How I got Here
I grew up on an old farm in Great Barrington Massachusetts, with a mom who was an avid cook and gardener. Farm to table cooking and sustainability has always been in my blood. From a very young age, I was obsessed with ingredients and flavors. I always wanted to know what every plant tasted like, if it is edible and how I can use it. I have always been and will always be a curious cook. My brother and sister used to joke that I used cooking as an excuse to get out of doing other chores, but the truth is I just love cooking, getting out of chores was a bonus.
I began my professional career as a chef working in local restaurants throughout high school but when it came time for college culinary school wasn’t really a thought at all. Having worked in restaurants in the 1980’s I saw lots of burnt out, chain smoking, overworked men (pretty much exactly as described by Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential) and I was afraid that if I went to work full time in kitchens that I would lose my passion for food and cooking.
THE FITNESS CHEF
I went off to College to study communications and, worried about gaining the “freshman 15”, I joined a gym. Something you should know about me is that I am curious about everything, if something interests me I want to learn everything I can about it. My quest for personal fitness led to me changing my major to exercise physiology and becoming a competitive body builder and fitness athlete. Despite the crazy competition diets and workouts, as my mother tells it, the first thing I did whenever I went home on break was turn on the oven and start cooking. She would tell me that I was living vicariously by cooking all the things I couldn’t eat for other people.
A COMPETITIVE STREAK
After college I worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor in many of Boston’s premier gyms for almost a decade. I continued to compete at the national level in fitness and did some fitness modeling as well. Occasionally I would cook healthy meals for some of my clients but most of my cooking was done for friends and family. In 2001 I became pregnant with my son, Gianni, and his father and I moved to Woodstock CT. I continued to commute to Boston and work as a personal trainer until I was about 6 months pregnant and exhausted.
BEING THE BREAD MAKER
Maybe it’s because the nesting, maternal, homemaker instinct kicked in and maybe it’s because there wasn’t much of a living to be made in Woodstock as a personal trainer or maybe it was just pregnancy hormones; whatever the case may be, I made the decision to leave the fitness industry and find some other way to make a living. I really had no idea what I wanted to do, and the only other work experience I had was in restaurants. When Gianni’s father came home one day and exclaimed “there is no where to get a good loaf of bread around here” I replied, “I guess I’ll open a bakery” and just like that a new career was born.
FINDING MY CALLING
For the next six months I read every culinary school textbook, cooked and baked up a storm, researched the bakery business and came up with a business plan. In the summer of 2003, shortly before Gianni’s first birthday I opened The Sturbridge Bread Company in nearby Sturbridge Massachusetts.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Over the next five years, I grew Sturbridge Bread company from a tiny bread and baked good business with one employee to an award-winning full-service bakery and café serving breakfast and lunch. I was inspired to grow my business further and in early 2008 I took the plunge and moved it to Worcester MA. Renamed Sweet Kitchen & Bar and located on Worcester’s “Restaurant Row” the new business was a full-service “new American” restaurant and bar with an in-house bakery.
Having grown up in the Berkshires, I have always been focused on farm-to-table cooking, sustainability, and making my businesses an active contributor to the local community.
While Sweet was a hit with everyone from local college students to foodies, I continued to set my heights higher (hello type A personality). I earned numerous awards and accolades including recognitions from Tripping.com, Yankee Magazine, Worcester Magazine, and Phantom Gourmet. However, I wanted to test my skills further (I might be a little competitive). I was cast and competed on several Food Network shows including Chopped, Cupcake Wars, Beat Bobby Flay, Re-Wrapped, and Sweet Genius (which I managed to win twice).
It was a huge honor to be one of 75 chefs chosen from around the world to be featured in the book, Eat Ink. I have been featured in Where Women Cook, Foodservice Northeast, Dessert Professional, Flavor & The Menu, and Baking & Pastry North America. The greatest honor and privilege thus far in my career was being invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation twice, presenting dinners there in both 2010 and 2014.
LET’S GET PERSONAL
Now to the part that I don’t discuss often and has never been written about. In the fall of 2015, I started feeling like I was in a fog all the time, I began having issues with my memory, joint pain, and mood swings. At first, I tried to hide it from my staff and shrugged it off as due to the long hours and the stresses of running a busy restaurant for so many years. I started getting horrible headaches. One day I had a migraine so severe that I started throwing up, at that point, I knew I had to call a doctor. Afraid that I was having an aneurism, the doctor’s office called an ambulance and had me rushed to the hospital. They ruled out an aneurism and had no other answer as to what my symptoms were from. Thyroid issues run in my family and I had been on medication for low-functioning thyroid since my twenties, it was under control for so many years and even throughout my pregnancy, so I never really gave it much thought.
As I began researching my symptoms and looking for answers online I began to think that maybe this all had something to do with my thyroid, so I asked my doctor to run every thyroid-related test there is. The test results came back and I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Being the curious, knowledge-hungry person that I am, I started reading everything I could about Hashimoto’s. I changed doctor’s, changed my thyroid medication to a natural one rather than a synthetic one, began to pay more attention to my diet, began working out again more regularly, and made time for myself – it was a Godsend. I began eating, cooking, and baking gluten-free which drastically improved my health. It also gave me an entirely new challenge in the kitchen. I began converting all of my award-winning recipes to gluten-free and became passionate about sharing them with the world.
As with all autoimmune diseases, there are good days and bad days, but I have always chosen to not let my disease define me. The way I see it is on the worst days I can stay at home and feel like crap or I can go out and live my life. Even if I feel like crap doing it, going out and living life is still the better, healthier, happier option.
LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE
In July of 2017, I closed Sweet Kitchen & Bar to pursue other opportunities as a consulting chef that would allow me to share my knowledge and experience while also allowing me more time to spend with my friends and family. I can honestly say that I am now healthier and happier than I have ever been. Through my website and Facebook group, it is my sincerest hope that I can inspire and motivate others to live their best life deliciously and to savor every minute of it.