The restaurant pics you post to Instagram carry a lot more weight than you may think. “I’m very aware of photos that are taken,” Camille Becerra, chef and partner at Navy in New York, says. “If there’s a certain dish that people seem connected to and I see a lot of beautiful pictures of it, I keep it on my menu.”
As you would imagine, Becerra (who is also a food stylist) has plenty of Instagram-worthy dishes on the menu at Navy. Take for instance her popular mussel toast, a maritime version of avocado toast: a thick slice of cornmeal sourdough bread is topped with caper-aji mayo, a heaping pile of mussels and sprinkled with fresh herbs. It’s almost too pretty to eat. We talked to Becerra about what chefs are learning from Instagram and how they can take advantage of their social media feedback.
You have a huge following on Instagram and Tumblr. How does feedback via your social media channels affect what you do at your restaurant?
It definitely affects the way I change menu items out. I’m very aware of what’s really Instagrammed or really talked about, so I’m always sort of researching that. If there’s a certain dish that people seem very connected to and I see a lot of beautiful pictures of it, I keep it on. Some dishes are certainly a lot easier to photograph than others. If a dish has certain elements then it is going to look nice in a photo and more importantly, look nice on that plate for that person. But if people have a genuine appreciation for a certain dish, as long as the season allows for it…I keep it.
Our menu changes all of the time, but there are some dishes that we keep just because they’ve become well known and people expect them. I like to keep those there so people have some familiarity with the restaurant and our food; something that regulars or people who are just coming to Navy for the first time have heard of.
Not too long ago unknown chefs appeared on TV shows to get famous. Now they’re getting recognition because of their social media accounts. Do you think TV shows are still relevant?
The state of television is different. In a metropolis like New York, it’s very rare that people even watch TV. They watch Netflix and movies. As a whole, TV programming around chef personalities hasn’t changed since the ‘50s. I don’t know that a lot of people really care for that anymore.
How can chefs take advantage of social media like you have?
Well I think, and this has been my approach, that people who are interested in food are very much interested in the way chefs eat and the way chefs live their lives within food. So I always try to offer that to Instagram, give people certain insights on things that I really appreciate, whether it be a certain chef, or certain restaurant, or tools of the trade. The more that you’re able to give, they more people look forward to your posts. That’s something nice to do as a chef, to inspire people to cook and love food.
What is influencing your cooking right now?
Although I’m Latin, I never really cook Latin food. But I recently got the opportunity to take over Rockaway Taco, and so I did a Latin-inspired menu. Lots of fresh ingredients, hints of spice, charring things on grills… I had just been to Mexico City and I love their breakfast culture. There’s this place called Fonda Margarita that’s only open for breakfast. Women come in at 3 A.M. to start making sauces. It’s so good. Like now I want to open a breakfast restaurant and start coming in at 3 A.M. to make sauces.
Navy’s predominately a seafood and vegetable restaurant. Because its dishes are light and it’s in SoHo, do you find that most of your diners are women?
Yes, so many. The restaurant is very petite and a lot of care went into the design. The food is sort of health focus. It kind of strikes a chord with a lot of women, both in its aesthetic, its design and in the way women are eating right now. And that’s just innately how I cook. I try to cook from a very personal place and keep true to my palate and my lifestyle. And obviously I intend to make beautiful food.
How can women chefs position themselves to get more attention in the media when male chefs dominate the conversation?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to talent. The road to being a successful chef has a lot of demands, physically and mentally. It requires a lot of hours. It’s very dangerous; you’re working with fire and knives. And it’s also very stressful and very intense. It’s the same for anyone really, but women can’t work a lot of those hours at certain times of our lives, when we become mothers.
I have always just taken as many opportunities as I can fit in my schedule. If you work your ass off, eventually you’re going to get recognized. It’s unfortunate, yeah, that it’s a male-dominated industry and at times it can be a very aggressive and intimidating industry. But if you love what you do and you just don’t quit, put in the hundreds of thousands of hours, it will pay off.
Alyson Sheppard covers nightlife for Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep