Chef Justine Kelly cooks real, wholesome and truly inspired food. It's the kind of food she learned from her pops during weeknight family dinners and what she cooks for her daughter after school. It's the kind that comes from her experiences honed over two decades in professional kitchens with the best Bay Area chefs blazing the path in the local food movement.
As the executive chef of Sun Basket, every week Justine Kelly crafts deceptively simple and delicious recipes and sources the best ingredients for each week's meal baskets. Known for her longstanding role as the corporate chef de cuisine at San Francisco's James Beard Award-winning Slanted Door restaurant, Chef Justine's many accolades include mentions in Gourmet Magazine and an appearance on Iron Chef. Throughout her career, she has become a champion of delicious, wholesome cooking featuring the best produce, seafoods, and meats, all of which are brightened with unique ingredients and spices from around the world.
In her own words, here's a rundown on what has inspired her, what excites her and what she's got cooking for Sun Basket:
How do you choose what farms to work with?
A lot of it is based on relationships, farming practices, and quality of ingredients. I look for farmers that are not spraying industrial chemicals and take good care of their soil.
What are some of the challenges of coming up with dishes in the Sun Basket test kitchen?
It's coming up with meals that are a combination of nutrition, inspiration, and flavor while still keeping them easy and approachable. Those things are hard to balance every single time for one meal.
Where does your inspiration come from?
It's a lot of different things. It's restaurants that I dine at, my embarrassingly large library of cookbooks from years of collecting, notes from my recipe research travels, and then just cooking for my family in general.
What kitchen tool can you not live without?
Besides a good, sharp chef's knife? A zester. I use them a lot and I think every home cook should have one. But honestly, if I had to pick one thing, I think just about everyone needs to get their knives sharpened. Dull knives drive me nuts.
What's the biggest mistake you see most home cooks make?
Not setting aside enough time to cook. If you're going to cook, make a commitment to that. It does not have to be a lot of time, just focused time. Also, not relaxing enough in the kitchen! Cooking should be a fun experience, not a chore. I've always found it to be a really nice way to end the day. Pouring yourself a glass of wine helps...
How do you get your daughter to try new things to eat?
I don't make special meals for my daughter. She eats what I eat (with the exception of some really spicy things). But salad is a good example. We have always had salad at dinner. At first she wouldn't eat it, but I kept putting it on the table and now she hordes an entire bowl of greens for herself. It's really just about repetition of ingredients. I don't force her to eat anything, but I do ask her to taste new things. And the more I ask her to taste, the more she ends up wanting to eat something new. It's all about exposure.
And just for fun... What's your favorite food movie?
Like Water for Chocolate. It really shows that there's part of you, or your soul, in your cooking. Good and bad. So, you should never cook angry!