Monthly Industry Insights
Hear from industry leaders about their guilty pleasures, the oddest thing in their refrigerator, their inspirations and take on new trends. Learn more about the people behind the foods and dishes you know and love - and others you SHOULD know and love. We've asked all of questions and have the answers for you here.
June 2018 Edition
Nina Curtis, Chef, Culinary Wellness Consultant, Lecturer and Activist
Nina has been an avid proponent of a plant based lifestyle for the past 18 years. Nina’s food and beverage background includes working with the Marriott Group, Hilton Hotels, Baxters, Manhattan Beach, the El Caballo, Oakland, Pure Food and Wine, New York and the Springs Restaurant and Wine Bar, Los Angeles and The Ranch, Malibu. As an activist for women's advancement in all aspects of life and animal rights, Nina works tirelessly to incorporate diversity, inclusion and compassion in all that she does. An MBA graduate of Pepperdine University, Nina was also trained at Living Light Culinary Institute, Trinity School of Natural Health, the Natural Gourmet Culinary Institute and she holds a Plant Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies, Cornell.
A Votre Sante'
What made you want to become a chef? When did you decide to make the switch to cooking vegan and raw foods?
I was destined to become a chef. I began cooking with my mom at age eight and my father is a classical trained chef. At the time I thought cooking was just what everyone knew how to do? I came back to cooking professionally after already having a successful career in the health, wellness and esthetic industry. Becoming a professional plant based chef became a very important part of everything else I do.
You’re a chef, a culinary wellness consultant, lecturer and activist. How do you juggle it all?
Organization! Everything that I do is connected in some way. I think that it is easy to get people’s attention with food. My style of cooking is focused on delicious and nutritious plant based food. I love to share knowledge with people either in the kitchen or on the stage and my activism is demonstrated through my every day actions. I think that our actions speak much louder than anything that we can say. I work daily for diversity, inclusion, compassion and wellness in all that I do so it all seems rolled into one to me.
If you could share one surprising thing about yourself, what would it be?
I purchased a bass guitar so that at some point I am going to learn to play it!
What is the newest culinary trend you see emerging that you’re using yourself?
Plant Based Cuisine is slated as a Mega Trend for 2018 and I have been working at this for 19 years now and I am still excited about it. I think that working with plant based ingredients is a science in of itself. I am constantly deconstructing classical dishes to plant based delights and I love what we can do with aqua faba, Irish moss and agar agar to name just a few of the ingredients that allow me to work with ‘natural’ molecular gastronomy.
You are known to have a powerful voice for females in the culinary world. What advice would you give to young women aspiring or who are just starting out in the restaurant industry?
I always advise young people, men and women to set goals for what they want. I have set goals throughout my life and adult career and it has proven to be a very successful roadmap for me. I always review my goals, edit and sometimes even change a goal once I see where I am going. I think that we need to be extremely committed and dedicated to our craft and remain excited and willing to learn new things, attend trade expos and conferences. We can’t be afraid to fail but we must be committed to succeed!
I read somewhere that you were a professional bodybuilder! Fitness is really important to you. What do you do to stay fit? How do you find the time with such a busy schedule.
I love to dance and I walk a lot. Due to my busy schedule, I don’t live in the gym as I did when I was competing as a bodybuilder but I still get my workout in at home. I have a ‘rebounder’ that I jump on every day when I am not on the road and I am a certified Kemetic Yoga instructor so I practice yoga all the time and on the road.
What is one thing that people misunderstand about a raw and vegan diet?
Most people think that a raw and vegan diet must be bland and boring….and that is so far from the truth! People are always surprised with how much flavor, texture and taste my dishes have. There are so many different things that you can do with plant based foods you just have to adjust your thinking and be willing to learn the multitude of ways you can work with plant based ingredients, like making cashew based mozzarella style cheese with agar agar, that’s so delicious and really taste like its ‘milk’ based counterpart.
What is the one food that you couldn’t live without?
Figs! I love them in season and dried throughout the year. They are a powerhouse of deliciousness and a storehouse of nutrition. A real ‘fast food’ when you are on the go but need to keep something on you when your days are long in the kitchen or you have a heavy travel schedule. I keep them with me at all times. If I run out I am running to the store or Farmer’s market to get more…
Who was your mentor or role model as you were becoming a chef?
My mom and dad have continued to be my mentors throughout my culinary career. My mom is a great cook and my dad has had a full career in the culinary industry. They both continue to support my goals and vision and we are always talking about food, good food and good food for you. One of my past instructors, Vinnette Thompson has also been a culinary mentor of mine. Vinnette raised the bar high for me as my gourmet raw vegan and raw desserts instructor and I continue to look up to her as a mentor.
What can attendees expect from your demonstration at the 2018 Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo of NY?
A high energy, fun and delicious presentation! I love sharing ‘food for thought’ and new ideas that attendees can take away and put into practice.
What can your fans expect from you next?
They must stay tuned!!!
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Twitter and IG: @botanicalchef
May 2018 Chef Insight - Interview with Michelle Bernstein, Chef and Owner, Crumb on Parchment and Michelle Bernstein Catering
April 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Claire M. Marin, CEO, Catskill Provisions
March 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Chef Elizabeth Falkner
February 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Chef Maneet Chauhan
January 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Chef Reinhold Paul Teuscher