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Culinary Wisdom: Enhancing Kitchen Functionality and Family Influence With Chef Claudia Sandoval

March 19, 2024

Kitchen functionality should be the number one consideration when designing your kitchen space, especially if you like to cook your own meals evert day. In this episode of Home Therapy, Anita engages in a delightful conversation about kitchen functionality and other interesting topics with Chef Claudia Sandoval. Chef Claudia is a culinary virtuoso born and […]

Kitchen functionality should be the number one consideration when designing your kitchen space, especially if you like to cook your own meals evert day. In this episode of Home Therapy, Anita engages in a delightful conversation about kitchen functionality and other interesting topics with Chef Claudia Sandoval. Chef Claudia is a culinary virtuoso born and raised in sunny San Diego, California. Hailing from a family originally from Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Claudia’s culinary journey began under the guidance of her mother and grandmother, instilling a passion for cooking from a young age. Listeners are treated to insights into Claudia’s culinary world, where she unveils her favorite non-Mexican recipe and shares her thoughts on kitchen functionality. The episode goes beyond the kitchen as Claudia opens up about how her family has profoundly influenced her positivity amidst life’s adversities. Tune in for more!

Watch the episode here

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Culinary Wisdom: Enhancing Kitchen Functionality & Family Influence With Chef Claudia Sandoval

Claudia, welcome to our home therapy show. I have watched you up close, from afar. Everything you do, the energy you bring is what I admire the most and why I was so excited when you said you would be willing to come on and share your story with us. To begin and diving in, this energy, I know you were very close with your grandmother and your mother. You have a wonderful, tricultural or bicultural, just a diverse cultural background. I can relate. My grandmother lived with us. I’m sure as your grandmother was teaching you to cook, my grandmother was teaching us dumplings and things like that. This energy you have, of course, God-given.

Thank you.

Did some of that energy of zest for life come from your family? Where did this begin?

I think I definitely fit into that feisty Latina thing.

I love it.

It’s because I grew up with a group of strong women. My grandmother, who I mention as my grandmother in most things is my great aunt. My grandmother died when my mom was seven. My mom had a rough upbringing. Bouncing around from her brother’s house or my uncle’s house, because he was the eldest sibling, and then moving over to my grandma’s house eventually when my grandma was like, “This girl’s thin. We’ve got to get her way back up.” Typical Latino conversation. My grandma and who I call my grandma, her and my grandma-grandma left Mazatlán, Sinaloa because they had gone in a big fight.

That is interesting.

This is the first time I publicly tell this story, but they left Mazatlán because they had gone into this huge fight with a lady who was messing around with my grandma’s boyfriend. Apparently, they beat her up and all this stuff. They were like, “We’ve got to flee.” They left and they came to the border town, funny enough, full circle where I now live in Tijuana, California, which is the city south of San Diego. They came here and they decided to make a life for themselves. Fast forward to when I came into the picture, my grandma was the one who helped my mom as a single mom get through life.

My grandma, she did whatever she could from cooking, selling, and reselling stuff at swap meets. She did that for years. I think that she raised all of us with this perspective of you’re going to do whatever you have to do to get a foreign life and to get your kids ahead and to put them through education. She put everyone through school and made sure everyone got through school. Along the lines, she also taught me how to cook and taught my mom lots of the recipes that my grandma would’ve shared if she had lived a little bit longer.

Such is life. I think sometimes all that rough and tumble of life and those tribulations and how you overcome them teach you to be so grateful and positive. When things are good, it’s like, “Let’s celebrate. Let’s laugh like no one’s listening.” When we all get together, it definitely sounds a bunch of cackling witches we say because that laugh, imagine that across all the whole family. Aunts, cousins, everyone. We all laugh from the inside of your soul.

It’s affectious.

You release this happiness. If I can bring that to everything that I touch and everything that I do, I think we’re doing a good service. We have so many things that are wrong in this world, and if we could have a little moment of lightness and brightness in our world, then why not?

We have so many things that are wrong in this world. If we could just have a little moment of lightness and fun and brightness in our world, why not? Click To Tweet

You certainly do that very well.

Thank you.

My dopamine serotonin levels go way up when I see your Instagram or when I see what your latest endeavor is, your food delivery system for people who want a meal plan. I’m like, that is fantastic. Claudia, you are bringing your light everywhere. I think about the kitchen. I think about food and how there are so many core memories. I know you made so many core memories within your own family and home. When you are creating food and recipes for your audience or for people who love to eat, is there some intention? Is there a thought process or creative process that you go through? Is it just on a whim every time?

First of all, I think that it evolves. Much like you, I’m sure what you were doing in terms of styling and all of that would be so different from where you are now. I feel like that has evolved too. I think when I came out of Master Chef, in comparison to when I cooked for my friends before going on Master Chef, different perspectives, different ideas, and different things. I think one of the things that I tried to do on Master Chef, for example, was to create menus that were very elevated and very highbrow and very poised and all of those things.

In order for somebody like Gordon Ramsey to take Latino food, in my opinion, because that’s what is happening in the world, cultural food. It doesn’t have to be Latino, it could be Asian, it could be all of the other Southeast Asian, or African. All of these different cuisines that are from what we call third world countries, these foods are not valued. They’re seen as something that should be affordable, cheap, and as though the ingredients somehow or the cooking technique doesn’t require as much skill level as something that would be made out of a French brigade system because that’s what we’ve seen as the chef.

My perspective then was how can I make Mexican food prettier, more beautiful, more presentable, more French? I think that I’ve started to move away from that again and lean back into my roots because through the pandemic, if anything became more clear, it’s that nostalgia is on the table. We have realized how important those roots are. Our connectedness to our family, to our people, to the people that we love. If I am moving away from my food in order to fit this Franco-Mexican style, then that’s not authentic to myself. The more that I thought about it, the less authentic it felt for me.

Do I still have the plating techniques and stuff? Yeah, of course. Do I still try to make some things a little bit sexier by using some of the French techniques in order to strain the sauces and all of that? Yes, absolutely. Clarifying consommés to make them more luxurious and sexy. Yes, I do those things. However, at their core, it has to taste and it has to be Mexican the way that my grandma did. What ends up happening is I will have people that will literally come to tears at the table and it’s that connectedness to, “I grew up with food like this. This felt like a warm hug. I don’t even know you’re Abuelita but this tastes my Abuelita’s food. I’m not even Mexican, but I felt Mexican.”

That type of connectedness, we can all relate to right there. Even if it wasn’t your mom who was cooking, there’s somebody in your family. Even if it was shepherd’s pie. Whatever it is, there is something in your family that is so reminiscent of the people that came before you or that love you or that want to spend time with you and that wanted to cook with you.

Audiences couldn’t see my head, but I was a bobblehead, nodding up and down frantically because you make my heart sing. As a therapist and interior designer, my main passion is to combine those two and use our home as a therapeutic environment. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted you to come and share your story and your thoughts. It’s that vulnerability, authenticity, and getting back to the roots. We had a blaring wake-up call during the pandemic.

I know that also prompted you, you have your foot in your home country and in the States, but it prompted us to explore our roots and where we want to stay present, where we want to renew ourselves, and therefore then be more creative. It’s because we can’t be creative without taking pause and rest. I’m curious, besides cooking in your home, are you a tub-time girly? What’s your way of relaxing and renewing besides inspiring recipes and cooking?

I’m not a tub-time girly. I don’t have a tub. Mexico does not have a thing for tubs, so no big deal. I’ve never been a big bathtub girl per se. For me, I’m a big fan of, and I think you talk about this in your book and then I reached out to you about creating these spaces that brings you Zen. I know it sounds silly because I know so many people are like, “Get away from caffeine.” For me, my coffee is the ritual that I have to do every morning. It’s the smell of the coffee. It’s the preparation. It’s all of it. It’s not just like I’m brewing coffee. I’m brewing coffee and I’m making it special. I’m using my monk sugar. I’m creating my own.

It’s interesting because I ended up in this space because of a tragedy, and now it’s become such a ritual for me that every time I make my coffee, I feel more equipped to take on the day and everything is going to be okay. I have two stories in this house. I was telling my daughter, “I think I’m going to order a second coffee machine” because they don’t pay me. “I think I’m going to order a second one for downstairs because sometimes, I don’t necessarily want to come upstairs, but I still want to be in my zone area.” Maybe I’ll create my own little nook or little area for my coffee downstairs because I get two living rooms, so it feels like two houses, but my bedroom’s downstairs.

If I want to have a lazy day, I think that’s also a big one. I’m happy that I came here. I ended up moving to Tijuana when my daughter decided to go to university, but this house, I finally got to have my adult house, if that makes sense, like after kids. Now, as an empty nester. I bought beautiful furniture and I bought the nice one that isn’t going to get ruined by kids. I bought the beautiful marble tabletops and stuff for my side tables because I know nobody’s going to be spilling soda or something on it. It’s those little touches and things that, when I come home, I’m like, “Yes.”

I needed that because right now I’m in a very big nesting phase where I want to be home and I don’t want to be out. As much as my friends are like, “You need to get out of the house. Your kid’s no longer there.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I love my house.” For the first time, even right now, I’m sitting at my dining room table, but I’m looking at my table and I love looking at my table. I created this tablescape that’s vines. To me, it means opulence. I created it for New Year’s and I wanted to create this. It has lettuces, grapes, berries, golds, and things that. My daughter goes, “Mom, that looks a little goth.” I was like, “Maybe your mom is a little goth.”

It’s because it got blacks and whites. It’s on the darker tones and my, and my table’s darker, but I think it’s me though. I think often when you find a space, I love looking at the background of your house. Your background is beautiful, but that would never be my house. Everybody has what speaks to them. Deep behind this red hair, everybody thinks like, “She’s dyed her hair because she’s spicy Latina.” I am those things, but I dyed my hair because I was super into punk in goth music way back in the day. Now that I’m coming back to my own, I feel like after being a mom, this single mom for so many years, working hard to get her daughter to university, now I’m creating a space that’s my own and rediscovering myself through my space. That is so powerful. I got chills saying that, but it really is.

Creating a space that's your own and rediscovering yourself through that space is so powerful. Click To Tweet

Absolutely. I think nostalgia as you mentioned, but that vulnerability and authenticity that you and I love so much, but it can be scary. It’s a little intimidating. I can already see the audience, some of them may say, “For me, I don’t know my style or I don’t know what I like.” For you, maybe your audience would be saying,” I don’t know how to cook. What are my first steps into finding my own cooking style or recipes or my own style of interior design?”

There’s a sense of letting go of control and vulnerability. How do you advise someone who’s new to cooking to start exploring their culinary skills? I think there’s a lot of people with limiting beliefs that think, “I’m the worst cook ever. I could never cook my friend who’s the hostess with the mostest.” I have a feeling we all can give ourselves more credit. How do we foster that in the kitchen?

Totally. I think it’s a matter of stopping that self-deprecating talk like, “I can’t boil water. I burn water.” It’s like, okay, but anybody can burn water. I’ve burned water. I’m a master chef. Everybody can forget about it because we’re distracted. One, if you consider what you’re doing, so much of cooking is not about cooking, it’s about nurture. For me, when I think about food, I think about nourishing my body, nourishing the people that I love, and then creating something that is going to be delicious and nostalgic and all those things. On a pulled-back version, I’m going to reference something so basic, but girl dinner on TikTok.

I love it.

Everybody knows what girl dinner is. For those people that don’t know because they’re not on TikTok like I wasn’t, girl dinner is essentially things that women put together on a plate that don’t make any sense because you don’t have the time. A lot of my friends who don’t cook always end up with the girl dinner. When I look at those girl dinners, I’m like, “I know you said you don’t know how to cook, but let me explain why every single thing on that dish makes perfect sense. It’s because you need a protein. You know you need a veg. You know you need a sauce.” There are all of these little things that all create a composed dish. Even if it is things that don’t make sense put together, and then you still add a dessert because you probably add a candy or a little bread.

When I say that to them, they turn around and go, “I didn’t think about that.” I’m like, “Yeah, because we all know what the basics are.” If you want to get out of your own way in the kitchen, the biggest thing is to work on your strengths. I don’t sit there and go, I am the best at making fresh macaroons because I know I’m not. I have failed hundreds of times. When I say hundreds, I mean hundreds. I was trying to open up a bakery and macaroons are a big thing in Tijuana and on the border. I want to do this. It is not my thing.

It is okay to accept that is not your thing, but just because one thing isn’t your thing doesn’t mean that you can’t get better at other things. I’m a big fan of perfecting one dish and making that your signature dish. Regardless of what it is, even if it is mashed potatoes. I think when you create something that, then you can add to it. You can take another small recipe and add that to your mashed potatoes and be like, “That’s right. I made that.”

Just because one thing isn't your thing doesn't mean that you can't get better at other things. Click To Tweet

Last night, my girl dinner or my chef dinner was mashed potatoes sauteed with some broccolini and some mushrooms, and I dropped a little bit of demi gloss on there. That was it fully vegetarian. Super yummy. My point is sometimes I think we overthink it, so getting out of your way means stop overthinking it, try practice, and the only thing you can do is find out what you’re not good at, let go of that, and then move on to the next thing. Also, know that everyone fails.

My Cochidorado recipe, which is my little cookie, it was 187 times it took to get one recipe to what it was. Know that chefs don’t get there by being perfect the first time. In fact, I take this lesson from my high school drill teacher. She would always say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” I would be like, “Damn.” The truth is practice makes perfect. You have to practice and practice and be gentle with yourself. It’s not always going to be perfect. The amount of things that I have burned in my life, it’s not normal.

I love that because people think the same way about interior design. They compare their home to HGTV or the magazine-worthy homes that we see on Pinterest. Honestly, everyone can build up that skill, can build up that muscle to style shelves and style your coffee table. Those are all things that everybody can work towards and work towards their own style. Just like your own cooking style, your recipes, or interior design, it’s practice without judgment. I think that’s one thing that spans all cultures. Especially with women, we tend to be hard on ourselves. Letting go of that judgment and experimenting. You spoke to the heart of, I think it doesn’t matter what genre or what niche, finding ourselves is taking that first step of exploration.


I love that. Now, I know your roots in cooking is Mexican food, but what is your second favorite dish that you like to enjoy? Is it still Mexican food or is it something totally wildly different?

I wouldn’t say wildly different. I definitely leaned toward Italian food. My mom loved Italian food growing up, and so I found myself trying to make mom happy by learning all of the Italian foods. On top of that, I had a couple of Italian best friends. San Diego has a pretty good Italian community like little Italy and all of that.

San Diego has good food in general.

I agree. I keep telling everybody, “Stop talking about it.” I don’t want everyone to find out because then it’s going to be harder to live here and all of that. I think Italian food is probably my go-to. I love making fresh pasta and making gnocchi. Gnocchi, I have that at least once a week. I die for a good Cacio e Pepe. It’s not even superfluous food. It’s just the basics. Cacio e Pepe, you can’t get as simple as that. On top of that, I think a lot of the flavors are very reminiscent.

My mom would always joke that all Italian food and all Mexican would start with tomato and garlic. I feel like there are definitely a lot of echoes of flavor through that food. I think I can see why that would be a favorite as well. Right now, I am into exploring Asian food. I’ve been doing a deep dive into Korean food. My daughter has got into K-pop a lot, but I love Korean food in general. I’ve been digging into that.

One of my good friends whose birthday is tomorrow is Japanese, and so Carrie’s been also teaching me a bunch of stuff and bringing me ingredients. She’s going to Japan and I’m like, “Bring me katsuobushi.” I love getting authentic ingredients and playing with them. Also, I love seeing the parallels through our food because people think we have very different foods. In reality, once you start digging through the recipes, you start realizing it’s pretty much the same thing, just in different ways. We build and create layers of flavor through similar pathways and I love that.

I love that too. I’m Chinese-American, so I want you to fit in some Chinese food too.


I got to push that through. For your kitchen and because my interior designer mind is swirling about what goes through a chef’s mind. Say you moved into this house, do you have certain flows of the kitchen layout that’s more conducive to you? Are you like the rest of us who have certain favorites? A kitchen island for some people is a must or some people love open shelving, some people don’t. Do you, as a chef, have some particularities about what a kitchen setup should be like design-wise, function-wise, and organizational-wise? What are your thoughts?

A couple of things. This house belongs to one of my best friends who is a chef. Very lucky on that end because it already came with a professional hood and all of that. This house is very modern and I mentioned I’m very nostalgia and very more traditional Mexican. I’m used to having everything on the counter because I’m a weirdo like that. I have to admit, my cleaning lady hasn’t come, so I’m not prepared to show you my kitchen now, but I will send you pictures that you can drop in now.

Essentially, what I love is having everything cleared. I have open shelves, but instead of having plates and things there, which is what he used to put there, I don’t like plates being exposed because I’m a weirdo who has all sorts of different plates because it’s been me and my daughter. I don’t have a set of 6 or 8 perfect plates. I have 2 green and 1 gray.

That’s our house.

That works for me because again, for me, I take pictures of my food and my dinner and that’s content. I have to have that variation, but what I have are all of my cookbooks. I love that because it also makes me feel like I’m ready to cook. There’s inspiration everywhere. I feel like also mentally it prepares me because I think I can come up with something regardless of what ingredients I have. Sometimes, and I know every single person feels this, even chefs, you open the fridge and you’re like, “I don’t even know what to make.”

That’s me every day, Claudia. We need to talk about that later.

My point is, when you walk into a kitchen and you have these cookbooks, you’re like, “I can figure something out. Between all of these books and all of this inspiration, I’ve got to figure something out.” It makes me more inclined to cook at home instead of going out to cook or ordering in, which is easy to do when it’s one person. It’s the perfect excuse to be like, “I’m not going to dirty the whole kitchen.” Of course then I do, which is why my house is a mess right now. I’ve been cooking a lot. A lot of the problem with why it looks a complete disaster behind me is because I’m in the process of writing a cookbook. There’s stuff everywhere.

To answer the question fully, functionality is super key. For me, dishes and plates and things like that are away from the cooking area completely. Growing up, my mom would always have the plates right next to the stove. I don’t get that because functionality for me is most important. This happens in the kitchen when you’re on Master Chef. One of my biggest tips is to get all of your ingredients as soon as possible so that you don’t have to make trips back and forth. The less amount of back and forth that you do, the less likelihood of you burning your steak or burning your water. Having all of those things closer to your cooking area makes it easier where you just grab it. Whether it’s in drawers and things like that.

I have all of my pots and pans near me on all the bottom drawers on the left and right side, and then I have all of my spices on my left-hand side. On my right-hand side, I have some of my dry goods and things like that, legumes. Behind me, I have a whole pantry that’s an open pantry where I have actual racks, where I have all of my equipment because of course I have a million things of equipment. Everything from induction burners, if I need extra burners, because yes, I have five burners, but sometimes that’s not enough for a chef.

I have two induction burners. I have my mixer that don’t fit on the counter. Also, why do they need to be there if I’m not using them 90% of the time? I’ve moved that into the pantry space so that whenever I need them I can grab them and bring them out, and then once I’m done with them, wrap them up and put them away so that they’re not on my counter. That of course leaves me feeling like, “Look at my nice kitchen. It’s picture-perfect 90% of the time.”

I love that. I took a huge bold design risk. The wall that has the range, I took away all my upper cabinets because it was housing old mugs and old plates we never use. The shelves we have, I’m like you, we only have five plates. We don’t have that much dishware because then I wash it off and it never collects dust. Anyways, I’m thinking about your idea of putting more cooking stuff on there and then putting the plates in a drawer, which is great for the kids to reach. You just gave me a great idea.

Yeah, because it makes it a lot more functional.


I’m six feet tall,

I wish I was six feet, but, okay, go on.

Yeah, but for example, my cleaning lady, she can’t put the dishes up that high. She’s five-two, you know what I mean? Every time she comes, if there’s something that needs to go up, she’ll leave it on the counter and then I know that that has to go up. It’s those kinds of things. In terms of functionality, if you can make your space more functional, then you’re going to be so much better.

If you can make your space more functional, then you’re going to be just so much better. Click To Tweet

Going from functionality to mindset. I’m going to tell you my biggest pain point when it comes to meal prepping. I still have to cook every day. I love cooking for fun. I don’t like cooking for real because then it’s like a chore. What is your advice for someone like me who has a negative mindset about prepping. Chinese food, Asian food, there’s a lot of prep. There are cutting vegetables. There’s Japanese food. Forget about it. There’s so much prep. That’s why it’s so yummy, but I don’t know what it is.

I can’t, for the life of me, get past my thinking about the work. How do you help somebody like me so that I’ll enjoy the everyday cooking? It’s not that hard. It’s not I’m going to go cook a gourmet meal. It could be stir-fry, but I opt for the frozen bag of vegetables sometimes. I want to feed my kids more fresh stuff. What’s your advice?

A couple of things. I think knowing that sometimes you do need frozen veggies is also fair. You also need to forgive yourself for that because if I sat here and said, I make everything from scratch, I would be lying to you. I’m not going to go to Jang by myself. No, thank you. There are things that you should definitely consider. In terms of prep, I always use prep time as I think of it as self-care time. Let me explain.

Okay, please.

Whenever I’m getting ready to prep a meal or I have to prep ingredients, or I just came home from the grocery store and I need to prep some ingredients so that I can have them available for the rest of the week like Sunday prep or something. What I do is I’ll turn on my favorite podcast and it’s my opportunity to zone out. My rule with my daughter would be, “Don’t talk to me while I’m prepping. Don’t talk to me while my podcast is on.” Sometimes I would put on the speaker because then everyone can hear mom’s working right now, so leave her alone. It’s on in the kitchen. I’m listening to it. I don’t know about you, but I’m a podcast listener, especially with some of my crime ones. I’m like, “No.”


I’ll call somebody like my mom who I know I’m going to have a one-hour long conversation and I get through it. If I don’t want to do the dishes, for me it’s the dishes, I cannot do the dishes. I did so many dishes growing up because I was the eldest of four. Every time I would get scolded, it was like, “Go do the dishes.” I would be like, “No.” For me, dishes are my painstaking chore thing that I don’t like to do. Whenever I have to do the dishes, I’ll call my mom, I’ll turn on a podcast, and I reformatted in my brain as, this is my self-care time, this is my quiet time. I’m going to quiet my mind and I’m going to focus on the task.

So often, we are constantly filling our minds with all this stuff and your mind will not stop. If you are focused on a menial task like chopping or cleaning peas, which I hate, cleaning snow peas, or trimming haricot vert or something. I’ll turn on a podcast and for some reason, my mind stops with, “Tomorrow I have to go to the gym and I have to do this, and then after that, I have to go in this area.” My mind stops that. Those breaks are necessary.

I love that because pairing it with something that you love, and then also I love that so much that thank you for helping me because you know what I think when I’m meal prepping? I have five other things that I should be doing. That’s the wrong mindset because you’re going to always hate it then. That totally makes sense.

We’re always going to hate it.

Claudia, it’s time to wind down. I loved our time. I feel we could have talked another five hours.


I hope you can come back because there’s so much more to talk to you about, but truly what I love about you is your authenticity and your willingness to be real. That’s a gift. Not everybody is willing to do that. Thank you for bringing your light to all of us.

Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so grateful and I can’t wait to watch all of these podcasts and listen to you while I’m cooking.

Wouldn’t that be fun? I have a little secret message like, “Claudia, send me some Tamales right now.”

Send me some cookies. I have to ship you some food for sure.

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