Mia Castro grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was raised partly by her grandparents who gave her a deep appreciation for fresh and wholesome food. Growing up she helped her grandmother cook delicious meals every day with ingredients they harvested themselves. Today, the rising culinary star has graced local staples such as The Bazaar at SLS Hotel and The James at the Royal Palm. We caught up with Mia to ask her about her experience on Hell’s Kitchen.
What made you enter Hell’s Kitchen?
When I first learned about the opportunity, I thought it was something I had never done before and could only be something that would help propel me in my career. I decided I had absolutely nothing to lose so I went into it head first. I’m very glad I did.
What insight do you feel you gained from the show that you didn’t previously have?
Most insight I gained was about myself. I’m a lot more talented than I would give myself credit for. Having the freedom to have unlimited creativity inspired me to cook from my heart and to put more than 10 years of experience and education in the field into my food. I surprised my rivals, the judges, and most importantly myself. Due to being underestimated throughout most of my career, I think I had started to do it to myself. Being on the show and a top contender from the first episode gave me a lot of confidence in myself. Because of that, I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.
I will be heading to Puerto Rico in the next week, where I’ll participating as a guest chef from April 4-7 at Saborea food & wine festival and culinary extravaganza. I’m also working on developing some content for a cookbook & cooking show. I’ll be making announcements through my IG: @chefmiacastro.
When in Miami, what’s your go to dine spot? The place you can’t live without.
It’s hard to stick to just one. Immediately I can think of Macchialina, by Chef Michael Pirolo. I love their simple, but perfectly executed take on fresh, handmade pasta. The mushroom tagliolini is my favorite and a MUST HAVE every single time. Also (and I have to admit I’m a bit biased), Chef Jose Mendin’s, La Placita, has become one of my spots. It captures the soul and flavor of Puerto Rican cuisine and one of the best spots to hang out in San Juan: La Plaza de Santurce. The “Cuchifritos” section of the menu is my favorite, especially since it’s hard to find this type of “street food” outside of Puerto Rico.
Any favorite breakfast stops?
I love the playful food they serve up for brunch at Beaker & Gray. Their “Chilaquiles” and their “Waffle Panini” are perfectly called for after a long night out of good, innocent fun!
For a fun night out with friends, you would visit?
I love the casual atmosphere of Wynwood. El Patio is my favorite. I LOVE dancing (to Latin music), so it’s a great place to get it out of my system.
When not out on the town, what’s your stay-at-home cheat dish?
Spaghetti cacio e pepe. I always have dry spaghetti, fresh black pepper, and parmigiano or pecorino cheese on hand. It’s filling, decadent, and SO easy to make.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring chefs?
The industry isn’t as glamorous as it seems. It requires a lot of self-sacrifice, physical & mental exertion, and time in less than desirable, low-paying positions. But if you’re NOT afraid of hard work, the payoff is extremely rewarding: discipline, travel, endless learning & creativity, mentoring from some of the best in the industry…only to name a few. My advice: in the beginning, put your head down, and watch, listen, ask questions, take notes…learn as much as you can, be a sponge. Be open to constructive criticism (learn, learn, learn) and don’t pay attention to negative comments. Define a goal and focus on it, take side-steps if you need to (don’t go back), but keep going because if you’re willing to put in the work and not give up, you will achieve whatever you set your mind to.