We had the chance to catch up with celebrity chef, Serena Poon to close out our 3 Under 30 Series! She's made the jump from pre-law to culinary arts, and we're definitely stoked that she did. After powering through adversity, mastering culinary arts, and establishing herself as a high-profile chef and nutritionist, she now specializes in helping busy people maintain a wholesome, healthy lifestyle. We talked about education, wellness, and fine dining (yum )... and there's some helpful tips for you too! Keep reading to find out.
I can tell that your family played an important role in your path to the wellness industry. What led you to seek an education from UC Berkley and Le Cordon Bleu?
I grew up as the eldest in a first-generation, American born traditional Chinese family. So, from a cultural standpoint, it was expected that I pursue a very academic route and go into a career in either law, medicine or corporate finance. When it came time to go to college, I went to the best public school available, UC Berkeley, with the intention of attending law school after graduation. But then life changed abruptly during my senior year of college. It was then that my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer….it was a hereditary disease, the same thing his grandfather had passed of years before. At the time, I didn’t even understand the reality of what that prognosis meant. He fought but lost a very painful battle after a year and 3 months. He was 48 years old. Two months later, my mother was diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was 45 years old at the time. So, before we even had a chance to grieve my father, we were in another battle to save my mother, who could hardly process the death of her soulmate, let alone her own mortality. As you can imagine, this completely changed my perspective on life. All that mattered was the health and happiness of my loved ones. During my father’s battle, I began looking into holistic, herbal and natural remedies for everything from his cancer symptoms to alleviating the side effects of his treatments. I had studied Nutrition while at college but this drove my passion further. Instead of continuing on the path to law school that I was on before all this happened, I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu. I wanted to study the culinary arts to understand food and nutrition and creating ways to heal and comfort people through the power of food.
How did you establish yourself as a celebrity chef? Was it something you stumbled upon or was it a long-term goal of yours?
I actually think it was a little bit of both! During my last semester at Le Cordon Bleu, the top 5 students were offered Le Stage (a brief internship) at the exclusive and highly-coveted Night Before event at The Beverly Hilton during Oscars weekend. Every guest in attendance was a high-profile figure, and at the time, there were no social media mediums or reality docudramas that gave you a glimpse behind the scenes of these type of events or a peek into the lives of celebrities. I remember how surreal it was for me to cook shrimp scampi at my station for Harrison Ford, who had been my childhood hero as Indiana Jones! That experience made me realize that I wanted to focus on fine dining, specifically catering to high-profile clients. When I was offered the opportunity to work for Hugh Hefner and Playboy Enterprises at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, it was the perfect stepping stone to learn my craft at a high level as well as develop my skills working with a specific client base. I took that exposure into the world of fine dining and started my own private chef and catering business. Over the years, I’ve established myself as a top high-profile private chef, nutritional consultant and wellness expert and I’ve built a strong clientele strictly by referral.
How do holistic healing, integrative wellness, and fine dining go hand in hand?
My philosophy for living an optimal, healthy lifestyle is based on integrating nutritional and physical therapy, focused mindfulness and balancing the body's support system. Along with whole foods from Mother Nature, there’s so much healing power that comes with plant- based herbs and natural remedies that people have been using for thousands of years. The trick is, to make it all taste incredible. Our bodies thrive on this type nutrition and when you can combine everything into a recipe that tastes amazing, it only encourages you to eat more of it. I used to receive a lot more pushback from clients when I wanted to introduce something “healthy” to them, or a “healthy alternative” to what they were used to having. But with the skills I acquired from training in fine dining, I’m able to create flavor profiles and textures that make the “health alternative” even more palatable than traditional recipes. I’m also constantly incorporating mindfulness into my practice and my style of work with my clients, which is central to integrative wellness. Often, people don’t realize that food, whether you’re preparing, cooking or consuming it, is in and of itself, a form of self-care. It’s not just fuel for the body. It’s a way of honoring yourself and your health on every level, mind body and soul. So, teaching people to shift their thoughts and reframe their perception of food and the role it plays in our lives, actually changes the way we receive the nutritional benefits. Not only will your meals taste better and make you feel better, but the benefits and the healing effects go well beyond just nutrient intake.
You launched Just Add Water™ recently. Can you share with us some insight into the inspiration or development of it?
Just Add Water™ is a vegan proprietary blend of yellow peas and sprouted grain protein, superfood fruit antioxidants, powerful super greens, prebiotics, probiotics, digestive enzymes and plant adaptogens. The recipe has been carefully crafted with organic and natural products to be free of major food allergens, including dairy, gluten, wheat, rice, tree nuts and soy, and contains no genetically modified ingredients. It’s actually something that I’ve been making for years for my private clients, particularly for when they traveled, because I wanted to help them maintain their daily nutrient intake, their energy levels and their weight. Our adrenals and our microbiome are the core of our immunity, vitality and mental agility. All too often with clients, I witnessed the effects of frequent traveling, over-booked schedules and the lack of proper daily nutritional self-care that led to exhaustion, over-stressed adrenals, immune decline and unnecessary weight fluctuations. I wanted to create a conveniently packaged superfood supplement that not only gave the body energy with the proper combination of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, but also the right prebiotic, probiotic and digestive enzymes to effectively absorb it all. And it needed to taste great so that people would actually drink it! After some of my clients’ friends discovered their little secret to their healthy glow and endless energy during the Cannes Film Festival last year, I finally decided it was time to put my dreams into action and share the benefits of my recipe with the rest of the world. Our slogan is “Simplify your self-care” because that’s basically what Just Add Water™ does. It’s a one-step process to taking care of you and your body first, every day.
it's safe to say that most of our readers don't have access to a celebrity chef in their kitchen (How amazing would that be?!). What are some tips you can give them to incorporate your nutritious, healing practices into their homes?
I have always been a big believer of daily detoxing. I believe in warm lemon water first thing in the morning every day, no matter where you are in the world. I’m also a big fan of a fruit-free green juice every day, or as many days of the week as you can do it and flooding your body with alkalizing and oxygenating greens in any way that you prefer it. You can have it in juice form, fresh raw form, cooked, or raw/dehydrated powdered or capsule if you can’t have it fresh. I believe in feeding your body the natural detoxifying plants and herbs (like cilantro and parsley) that help your body release every day toxins we breathe in, heavy metals, bacteria and waste, on a regular basis. Daily intake of detoxifying foods, help to keep your body functioning efficiently and effectively. My Luminous Elixir recipe for the juice will not only give you glowing skin, but your body will feel fueled and fresh from it. And of course, I believe in maintaining gut health for overall health, so taking in prebiotics and probiotics every day is really important. This is why I make sure to have a Just Add Water at some point every day as well!
To learn more about Serena Poon, visit her website and Instagram!