BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: CAROLL LEE

Inspired by the power of nutrition and its healing benefits during her first pregnancy, Caroll Lee set out to create a company that fed people the foods to make them feel best. And on that day, the meal delivery service, Provenance Meals, was born. With a mission to share all she had learned, her company has grown to be a presence, and our favorite, in the growing category of home delivered meals. Caroll also believes that there is inherent power beyond the kitchen. Read on to learn about her journey, including what she always has in her fridge (expect Provenance Meals!) and a healing recipe that she relies on to keep herself, her family and all those beyond feeling their best. Reinvent your meals, and reinvent yourself.

What is your food philosophy? 

I believe you are what you eat. The food we eat every day is foundational for all the systems in our body and provides the information our cells use to create how we look, feel, sleep, move, and live. 

Beyond the science however, food means so many things to me emotionally. It’s pure joy and pleasure for all the senses, it’s excitement and anticipation, it’s nourishment and self care. Home cooked meals were one of the ways my mom expressed her love and it’s how I show love to my own children, friends, and family. There is nothing I love more than feeding myself and others in ways that will bring pleasure and nourishment to their mind, body, and spirit.

 

Tell us about Provenance and how it came to be. 

I grew up in the US as the daughter of Korean immigrants, and I was raised on the traditional food of Korea, which is usually an array of vegetable sides, grains, lots of soups, and a smaller amount of meat or fish. As I got older and made more of my own decisions about what to eat as I left for college and beyond, I started to get away from those traditional foods that nourished me. I gained weight, I had terrible stomach aches, I was drinking too much, and over time, I realized that the way I was feeding myself wasn’t serving me or my goals. 

When I experimented with going gluten-free, and eating less of the Standard American Diet of refined carbs and sugars, I had my “aha” moment and realized how good I can feel when I gave myself the right foods. And that’s when I started to study nutrition and experiment with what it means to nourish yourself in all of the ways, not just with food.

As a holistic health coach advising busy professionals, I found that the fastest way to provide the benefits of real food was to provide the meals my clients would eat every day, free of inflammatory triggers and packed with nutrient-dense ingredients, while never sacrificing on flavor. 

I started the business in 2012 and now almost ten years later we're delivering thousands of meals each week in New York City and Los Angeles plus our three-day reset program nationwide. Provenance is my way of helping people feel their best so they can simply thrive.

 

Do you have a favorite on the Provenance menu? 

Tough question! That’s a bit like picking my favorite child. I love variety, and depending on the day or the season, I might be craving a salad with crunchy veggies like our Hydrating Jicama Salad or comfort food like our Braised Short Ribs with Creamed Squash

I do get super excited when our Miso-Glazed Salmon with Tiger Salad and Black Rice is on the menu. I love to travel, and when I can’t jetset all over, I enjoy food as a way to evoke memories of favorite flavors and places. This dish reminds me of the time my family spent two weeks eating our way through Japan a few years ago. The Provenance menu is inspired by cuisines all over the world and is a fun and flavorful way to experience creative taste profiles and a variety of fresh ingredients (plus all the nutrients they contain).

 

What is the first meal you remember?

A favorite memory for me as a child was stirring a hot bowl of rice with a raw egg cracked in, drizzled with sesame oil, soy sauce, and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds with roasted seaweed. The egg cooks in the rice, creating a golden yolky sauce with tons of umami from the seaweed and soy sauce.

 

How did you get into cooking?

Like so many of us, I got into cooking through my mother. When I was young, I often stood by her on a stool while she was creating the most delicious Korean meals. I was the official taste tester. She would make a bulgogi marinade, and ask me if it tasted right. I’d tell her to add more of this or that and feel quite important as her assistant. As I grew older and could help more, I would make dumplings by hand or scrape the crispy rice off the bottom of the fried rice pan, or prepare canapes for cocktail parties my parents would throw, making shrimp toast and mini-meatballs. So very 1970s!

Working with my hands, tasting seasonings, smelling the different aromas emanating from the kitchen alongside my mom  – these were all the ways in which I came to love cooking.

 

How do you start the day?

Starting the day well for me means going to bed early enough that I’ll wake up early and without an alarm. While still waking up I like to pop my earphones in and do a guided meditation to start my day feeling centered. Then it’s a mad scramble waking up the kids and getting breakfast and lunch ready before they leave for school. The school food menu is your standard terrible institutional fare, and since I really care what my kids eat, I do way too much kitchen work before 8am every day!

Once both kids are out the door, I reward myself with a cup of coffee while sitting outside on my deck, checking emails and messages from the NY office. If there’s nothing urgent to attend to, I’ll take my dog for a walk and enjoy a bit more fresh air and sunshine on my face. Once home, I make my Camu Cacao Superfood shake, take my daily supplements (vitamin D3+K, Flourish probiotic, and omega 3 fish oil), and then turn my attention back to my work day. 

What's always in your fridge? 

Kimchi! I know it’s time to head to Koreatown when the kimchi jar is running low. I want that slightly sour, funky, spicy flavor with just about every savory meal. I love pickles and sauerkraut and kombucha, too, so I am quite sure it’s the bacteria in my gut microbiome that are encouraging me to stock all these fermented foods in my fridge. Green onions, gochujang, miso, and curry paste are always present as my staples to make Korean/Asian meals.

I also have fish thawing from Seatopia - a monthly frozen seafood delivery that, like Provenance, is committed to providing the cleanest, most delicious and sustainable product to discerning eaters - plus fresh produce and other goodies from my weekly regenerative farm box from Flamingo Estate. I moved to California last summer from NYC and am thoroughly awed by the amazing produce available to me year round. There’s always something new to try and the weekends are when I look up new recipes and generally play with my food.

 

What’s always in your pantry?

Our Camu Cacao Superfood Powder from Provenance is my go-to protein powder of choice for morning smoothies, hot chocolate, and any baked goods where I want to add chocolatey deliciousness while boosting the nutritional value with plant-based protein and antioxidants. It also has digestive enzymes and pre/probiotics so it’s really great for the gut. We designed this protein powder to be one of the cleanest on the market. It contains zero harmful and inflammatory ingredients found in other protein powders like artificial or “natural” flavors, gums or additives.

I have a big tea collection. Provenance Herbal Detox Tea satisfies my craving for something slightly sweet after a meal. I have Supernatural’s Goodnight Moon for bedtime, plus CAP Beauty Matcha and various teas from my travels. 

I try all the different oils and vinegars for cooking and always have a big variety of beans, nuts, and grains, especially rices like sushi, jasmine, and basmati.

Plus more Asian food staples - tamari, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, mirin, rice vinegar, fish sauce, dried seaweeds, and shiitake mushrooms.

What do you turn to, to make you feel your best: food and all the other practices?

Of course Provenance is my go-to source for feeling good. It's incredibly convenient to have ready-to-eat meals on hand during the work week. Plus I know I feel best when I’m eating a rainbow of organic vegetables, sustainably-sourced fish, and pasture-raised eggs and meat. I don’t feel great when I’ve been eating too much gluten, dairy, or refined sugars, and all Provenance meals are free of those. 

Now that I’m in warm and sunny southern California, hydration has become key to feeling well, so I make sure to drink a good amount of filtered water with lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt to restore electrolytes and minerals, or Provenance chia frescas which are a form of gel water that actually hydrate your cells better than regular water.

When work and life have me feeling overwhelmed or stressed, I usually need to switch it up and focus on play! Getting outside and moving my body is what I need after a long day of work in front of the laptop. The weather is just about perfect year-round here, and one thing my husband and I have started doing is playing pickleball on the local tennis courts. It’s fast, fun, and it gets me out of my head and into my body. I love that my main form of exercise is no longer “working out” but instead, playing a game.

 

Favorite kitchen tool?

My rice cooker. Perfect fluffy rice every time. It’s also the cooking task that I taught my kids early on, so that they could help get dinner on the table without any risk of them cutting or burning themselves. 

 

What would we be most surprised to find in your kitchen?

A box of Frosted Flakes. It was my son’s 13th birthday recently, and his big sister gave him something she knew he rarely gets and often wants, which is crappy processed food with lots of sugar!

 

What ingredients are staples in your home?

I can eat soup any time of year and no surprise, Korean soups and stews are my favorite. The unique flavor I crave comes from the “myeolchi gukmul”, or Korean-style anchovy stock that is similar to the dashi broth used in Japanese cooking. With dried shiitake mushrooms, dried kombu seaweed, anchovies, and onions, it’s relatively quick to prepare any number of traditional soups like miyeok guk (seaweed soup eaten after pregnancy and on birthdays), tteok guk (rice cake soup enjoyed on New Year’s Day) and soondubu (silken tofu stew). I keep these staple ingredients on hand so that a delicious, mineral-rich soup is never far away. 

 

In the world of health, who do you turn to for inspiration?

Everyone who is putting out the good word of Food as Medicine! I hear so many stories from our clients of how their lives were improved when they changed their diet. And there are so many other amazing companies and practitioners out there that also seek to educate and help people reclaim their health. I’m inspired by the functional medicine doctors, the whole food and plant-based chefs, and the organizations that work to make healthy food more accessible than fast food. I feel a real shift of consciousness is happening.

I’m a lifelong learner and I love reading all the books on holistic health as well. Currently on my night stand is Breath by James Nestor, Why We Get Sick by Benjamin Bikman, and How To Do The Work by Dr. Nicole LePera.

 

How do you end your day?

My skincare routine right before bed is my transition into dreamland. I oil cleanse and then do facial gua sha. As soon as I start the routine, I take deep breaths and let go of the day. It’s very relaxing. I was motivated to learn more about skincare a few years ago – attempting to slow down the aging process I suppose – but since then it’s turned into a calming ritual which is much more about self-care than any fear of getting older.

 

Go-to meal that you make for yourself more often than not?

Kimchi fried rice is my comfort food. Rich in probiotic bacteria from the kimchi, it's also very gut-healing. We make a fancier breakfast rice bowl version for Provenance that features gorgeously poached eggs, but this is my simple home cook version of the recipe that is perfect for a quick meal and uses up odds and ends from my vegetable drawer.

 

Kimchi Fried Rice

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive, avocado oil, or ghee

½ small onion, diced

½ cup assorted diced vegetables (for example broccoli, carrots, spinach)

½ cup chopped napa cabbage kimchi

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp kimchi juice

1 cup cooked and cooled brown or white short grain rice

 

Garnish: Chopped Scallions, Sesame Seeds, Tamari, Roasted Sesame Oil

Optional: Fried Egg

Heat oil in a nonstick or cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add onion and saute 5 minutes until transparent. Add vegetables, kimchi, garlic and stir fry 5 minutes or until cooked through. Add kimchi juice, then stir in rice, breaking up clumps. Press down in pan and let cook without stirring until the bottom layer of rice starts to get crispy (but not burnt). Stir a few more minutes more, scraping up the crispy bits. Garnish with chopped scallions, sesame seeds and a drizzle of tamari and roasted sesame oil, and top with a runny fried egg if desired.

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