Some chefs grow up amidst the romance of food. But Taria Camerino grew up in a home where food was merely a way to stay alive. Her mother had to cook, feeding her family while working full time for very little money. When her mom began working for the African and Asian Language Departments at the University of Florida, Camerino’s life changed; some of her fondest memories and most formative lessons happened and she made friends from all over the world. As a 10-year-old, Camerino became curious about different cuisines—and she wasn’t afraid to try new flavors. She also understood, even at a young age, that food was an essential way for families to stay united. It became her way to embrace the world around her.
At 17, it became clear that food would be Camerino’s life. After reading an article about Chocolatier Stanton Ho and seeing his work, she chose pastry as her medium. Training for this career was hard to come by in her hometown of Gainesville, Florida, but Camerino began to work in any position available in the local food industry. Understanding the limits of the location, she made the move to Miami and found further inspiration from the new flavors Cuban pastries had to offer.
But it was in Tallahassee that Camerino began her professional training, as an apprentice to a local French pastry chef. His meticulous nature, in both his work and philanthropy, inspired Camerino to work and live well—although it took many years and a variety of struggles for her to understand what that would mean. It turns out it meant one thing: chocolate. Spending the last five years as a dedicated chocolatier at her Sugar-Coated Radical, Camerino has developed a unique ability to tell her story in the medium of cacao. Focusing on flavors that exist in small plantations and single origin chocolates, her work highlights the awareness of ethically sourced ingredients and the narrative of the farmer’s life and land—it’s food as life, and so much more.
Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Community Chef Taria Camerino
Katherine Sacks: What got you interested in cooking?
Taria Camerino: I’ve been a pastry chef my whole life. This is the only job I’ve ever had. When I was 17, I decided it’s what I wanted. I apprenticed in Florida with a French pastry chef. I’ve been in Atlanta for seven or eight years now. I helped open Top Flr, worked at Holeman & Finch, worked at Restaurant Eugene.
KS: Explain the concept of Sugar-Coated Radical to us.
TC: I want to do all this and still call it pastry, but use fair-trade sugar and chocolate. I don’t think you can even have something that tastes good if it’s dirty in its ethics. We are a sweet shop and that’s what we do and love. It’s important for us to incorporate food into the art world; people use food in the art world all the time, people even say chefs are artists and I want bridge that gap.
KS: Why is it important to focus on fair-trade chocolate?
TC: The cocoa commodities market is completely unjust, it’s really screwed up. I think India could be phenomenal; if we could create a situation where we are creating a large enough demand, we could really change the situation.
KS: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done?
TC: This business.
KS: Where will we find you in five years?
TC: I have a big master plan. In 5 years, I would like to have a broader impact in the art world. I’d like to have confection shops in other places, have other shops that focus on flavor and taste. I would also like to have my own land to grow cocoa in several countries; we’re planning on starting in Nicaragua this summer.