What was your first experience in the kitchen? My first memories in the kitchen are with my mother, helping her with dinner and with my grandmother in her kitchen. I’ve always loved the absolute comfort of cooking with those you love. The steam coming from a pot, the simmer of onions and veggies being sautéed, the ding of the oven when a dish is ready….all of it brings me back to just being with family.
What drew you to plant-based/ raw food cuisine? Like so many people out there, I found plant-based cuisine through a desire to feel better. I found myself in a pretty sad state of health in my early 20’s. I seemed to always be sick, my stomach always hurt, I had terrible IBS and hormonal imbalances as well as bouts of severe depression. I started researching and talking to people in my life who were vegetarian and vegan. I was devouring plant-based cook books and experimenting in the kitchen. I started juicing and making smoothies and before I knew it, I could feel a difference. My energy level, my sleep, my mood….all of it was getting better. Cutting out gluten and dairy completely were true life-changers for me.
When you attended Living Light, what did you enjoy about the school? What’s not to love?! I thought the school and lessons themselves were so well organized and professional. I loved the beautiful community of people in my classes and sharing the experience with these new friends ~ many of whom I am still in touch with today. What really made a huge impact for me was the final “project” of teaching a recipe to the class. I realized I really loved teaching the recipes and was pretty good at it. Since coming back from Living Light, I have consistently taught monthly classes in my community and now at my café.
Who are the culinary inspirations in your life right now? Oh wow, I sadly don’t follow too many folks at the moment. I would say that I love seeing what my fellow Living Light graduates are doing. I love seeing what Manuela Scalini is doing in Barbados and through her international retreats. I’m also super inspired by Christine Mayr and the absolute art she is creating in Barcelona.
How do you feel attitudes toward raw and vegan foods have changed in the past 5 years? This is such a huge question. Owning a plant-based eatery, I have a unique perspective. I see more people than ever adopting a plant-based diet to elevate their health or heal from disease. Some are 100% and some are just simply cleaning up their diet and eating more plants. And the feedback we receive is overwhelmingly positive. People are seeing physical benefits as well as elevations to their emotional and even spiritual well-being.
I’ve also had many people tell me over the years that they have been turned off by veganism because of feeling shamed by the vegan community. This makes me so sad. I’ve definitely seen this mentality online and even in person and it’s just not the way I like to approach this lifestyle. I love the absolute truth of the fact that plants can heal. Especially when they are organic and local and prepared properly. However, I enjoy giving people room to live and eat the way that works for them without judgment. My focus in my classes and at the café is to uplift those who want to learn more, continue to share the beauty of how plants can heal and be there as a support for those who want it. I think being an example and communicating with folks through the lens of compassion is so effective and fun too!
Do you have any exciting projects going on that you'd like to share? As I mentioned above, Ezra’s Enlightened Café is now into its fifth year. We are Indiana’s first, and to my knowledge, still the only 100% gluten-free, plant-based and non-GMO eatery. We have a full service wellness bar serving smoothies, juices and herbal tonics. We also have an extensive breakfast and lunch menu and a dessert case full of amazing raw vegan goodies. My Keylime Cheezecake was actually featured on the Cooking Channel in 2016 and is still regularly aired on the show Cheap Eats.
My husband and I also started a small urban farm in 2016 just minutes from the café where we are using regenerative farming practices to supply the café with fresh veggies and herbs. We’re learning as we go and enjoying it immensely. You can find more about the farm on the café website or the website I share in the next paragraph.
You can also find my personal brand, Gaia Chef, online. This is my outlet for writing, sharing recipes, herbal remedies and musings on living an earth-based life and health freedom.