For years, in relation to my health, my body, my consciousness, I was on one of those memorably manic taxi rides, not sure if I would make it out alive but trusting that I'd be forever changed if I did. Those painful years of questions and struggles delivered me to the space I occupy today, and I have no regrets. I am grateful to be present here, and wouldn't change a thing about my arrival, despite how frustrated and alone I felt along the way. As a little girl, I was diagnosed lactose intolerant, but consumed dairy regardless, only to make myself exceedingly sick. At the time, flavor and mouthfeel were the only issues of importance to me; nutrient density of food never crossed my mind. I also had chronic ear infections, as I was a swimmer, and took antibiotics often. In high school and college I explored vegetarianism, consuming loads of the trendy soy and wheat based meat substitutes that were so prevalent in the early aughts. It was at this point that I really began cooking for myself, and experiencing the autonomy and power of making my own choices. After gaining weight and suffering with painful digestive disturbances while eating vegetarian, I decided to investigate how eating animal protein again might effect my pain and my proportions. I began educating myself on holistic nutrition, digestive disorders, and in what way food influences our energy, hormones, mood, weight, hydration, skin, hair, breath, everything! My symptoms were so severe at this time that I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy to determine if I actually had something "wrong" with me. I was diagnosed with a rather rare disease called microscopic collagenous colitis. I was advised by my GI to eat a low fiber, low fat diet. He actually recommended saltine crackers. It was at that very moment that the record abruptly skipped, and I realized I did not trust this doctor, and I was not going to listen to another word he said. Because just how in the world was I going to lead a successful, exuberant, abundant life eating saltine crackers.
I've always been the rebellious type, but this time the rebellion felt not only warranted but absolutely crucial. I had to heal myself, and I had to do it with food. And not the low fiber kind. My entire lifestyle had to shift, and I was ready to take the control back into my own capable hands. No more being led entirely by flavor, addictions, convenience, or cost. Everything was about to change.
I'd attended the University of Georgia, where I'd earned a BFA, and had moved to New York City following graduation in 2008. Soon after my diagnosis I left Brooklyn and took a job as a live-in nanny in the Hamptons for a lovely family that have become dear friends of mine. As part of the help that I offered them, I cooked dinner most nights for the entire family. I was beginning to experiment with gluten-free foods, sourcing vegetables and fruits from local Hamptons farms and super fresh fish from local shops. The ingredients were so incredible that all the food tasted fantastic, looked gorgeous, and smelled divine, just by highlighting the ingredients in their purest form. This was in 2009, before the farm to table trend truly exploded, but I was living the farm to table life, and I was hooked.
The next summer, that family recommended me to one of their clients who was looking for a private chef to cook for him and his son. I met with the gentlemen, we vibed, and I was hired. I cooked inspired nightly dinners for those two, created fun gluten-free breakfast recipes that replicated comfort food classics, and entertained groups of 20+ regularly. It was during that summer that I really started to find my voice as a chef. When the summer ended, I was hired to stay on full-time, and I moved all my stuff out to Sag Harbor from Brooklyn.
After almost a year preparing breakfast and dinner for that client and his son, I began to feel called to share my healing food with more and more people. I was hired to go into three different Hamptons clients' houses per week, to prepare dishes to be stored in glass containers and eaten by their family over the next couple days. This was a terrific way for me to influence how a family feeds it's children, how a family discusses food, how much free time parents have to spend directly with their kids instead of in the kitchen cooking. I was creating entirely gluten-free dishes for three large families, and none of the kids were complaining. No one even seemed to notice the lack of gluten in the food, the meals were that fresh, delicious, and satisfying. It started to dawn on me that gluten is not necessary, it's just what we are used to falling back on as a sandwich society.
After being so profoundly effected by the direct impact I was making on peoples' lives and health, I began thinking even bigger. I'd lived in Brooklyn for nearly a year before taking that first job in the Hamptons, and had returned to live in Brooklyn again, even though I was working for clients on Long Island a few times a week. The farms were out East, but my heart was pulled to the creative, exciting, artistic center that the city provided, also being a musician and visual artist. And more and more, urban farms existed all over NYC, so I was able to source super fresh ingredients even in the City! In 2011 I moved back to Brooklyn full-time and opened The One Well, a lifestyle shop in Greenpoint, featuring locally made artisan products for the home and body. Each line we carried was hand selected by me, and all our makers focused on sustainability in their process, and utilized organic ingredients in their products. The shop became a haven for safe, beautiful, covetable items, from skincare to furniture, jewelry to ceramics, and of course delectable edibles. We got positive press, and were adored by the community. It was an honor to humbly present treasures to my neighbors and friends that moved and inspired me, and to watch my customers share my sentiments. The One Well was an awe-inspiring installation art piece, and I am so proud of the positive change it created for the conscious-minded folks that called us their favorite store in NYC.
While continuing to run the shop, I took on a client in Manhattan that changed my game completely. This client suffered from Hashimoto's, an auto-immune disease which I later learned I also suffer from. For this client and her family, I focused on a strict gluten-free, very low-grain, dairy-free diet, basically following the Paleo protocol. I began fermenting my own sauerkraut, jun, and kombucha, experimenting further with raw desserts, and creating smoothies every morning for breakfast. The kids adored my shakes as much as the parents did, and it occurred to me that everyone responds positively to fresh, beautiful, nutrient-dense food, if it's prepared with love. And so, it became my goal to create as many healthful versions of naughty favorites as possible, and to keep them around for my clients' snack attacks. This became my sort of calling card, and again helped in developing my voice as a chef.
Nowadays I combine everything I've learned from each individual client and experience into one overall ethos regarding the food I make. Whether I'm cooking vegan, which I do quite often, or vegetarian, or Paleo, the dishes I create are always gluten-free. I don't use dairy. I believe in slow food, both in preparing the meal and consuming the meal. We digest better when we take the time to smell our food, gaze upon it, and discuss it as we gratefully and thoroughly enjoy it. I believe in eating raw and whole living food as much as possible. I believe in buying organic, not only so that we avoid consumption of pesticides and herbicides, but so we make a smaller negative impact on our constant provider, mother earth. I'm a mega fan of buying local whenever possible, and patronize farmer's markets weekly, no matter in what town I find myself. I keep my own garden and love to keep a garden on my clients' properties, as well. I believe in food rotation, and enjoying the bevy of nutrients provided by different foods in our diets. After all, variety is the spice of life! I never use the microwave and I never use a deep fryer, but I also rarely say never. I believe there are inventive ways to mimic clients' favorite naughty foods with whole food ingredients, and I am determined to find them all! I don't shy away from brunch favorites like waffles, french toast, and banana bread, nor regional favorites like eggplant parmesan, pad thai, or fajitas, and since I'm from the South, I certainly don't eschew soul food. I just prepare everything "my way," which means real, pronounceable ingredients, and no gluten, dairy, or refined sugar. The end result is usually more gorgeous than the restaurant version, and more delicious as well. You've got to experience my food to believe it! I strongly believe any chosen diet is not about being perfect, and it's certainly not about shame. I feel better when I eat the way I conceptually want to eat, which includes choosing to have a direct relationship with where my food comes from, and respecting that chain above all else. And my wish for my clients is to feel their cleanest, their lightest, their strongest, and their most connected, through the food with which I help to fuel their bodies.
In delicious health,