I turned 55 this week! I feel UNBELIEVABLY grateful that I get to do what I do in the realm of food and healing, and for the opportunity to keep learning something new along the way.
I did not grow up knowing that I was going to be a chef, author, educator, and culinary translator. Some people know. They’re very clear. The road is carved out before them. They’re going to be doctors or firemen. For me, the role of food and nutrition wasn’t even on my radar. I was a young thespian. Starting at the age of 8 I used to imitate Ethel Merman. I was a theater major at Northwestern University. I always thought when I grew up that I was going to sing in a chorus in a Broadway musical. In truth, I peaked at the age of 16 as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.
After I graduated from college, my route was a very circuitous one. In my 20’s, I moved to New York City, where I did all manner of things, from designing windows on Madison Avenue to being a fashion stylist to becoming a marketing professional, which is where I spent the next 10 years of my life. I became a super workaholic. This didn’t work out well health-wise, which led to a pivotal shift in my life. Have you been there before, too? A health crisis makes you fully take stock because you really don’t have a choice.
But the transformation didn’t happen overnight. I kept working at a really high level pace. Finally, when I was 35, I took, what I refer to, as my “life sabbatical” and went to Italy. I arrived in Rome with no luggage and no language -- a hard thing for a woman used to talking her way in and out of anything. During that time, when I had to really listen to what was going on in the inside, I heard my calling. I became totally immersed in the universal language of food. I was so hungry for it. Literally. It took that simple experience of being around my first culinary mentor and a bunch of Italian grandmothers to make me look at the power that food has to heal, both body and soul.
That moment when you know you’ve hit your sweet spot.
On my return from Italy, I enrolled in culinary school at the Natural Gourmet Institute. I was truly on my path. I was chomping at the bit! But I had such perspective gained through my previous work life. When you’re back in school at 37, there's a THIRST for learning! I was like a sponge.
After receiving my chef certification, I talked the Executive Chef at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing (in La Jolla, California, at the time) into letting me do my externship there. I trusted in the unknowable, filled my Volvo with my pots and pans, and drove west.
That is where things really started to happen for me.
From there, I worked in in a few restaurant kitchens in Northern California, which was like navigating a culinary pirate ship. Then, I received a phone call that would change the trajectory of my career. I landed at Commonweal, cooking for people with cancer. If I had any doubts about the power of food to catalyze contentment, it was cooking for these people that resonated with me. In the Commonweal kitchen, I grew to understand that to help people feel well-nourished at a deeper level was an important part of their healing journey. A healthy connection to food translated to a healthy connection with life. People came alive. That’s when I knew with absolute certainty that this was my path.
In my 40’s, I became even more empowered by foods ability to nourish and heal. I wrote my first cookbook and got a Master of Science in Nutrition (which almost killed me). If anyone had said to me years before that I would be doing this, I would have said, no way! I could NOT have written that script. But what a journey! And aren’t those the best kind, when you’re not quite sure what’s around the corner?
I often think that the reason I feel so passionate about what I do is that food, like life itself, is always changing. There’s nothing static about it! And yet, there are constants, like the seasons. I know when the Meyer lemons are going to burst on my trees, but it always surprises and delights me when I see the first ripe one drop off. The same with the first ripe tomato. The same with the smell of that first apple. The crunch. Predictable and unpredictable, at the same time.
From the culinary perspective, there’s something new in the kitchen every day!
Food for me is really such a sensory experience. It’s like being in surround sound, or being in a 3-D movie. Food is an invitation live a technicolor life, because of the colors, the scents, the flavors, and the deep magic and wisdom. While I’ve learned about the science of food, I’ve also connected profoundly with what our ancestors always knew, and what the grandmothers around the world have taught for centuries.
It’s that feeling that you are a part of something so much greater than yourself.
When I was young I didn’t have the perspective to see that. But now I’m at a place where I get to inspire, to teach and to share my experience with others; and to continue to learn and be humbled by others as well. The circle of life. A mandala.