An Interview with Julia Estrada, Kana's Newest Baking Queen
All about Julia
KN: As one of our Kana ambassadors, we know that you spend a lot of time cooking, but what would you call your “day job”?
JE: Recipe development, food photography, and on camera culinary work are all my jobs! I’ve done temp work and other freelance gigs since moving to New York, but this is my primary focus and what I spend the most time doing. Before this, I was an actor, so I’ve never had a traditional “9-5” role.
KN: Where do you call home?
JE: I live in upper Manhattan (Harlem) in New York City. Before moving here, I grew up and went to school in Connecticut.
KN: What does your average day in the kitchen look like?
JE: After coffee, I generally get started on whatever project I’m making and photographing for the day. When I’m creating content, I like to get all my ingredients prepped ahead so that it’s that bit easier when I’m focusing on both making and shooting. Typically, I can do 2-3 recipes in a day depending on how complex the project is. On occasion though, I spend 3-4 days on the same project!
In addition to the food I make for my recipe development and photography for clients, I cook dinner 4-5 nights a week, and most of the time that doesn’t end up anywhere on social media or on the blog. I’ve got to keep some of my cooking to celebrate the pure, elemental joy of creating and eating food without the need to get the lighting or angle just right.
KN: What do you love to do, besides cooking and baking?
JE: I’ve always been engaged in art in some way or another, so I like to paint, knit, and work on other projects when I’m not creating in the kitchen. Lately I’ve been enjoying getting back into macrame...hello old trends coming back around!
Julia in the kitchen
KN: How did you get into baking?
JE: My mom is a baker, so I learned from her! She’s always had a “make-it-from-scratch” mentality, so I adopted that same way of doing things. There’s a very early picture of me sitting on the counter absolutely covered in flour, so it seems I caught that bug pretty early!
Through middle and high school, I kept baking and teaching myself various techniques and processes, always trying to do things in the most professional way I could from my home kitchen. I’ve always had a strong interest in learning and improving, and finally got to take a five-session pastry class in 2020. Someday I would love to attend culinary school to further my technical knowledge and expertise!
KN: What inspired you to start your blog?
JE: My ultimate goal has always been to host a cooking and baking TV show, and I gave my first go at a food blog while in college, but didn’t keep up with it much.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with a genetic illness that I had been dealing with for my whole life, but finally had a name for. I knew that I had to do a pretty big overhaul of how I was living in order to take better care of myself, because this condition causes chronic pain and a variety of other dysfunctions that were catching up to me. I had to reimagine what my life would look like, and how I would reach my goals while giving myself the care I need.
While taking time away from other creative pursuits and temp jobs to rework my day-to-day life and handle some acute issues, I took a food photography class and started Bread & Basil. I wanted it to be a way to keep my creativity flowing, share my recipe development work with people, and see if I could make a go at working more on my own terms. Within a couple months of publishing my first post, I landed a job as an on camera host for 6 baking videos, and realized I had figured out the right path. Then, within a year, I had created a profitable business, and I haven't looked back since.
KN: You currently live in an NYC apartment. How do you get creative in the kitchen when you’re tight on space?
JE: Every tool I own either has to be something I use for more than one purpose, or one whose purpose I can’t accomplish with any other tool. NYC apartment kitchens are known for being tight, but some are a little better than others! I’ve always made it a priority to have as much counter space as possible, which means no extraneous tools or appliances.
The other thing I recommend is hanging up as many tools as you can to get creative with vertical storage. You can buy a bar with hooks for $15-20, and hang all kinds of things on it like strainers, spoons or spatulas, or even pans if you anchor it correctly. This gets clutter off surfaces, leaving them free for all the kneading and rolling I need to do.
KN: What are your must-have kitchen tools (besides Kana, of course)?
JE: Good oven mitts! I’m constantly taking hot pots and pans off the stove, out of the oven, moving them over to my table for shooting, etc. I rely on my oven mitts--silicone coated for good grip, and extra long to protect my arms--to prevent any burns from happening.
As a bread baker, the one tool I have that only gets used for a single purpose is my lame, which is a razor blade in a special wooden holder used for scoring. Considering it’s about the size of a small cookie, I say it’s worth the space it takes for all that I use it!
KN: What’s your favorite recipe book and why?
JE: I can’t name just one! I actually like reading cookbooks cover to cover to not only get an appreciation for the recipes, but also the techniques that a particular author uses throughout. My last read was “The Book on Pie” by Erin Jeanne McDowell, and I’m currently going through “The Food Lab” by Kenji Lopez-Alt.
Let’s finish with some quick-fire questions
KN: What’s your favourite thing to eat?
JE: Pasta! People always think it’s bread because I make it the most, but it’s definitely pasta. If we’re talking about dessert...ice cream.
KN: What’s your favourite thing to cook?
JE: Bread! I love the way the dough feels in my hands, and how much of a sensory process it is.
KN: What does the taste of home mean to you? Are there any flavours from childhood that make you nostalgic?
JE: Home tastes like really delicious, fresh Italian food. My mom is a great cook as well as being a baker, and her homemade ravioli is perfect.
KN: Which Kana product do you reach for most in the kitchen and why?
JE: The Milo Dutch Oven is definitely my most-used item, because it’s great for making breads, soups, pastas, and braised dishes.
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