetables, and whatever fruit might be in season. That and a cold, crispy bottle of bubbles.
How do you support yourself using plants?
Plants support me in the obvious ways: nourishing, sustaining, fueling, energizing, but I think more than anything plants support me in more subtle and emotionally fulfilling ways. Plants reassure me of the beauty in our world, and that reassurance feels incredibly supportive in a time like now.
I don’t necessarily think of food as art, but it is my primary form of creative expression. In that regard, plants serve as the backbone of my creative practice; the colors, shapes, textures, and flavors that I use to make sense of my place in the world. Plants allow me to relate to culture, to place, to history, to others, to myself.
Current favorite plant allies you’ve been working with?
I’m really into digestive bitters. I take them daily, both to support proper assimilation of nutrients and to support my liver in its hustle to detoxify from the daily grime of life. I also depend on nervines. I get easily frazzled and find that the only way I can keep an even keel is by downing calming and supportive plants like rose, skullcap, milky oats, lemon balm, etc.
Any upcoming projects you want to share? Things you’re currently looking forward to?
Oh gosh, there are a lot of projects in the works. I’m cooking for a meditation retreat in Upstate New York this June, which is especially exciting because it means that I get to shop at the Union Square Farmers market - one of my favorite places on Earth. I’m deep in the throes of planning our next Sol-Eir dinner event. My friend Taren Coulter, a wizard of a chef based in LA, is coming down to spend a week with me in Charleston and the dinner is going to be entirely collaborative which is a first for me! I don’t have any formal training in the kitchen, but Taren does. She is much more technically skilled than I am so I feel grateful for the opportunity to learn from watching her work. I’m also working on a cookbook, but that is a remarkably slow process that I’m in no hurry to rush.
Beyond the hustle of opportunity, I’m looking forward to the juiciest peaches of the season, to getting sunburnt and remembering why I really should wear sunscreen, to August spent in Sweden, to all of the herbs in my garden bolting and going to flower, to the first figs, and to all the messes to be made in summer.
Follow along @vildasaskiagonzalez