I am one of the lucky ones! As a child, I spent early mornings searching for the freshly laid eggs under the hens’ warm belly. Weekends were spent milking cows at our friends’ farm and by age five, I delighted in telling my friends what was growing in our vegetable garden, my pride and joy. I knew when the raspberries were ready to be picked, soon to be made into jam. I savoured the warm sweetness of a fresh fig straight from the tree and looked forward to the autumn bringing the prickly chestnuts to roast over an open fire. From a very young age, this was all common knowledge, for no other reason than my parents exposed me to it. My snacks weren’t sugary packets of processed foods found in the pantry, they were found by wandering into the garden and sneaking the fresh peas or ripe strawberries. That was the landscape of food I was taught and I grew up being surrounded by. Food made me feel a certain way and allowed me to express myself and I feel lucky to have had healthy produce, a passion for food, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle from my early years.
Brought up in a Sicilian/British household in Australia, my Sicilian grandmother had a passion for simple healthy food that tasted great. It was from the depths of her beloved kitchen where she taught me to create mouth-watering recipes that had remained unchanged through countless generations before her. Over many years I went on to learn the art of cooking in her company. Through her, true conviviality is in my heart, food that evokes emotion and connects to the body, people and the seasons. Even as a young girl, I have memories of play kitchens where I would cook with my grandmothers worn saucepans and crockery just as she had taught me using the seasonal produce grown proudly in my grandfathers vegetable garden. Thankfully however, these days my guests are a lot more passionate about sampling my creations than they were back then when I would try to convince my family to try my rose petal, green pepper and parsley smoothies or my scrumptious cumquat and basil infused mud cakes!
Cooking for me, as it was for my Nonna (and my mother) is an expression of love. I am a feeder! I remember my Nonna cooking for us and standing over her little grandchildren feeling so happy she had fed them and therefore imparted her love upon us. She would hover and fuss over us while we were eating her pasta, adding more parmesan or olive oil, making sure it was going to be the best eating experience possible. She would say ‘mangia, mangia’ if we even so much as stopped for a breathe to admire the food we were eating. She loved nothing more than watching us eat the fruits of her labour. It made her beam from ear to ear and I know those days spent in her kitchen teaching me how to cook were some of her happiest. We never conversed in the same language, but that didn’t seem to matter. We didn’t need words to describe how food should taste or look. We had our bond and a true understanding of food. Once my Nonna had left my side, I continued to experiment and by my teens had become an accomplished baker. As a distraction from studying I would bake and feed my family yet again, following recipes from my mothers recipe book collection.
Somehow the idea of turning my passion for cooking and all things related to food seemed to bypass me as a possible career path through my teenage years. Fascinated by natural health and wanting to help others make the link between their symptoms and environment in my early twenties I found myself a graduate from the Southern School of Natural Therapies with a 4-year degree in Naturopathy. Looking back on it now, my fascination with natural health started on a day when my mother took me to see the local naturopath in our town. I remember sitting in her consulting room with her asking me questions that no other practitioner had ever asked me. I was 16, borderline anaemic and showing early signs of glandular fever. I remember she asked me to show her my nails (taking note of the white spots on each nail), then taking each lower eyelid in her finger and slightly pulling it down to expose my eyeball. She looked at my mother and told her that my body was under tremendous stress and the signs were clear that if I didn’t slow down and mitigate the stress I would continue down the road towards glandular fever and chronic fatigue. She had noticed and described everything that I had been feeling internally just from looking at the external signs of my body and it was all true! At that stage of my life I was an athlete, putting my body through hours of punishing training, sometimes up to 7-8 hours a day on weekends. I was the state volleyball captain for my age group and trying to manage school, exams, homework and a boyfriend in the mix as well. I loved every minute of my life but I was doing too much and my 16 year old body just couldn’t cope (having B vitamins injected into my arm just to keep me going at tournaments was the icing on the cake). My naturopath had seen the signs, I had been ignoring and I was fascinated by her diagnostic techniques. I was hooked! I changed all career aspirations of becoming a sports psychologist and started to steer myself in the direction of becoming a naturopath.
From a clinic in Melbourne and with mentor Greg Connolly by my side, I practiced for many years, treating patients’ will all sorts of ailments, from weight loss, infertility, hypertension, to many different types of cancer. It was here my passion for how the body related to its environment and what we fed it started to really make sense. Specialising in nutrition & herbal medicine I developed a strong understanding of how our bodies healed and interacted with their surroundings. But by the young age of 24, I felt there was a wisdom I lacked to become the practitioner I yearned to be. This also coincided at a time in my life when my curiosity of unexplored shores could no longer be ignored. The instinctual explorer within me began to grow restless and I yearned to be back in the same aromas my Nonna had produced from her kitchen. The destination was obvious and the excitement I felt at being free to explore a new unknown was intoxicating, however I was completely unaware at the time, just how big a step I was about to take onto that plane. Off to chase the sunset and a brand new sunrise, my step into the unknown took me to an enchanting 15th century villa, deep within the rolling hills of the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy. This is where my childhood passion for cooking and all things related to food began to surface within me once more. Working as an au pair, Tuscany was an education of food, language, love and a journey of self-discovery I had not expected. After 8 months spent enjoying the pleasures of hot summer days, lazy afternoon siestas and the abundance of Italian produce I packed my suitcase yet again and embarked on my next adventure. This time en-route to the French Alps, I had enlisted myself as a chalet girl, hoping to find a winter of fun on the slopes. Not having ever skied before I was setting myself the task of learning a new skill. However, the universe had a different plan, as the chef was fired with only days before our first guests arrived, the apron swung my way and so began an alpine winter in my first ever kitchen as a chef. With literally only 48 hours to prepare before the first guests arrived eager to taste their winter chalet delights, I set to work creating dishes I knew well but had never thought I would serve to paying customers.
And so, with two years of summer to winter seasonal chef jobs, I found myself moving to London on a whim of love. Having been swept off my feet by an Englishman, I took a position as a private chef in Notting Hill and continued my journey with food in the metropolis. Writing my first recipe book, detailing the memoirs and travel photography of the adventures from the previous two years ‘Suitcases of recipes’ was published by Vagabond in Norway 2012. Taking my inspiration from my surroundings, nature & the seasons. My creative mind feels at home when surrounded by fresh produce. To me, being creative is simply the experience of bringing attention to something and making it more beautiful than it was before you started. For me, I experience this every time I step into the kitchen. The simple act of taking 3 to 4 raw ingredients and bringing them together to create a dish is simply my heaven. There is a saying “the sum of its parts is greater then its individual parts” and for me, this is the art of cooking, of creating a dish from simple individual ingredients. I never tire of taking different ingredients and finding new ways to bring them together. All it takes is a simple image or visit to the local farmers market for a creative journey to spark a flow of ideas leading to a new dish.
MY JOURNEY INTO YOGA
Having spent 12 years through my teenage years and early 20’s as a sportswoman, my first experience of yoga didn’t come until a friend of mine invited me to join her for a candle lit class one evening in London. I was 28 and after an hour of twisting, stretching and sweating my way through a dynamic power yoga class I collapsed onto my mat utterly exhausted but also feeling completely alive. Somehow I had found peace, elation and clarity in the process of these difficult poses. Immediately quitting my gym membership, I took a part-time position as a receptionist at the yoga studio and again my life changed direction. Within 6 months, the yoga studio had expanded and so had my life with it. The owners of ‘The Power Yoga Company’ in Parsons Green asked me if I would like to open a cafe within their yoga studio and from there the brand ‘Retreat’ was born. In September 2013 I opened my first healthy eating, vegetarian food cafe, one of the first on the scene to offer Londoner’s a gluten, sugar and meat-free offering. I was finally able to combine my passions for food and holistic health.
I opened my second cafe at Triyoga Soho in May 2014 and by June 2014 we added a commercial kitchen to the mix as well. Life was happening at break-neck speed and I was barely able to take a breathe amongst the demands of two cafes open for 14 hours of the day, 7 days a week as well as a commercial kitchen producing our wholesale items to other local businesses. In May 2015 I opened a third cafe in Putney and now life was truly, without any exaggeration, busy! By the autumn of 2015, I had reached a point of no return, deeply unhappy, unmotivated and completely burnt out from running the cafes. What a strange day to wake up and realise that I had actively created a business that I could only describe at the time as ‘a monster’! In my next blog I will go into this period of my life in much more depth, describing the disconnection from myself and how I found a way back to a balanced and fulfilling life again.
2015 was a strange year, because it was a year of such despair and elation in equal measure. Receiving a book deal to write ‘The Yoga Kitchen‘ in August 2015, I achieved one of my life’s greatest accomplishments. With a six week deadline, I poured my heart and soul into this book and by May 2016 I was able to walk into my local bookstore and see my face looking back at me from the shelves. How surreal and utterly humbling at the same time. Publishing and having ‘The Yoga Kitchen‘ on sale in over 9 countries worldwide fills me with such pride and gratitude.
BEING A NATUROPATH
The key aspect to how a naturopath views the human body is the recognition of a vital force energy. Seen as the same energy which flows through the universe and nature. A depletion of this vital force is believed to be the root cause of illness and a naturopath will restore this vital force to a patient, so the body will heal itself naturally.
Therefore, we are able to see our symptoms as simply our bodies way of trying to tell us what it needs. We tend to pathologise and medicate the very signals that our bodies send us to direct us toward health. These symptoms are not annoyances that we need to numb or just ignore, they are important messages that we can use to seek our own wellness. I help my patients listen to the language of their bodies and together, we treat the underlying causes of their symptoms, so they can avoid more serious disease and discover real, lasting health.