Growing up in an Italian family meant I grew up around food, and lots of it! Food was encouraged, enjoyed and talked about all the time; it was at the heart of everything we did. Every aspect of growing, picking, cooking, preserving, eating, composting and harvesting brought us all together as a family and a community. These rituals were common knowledge to me because I was exposed to it. I searched for the freshly laid eggs under the hens’ warm belly. I knew what was growing in the vegetable garden each season. I waited impatiently for the raspberries to be ripe enough to be picked and loved hiding in the rows of fresh garden peas, podding and eating handfuls all to myself. The seasons and how to grow, cook and enjoy food was central to my daily life. Now, in my adulthood, food is still my connection to nature and to the natural ways of the world. The seasons are my guide to my own bodily rhythms and cycles and even though I don’t grow my own vegetables these days, I still find myself drawn to farmers markets and places where I can connect to food.
For me, one of the most beautiful things about food, are the stories they have to tell and the lessons we can learn from them. If those stories start being told, then those lessons can be learnt and passed onto younger generations, as they were to me. As a chef, I am motivated to inspire others to search for their own stories and learn their own lessons from the foods they eat and prepare. Food can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. My interpretation of food is based on my life and the experiences I have had and the flavours I like to combine. I think the most important thing to remember is that food is extremely personal.
WHY I’LL NEVER LABEL MY DIET
Over time my passion around food has greatly changed and now I find I am at a stage where feeding my body what it needs and educating my patients how to learn this art is a true passion of mine. What my body needs at certain stages of life is different to every other person on this planet. This individuality is something I hold onto very strongly and respect in all of us. That is why there is no one-fits-all diet and never will be. We could also argue that is why we find our society, as a whole is so confused about what we should eat for our health. No government guidelines could ever cover the individuality of the mass population and nor should we expect it to.
I believe each one of us needs to learn the art of eating for our own bodies. We have to take responsibility for our own health and diet by becoming our own experimental guinea pigs. When we start to connect to how certain foods make us feel then we can start to piece together what works for us and what we need to leave out. We now live in a world where people consciously choose to remove large food groups or specific types of foods from their diet as a way towards health. It can be so hard to know where to position ourselves amongst the confusing information regarding nutrition and well-being. Often peoples, individual choices are made out of necessity due to an intolerance or allergy but what we must remember is that a grain-free diet for one person may be correct for a certain period of time and for a certain health related reason but cannot be assumed to be correct for another at that time in their life. That is why I will never label my diet, because I chose to listen to my body. What it needed as a teenager while I was training as an athlete was different to what my body needs now, it will be different in my pregnancies and my menopausal years, so calling myself a vegetarian or a vegan who eats some eggs is a limiting label and could cause me more harm than good over a lifetime. The message I want to convey here is that it’s about listening to our bodies needs and feeding it according to its many factors such as environment, age, manifesting symptoms and emotional needs at that very moment in time and if you are going to make a dietary change then you must be in tune with your body and make sure you are listening to its needs rather than following a trend.
Most people assume I am a vegan or gluten-free in my dietary habits, but when they see me tucking into a breakfast of eggs and smoked salmon, they think again. For the majority of the time, I choose to eat a vegetarian, gluten, dairy and sugar-free lifestyle but I never allow myself to become dogmatic about it. My body is free to have whatever it lets me know it wants. I often have cravings for certain vegetables; rocket and mushrooms are a common theme as is yoghurt and halloumi cheese!
If I could make one wish, it would be that we could all become a little less controlling about our diets and live in a place of palate freedom with a good dose of connection to our own bodies and education around the good and bad stuff. Allowing a balance of connection, discipline, common sense and indulgence to be our approach. Mine is and I hope yours can be too.