Nearly twenty years ago, at a hot spring in northern California, a raw food movement was born. Cherie Soria, founder of Living Light Culinary Institute, and her best friend Terri Zacanti began teaching students about the benefits of a raw vegan diet and how to prepare it as gourmet cuisine.
As fate would have it, Kari Bernardi (aka The Super Natural Chef) was one of the first graduates of her training. Today, she’s the Director of Living Light and leading the school with a vision for the next twenty years.
We caught up with Kari to ask her about her new role, the origins of her culinary training and how she sees Living Light Culinary Institute making an impact in the growing movement for locally grown, farm to table, plant-based diets.
What got you interested in becoming a chef?
My love of preparing and sharing food started when I was very young. My Papa and his family came to California from Italy and brought their love of farm fresh foods and feeding family and friends with them. I grew up eating sun-kissed fruits and veggies in his garden and watching my Mom transform the garden’s bounty into beautiful feasts. I learned what the seasons tasted like through the harvesting of different crops throughout the year. I found my place as a compassionate steward of the earth and a lover of fresh foods at home with my family. And the rest is a beautiful unfolding...
How did you find out about Living Light?
A friend heard Cherie speak at a vegan conference and bought her book Angel Foods for Heavenly Bodies. When she returned from the conference she showed it to me because I love angels and vegan foods-and it had both! Coincidentally, when she handed me the book a little bookmark fell out and it was an invitation to Cherie's very first Living Light culinary workshop at Harbin Hotsprings. I, of course, went.
What has changed for you as a professional since that initial experience with the raw food culinary training?
I had been a chef preparing various vegetarian menus such as Macrobiotic, Ayurvedic and Spa cuisine. After my initial training, I turned all of my efforts to creating beautiful raw vegan foods and sharing the teachings I had learned.
How did you get involved in school food policy?
It started when I organized a campaign to get a salad bar at my high school when I was 15 years old. It continued throughout college when I worked to ban styrofoam in the cafeteria and it led to my career to create healthy food policies for schools, promoting school gardens and implementing salad bars in school cafeterias. I know everybody says that kids are our future - but it’s true! I believe it’s critical to give children exposure and access to healthy foods at a young age.
What impacts do you see the current plant-based food movement having in the world?
The plant-based food movement is here to help, heal and welcome. Everybody has a seat at this new table and their voice is important and matters. The new plant-based movement is not an exclusive club. The truth is we all need to be eating more plants for the health of the planet and all the inhabitants - including us humans. The movement is also calling us to grow our own food and prepare it in a health-giving ways.
Next year is the 20th anniversary of Living Light. What is your vision for the school in the next twenty years?
I see us being a beacon of light for so many people who strive to follow a plant-based lifestyle. We are an international Institution, already serving students in 65 countries. I feel the sky's the limit with our capacity to serve and reach others. We have an incredible team here at home in California that is busy building the next wave of plant-based cuisine curriculum and preparing for launching and adding several new classes and workshops to our 2018 calendar.