Tell us about your venture into the world of food and beverage. Where did it all begin?
I grew up in a well fed household in Northeastern Wisconsin; for many years my parents had a verdant vegetable garden and summer weekends were punctuated with a stop at the local farmers market.
My mother, Sheila, had a laundry list of delicious recipes that she could seemingly produce at any given moment. And for those that took more thought there was an enviable library of cookbooks. My father had a handful of dishes that were not necessarily perfect, but perfectly him… I’m quite sure that Scotty’s Spaghetti Sauce will continue to be a thing of legend well into my nieces and nephew’s late years.
You're a certified holistic health coach. Has food and wellbeing always been inextricably linked or was there an experience that led you towards a holistic way of thinking about food?
I spent about 4 years as a vegan, hosting elaborate dinner parties, and eventually working at a friend’s vegan restaurant, Flore in Los Angeles. This led me to study at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, a predominantly vegetarian school, where I started to really question how the food I ate made me feel, where it came from and what was appropriate for my body and the bodies of my soon to be clients. This was when I realized that the vegan lifestyle I was living wasn’t supporting me in the best way and I slowly transitioned back to an omnivorous diet, armed with new tools to make informed choices.
From there I took it a step further and attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which added on layers of health and wellness education that truly allow me to compose a holistic portrait and pinpoint zones of imbalance in everything from diet, to home, to the workplace.
You’ve transitioned from the life of an a-list private chef and health food advisor to the chef and partner of a busy restaurant. How has your relationship with food changed? Are those two worlds so far apart?
Hah, well I have a deep fryer now… so that would be the main difference. Seriously though, my vision at Highly Likely isn’t to force feed “health food” to people, or push any sort of diet agenda, it’s to make fresh food that is representative of my style while offering something for everyone, be it a friend who’s a gluten-intolerant vegan (Kerrilynn I’m looking at you) or the guy who comes in every morning for a fried fish sandwich. So I wouldn’t say the worlds are so far apart, more coexisting comfortably under the same roof.
Coming from the Midwest I’d be a traitor if I didn’t enjoy a little trash on occasion. My walk-in is always stocked with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Tecate, I eat at least a handful of our hand cut French fries every day and I might have some Oreo Thins next to my bed. Moderation is, of course, the key.
What inspires your menu and recipe design? Is there a rhythm to your creative process?
For Highly Likely specifically I knew that the menu had to be inclusive, fun and affordable while maintaining a high standard of product sourcing: organic when possible, pasture raised proteins, wild caught fish. And from there I plugged in my flavors, techniques, memories. I scoured the markets, sourced bread and pastries from the most amazing bakers here in LA, Bub and Grandma’s and Bakers Kneaded, and mostly tried to take in the needs of the neighborhood, one that has been historically underserved.
I’ve enjoyed working with these parameters just as much if not more than the sky high budgets I often encountered working as a private chef; boundaries force creativity. And now that we’ve been up and running for a few months, I get to filter the suggestions of our regulars and staff, tweaking here and there, and trying out new things and seasonal items at our regular Sunday Supper pop ups.
The cafe has a constant flow of hungry visitors, from open to close. How do you balance it all? Do you have any daily practices that anchor you and keep you balanced?
Honestly, I don’t… My work/life balance is insanely out of whack! We’re still so new and open 7 days a week. I haven’t been to yoga in months. I’m lucky if I can remember to get a lypospheric vitamin C down!
The daily practices that are keeping me anchored are waking up early and simply resting in bed for 30 minutes before I head into the café, then once I arrive to the café around 7:30 my favorite person in the world (whichever of our amazing baristas happens to be on) makes me a matcha with Strauss organic milk and our housemade honey syrup, and then it’s off to check in with my kitchen team, look over on the day’s deliveries, clear my inbox and then do the zillion things that must be done to run a small restaurant.
Describe your ideal day off.
I wake up early (can’t help it), lie in bed for an hour, drop off the dry cleaning that’s been in my car for 4 months, then go to a 90 minute hot yoga class at Modo.
After that, back home, dry brushing, long shower, hair mask, face mask, hair tweezing, anointing with oils, and whatever selfcare I can get at. I’ll definitely get the Hitachi out at some point (friends, it’s a classic for a reason), and I’d like to say I’d just fill in the gaps with a Hulu binge, but you’d be just as likely to find me purging my neglected kitchen cabinets and scrubbing the floor… Dinner arrives via Postmates. I don’t leave until the next day.
My closest friends will tell you I’m a workaholic, I’ve taken exactly 7 full days off since May 18th and every one has been spent jetting off to somewhere else, to honor good friends at weddings and birthdays, Ojai, Seattle and most recently Bordeaux (I’m writing this from the plane home). I have yet to spend a simple day, just in my home, apart from sleeping of course. And while the restaurant is often exhausting and occasionally maddening, it is the best work I have ever done and each day is an opportunity to get tighter, faster, tweak the menu, teach one of my cooks something new and work toward cohesion. Soon we’ll be adding a natural beer and wine program with extended hours and new “Highly Hour” menu. No slowing down now!
Words of the wise. Would you share with us a tip you wish someone told you at the beginning of your career?
Take the jobs that will push you to your limits, physically and mentally. They will reward you in ways that can only truly be revealed when it’s your turn to be the boss.
Revel in your mistakes and lose your ego around them; I’m always telling my team “no mistake goes unrewarded." Praise is, of course, a nice motivator, but really fucking something up, and the subsequent drive to correct it? That’s where the magic happens.
Who or what inspires you?
I am relentlessly inspired by the women who came before me and now walk beside me. Growing up I was obsessed with Julia Child and then of course Martha Stewart. My mother often referenced one of her Helen Corbitt cookbooks to produce what are now some of our beloved family meals. And always Alice Waters!
Now my peers and friends in the culinary arena are pushing me always to be better; Jessica Koslow at Sqirl, Nyesha Arrington of Native, Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson of Kismet and Madcapara, and Heather Sperling and Emily Pfeiffer of Botanica, Lydia Clarke of DTLA Cheese, and Karolina Palmer of Freaky Health Chocolate.
My journalist friends and authors who write beautiful words like Julia Bainbridge, Rebekah Peppler, and Karen Palmer, who remind me that thoughtful consideration of the word is a true art that rivals that of the food itself.
Women in wine! Marissa A. Ross who is literally redefining the language and formalities we apply to wine, incredible wine directors, reps and purveyors like Claire Paparazzo, Jess Keifer, Helen Johannesen, Jill Bernheimer, Erin Sylvester, Amy Atwood and Pascaline Lepeltier for getting the beautiful natural wines in our glasses. Not to mention the still small handful of female producers who are always fighting to get the placement and recognition they deserve.
And then there are all the boss babes (Like Kerrilynn!) who are building brands and business empires on their own terms in a still decidedly male dominated world.
They all keep me motivated and give me accountability in my own life. Like, WWKLD? (What would Kerrilynn do?)
What are your top 5 CAP Beauty picks?
SCHMIDT'S ROSE VANILLA DEORDORANT
FREAKY HEALTH CAP BEAUTY MOUNTAIN HIGH BAR