It took me 27 years to accept that I was obsessed with food.
My grandmother, as it's told, was an incredible cook. I knew her only for the first half of my life, during which I ate her famed gefilte fish, mandel bread and chicken soup. The gefilte fish was an especially exacting process - from selecting the proper carp by gazing deeply into the eyes of the fishmonger's offerings to seek out the specimen with the clearest eyeballs, to feeding the fish into the hand-cranked meat grinder for the slow, steady yielding of fish paste. Slightly sweet, unidentifiable mounds of grey, ground-up fish with a slice or two of slimy carrot on top - something that should not taste good, and yet, my mouth still waters at just the thought of it.
As a side gig before I was born, my mother ran her own catering company, Taste Buds, serving up thoroughly 1980s hors d'oeuvres and desserts, like shrimp toasts and meringue mushrooms. She can cook from any recipe brilliantly, and knows how to whip egg whites into mountainous peaks and how to properly clean a copper bowl with a lemon half (and, not to leave my father out, as he taught me some of the most important lessons of all - the fine art of the salad, the intricacies of the grocery store and the farmer's market, and how to repurpose leftovers). Little did I know, for years my mother was wondering which of her two daughters received the gastronomy gene.
I was the least likely candidate. I was an overweight child addicted to processed sugar and salt, and when I was able, as a teenager, to get a handle on my diet and exercise, food became the enemy - the source of what made me fat in the first place and a thing to be avoided at all costs.
For two decades I was totally afraid of food, until I started teaching myself about it. My first food education was Fast Food Nation – an eye-opening expose that was way ahead of its time. I gave up red meat for years as a result of reading Schlosser’s work, unable to disassociate the food on my plate from the dirty slaughterhouses and disenfranchised workers left in the wake of the American food industry. In college I stretched this to vegetarianism, and eventually veganism. I kept a completely unsustainable diet of brown rice and steamed veggies supplemented with Swedish Fish, Saltines and the occasional slice of vegan red velvet cake from my local coffee shop. Not surprisingly, I was back on animal products six months later.
My preoccupation with food persisted, however, and I continued to explore - Michael Pollan, Harold McGee, the introductions to dozens of cookbooks, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Lucky Peach, Modern Farmer - and my want-to-read list grows and grows. I turned my attention inward, heeding my own physical and emotional responses to what I was eating. I dropped processed dairy from my diet, started reading the ingredients instead of the nutrition facts (which I recommend as the first two steps for every person) and found it easy to pinpoint the things that triggered bloating, stomach pain, and general ickiness. Soaking and sprouting nuts, eating grains in their whole form and seeking probiotics from different sources have been particularly impactful practices I have picked up.
As I became more particular and fine-tuned the specific ingredients and nutrients that made me feel best, I started cooking my own food. My friend recommended a blog to me, Deliciously Ella, and it was a revelation. Not only could I eat whatever I wanted, plant-based and dairy-free, but I also really enjoyed cooking. I cooked for my family all summer long – salads and grains and pies and ice cream sandwiches . As my skills and tastes developed, I branched out to the work of other chefs, particularly Sarah Britton, who has a wonderful, holistic view of food and how it affects our whole being, and Amy Chaplin, whose cookbook At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen is my bible.
I aim to achieve culinary well-being with whole foods - unrefined, unhulled, unbleached, fibrous, vibrant, rich, misshapen - figuring out why they make us feel good and where they come from. I love to eat, and I love to eat a lot - that is why I always cook with my body in mind: everything nutrient-dense with the intent of feel-good feasting.