Issue One Episode Four: From Struggling Actress to Food Network Superstar with Chopped Winner Rachel Reuben
“Food is the gas in your tank, it’s the raw material of who you are, so why wouldn’t you eat well?” asks Chef Rachel Reuben, creator of the popular recipe blog and cooking school by the same name: Food Fix Kitchen. Her take on food goes right to the gut. “Most people take better care of their cars or their pets than they do their own bodies. They understand how high-octane fuel and regular maintenance makes a car run better, or how a high-quality diet affects their dog, but they have this disconnect when it comes to food and their own well-being. They’ll eat anything!”
Reuben has been on a mission to change all that. Through her cooking, writing, teaching and personal appearances, Chef Rachel has delivered the credo she lives by: “cook well, eat well, live well,” teaching clients and groups how to best fuel their lives and loved ones. Her unique personal story is one of overcoming childhood abuse, traveling many life paths (actress, waitress, singer, caterer, stand-up comic, writer, graphic artist, and mother) to find fulfillment and culminating in a courageous, culinary-inspired reinvention. She acted on a life-long passion for cooking and went to professional culinary school at age 50, at the same time as her 19-year old son.
“I like to say that we followed in my mother’s ‘FOODSTEPS’” says Chef Rachel, “because my mother was a private chef for nearly 40 years, working until the week she died at age 86. She was a Holocaust survivor and knew what it was to go without food, so she lived her life as a gastronomical celebration. Cooking and feeding people was her way of healing others and herself.”
Today, Reubens’s son, Max, having worked for nearly 8 years for the famed chef, Thomas Keller in his restaurants, Per Se and The French Laundry, is currently an Executive Chef of the Penrose Room at The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado.
Reuben is a Food Network’s Chopped Champion, a freelance food writer and founder of a successful NY metro area recreational cooking school and chef services business, Food Fix Kitchen. She has appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America several times and contributes to the abcnews.com Food Page.
She explains, “I’ve been reinventing myself over and over throughout my life, whether in response to crisis or to my own curiosity and need for growth. I share my own insights and hope to help others ‘cook up’ their best selves along the way.”
Dr. S: [00:01:52]
So we were talking a little bit before the show and I was saying that I really wanted to talk a little bit about some of the work that you're doing at Rutgers.
I'm somewhat of a Jersey girl at heart even though I spent my life between New York and New Jersey - I did go to grad school at Rutgers and the first thing that I read about you other than your amazing story was this movement you started there as it relates to food as a chef.
Can you start off with just talking a little bit about that and then I'd love to dive into your story.
R.R: Well great.
Well the Rutgers project was something that sort of came out of the blue for me at a time when I needed like an anchor in my life and something to focus on. I was just going through a divorce and 25 years of marriage and had an empty nest.
So the universe kind of handed me this project where I was invited to help concept and design a healthy dining venue at Rutgers for their brand new Institute for food health and nutrition. So they had built this multimillion-dollar research institute about how food and nutrition relate to lifestyle and conditions like diabetes, heart disease, etc. that are sort of plaguing our country right now.
So they had a restaurant space in this brand new research institute and they wanted it to reflect the mission of the institute.
So I was really lucky to be asked to be a part of that.
And so I designed a menu.
[00:03:52] - the logo and the name of the restaurant - which we called “Harvest”. The mission was just to create a dining experience for students and faculty where it was all fresh food made from scratch, which is kind of totally unheard of in the college environment.
And I was really excited about it because I had been to conferences like “food for change” and the idea of transforming University food, which traditionally has like you know...
- and even Rutgers has a big contract with I think Pepsi where they agree to have all their dining halls have huge banks of soda machines and all these sugary beverages ...
- And you know Pepsi pays a fee to be a part of this huge market
So in our dining room I was like no we're not having a soda machine in here - all our food was fresh food made from scratch.
We even made our own stock.
And it was exciting.
[00:06:01] And now I think they're taking that message and trying to bring it into all the other dining areas.
But before all that happened. I did make a decision and I went to culinary school at the same time as my 19-year-old son, so that was interesting.
Dr. S: Yeah I find that story is so common for so many women where we're such givers and we put everybody else before ourselves. And then sometimes that works well for a period of time but then we start to feel a little empty and we start to think you know my purpose is so much greater and it's so much bigger. And what else can I do?
And to see that that opened the door for you into so many areas including everyone's dream, which is getting on and winning a TV show.
RR: YES my 15 minutes of fame.
Well, my son had decided he wanted to be a chef.
After a year of college, I started taking him on all these culinary school tours and every tour I would just end up crying because this is something I've been passionate about my whole life.
I loved to entertain and cook ….
[00:07:50] And so I decided when I packed him off to culinary school that I would go to culinary school too.
We went to two separate schools. I graduated with my culinary degree. He graduated with his too. And I knew from the beginning that I wanted to teach.
That's what I wanted to do.
And so I thought well what's the best way to sort of get my self out there and get a little street creds you know? And I've always loved gameshows you know when I was a struggling actor and living in L.A.
I would go on game shows - I've been on like five or six game shows.
So I applied to chopped and lo and behold they chose me.
They liked my story about going to culinary school late in life. And I got on the show which was really exciting for me and the show itself was mindblowing
And it was one of those moments in life where you put yourself totally out there and on the line and it all works out.
Like its one of those golden moments in life where you know the gods are all coming together and giving you what you came for and that's a rare moment in life.
[00:10:06] …if you don't risk then you'll never get.
I can't even describe - it's like falling in love. You know - this is going to be scary but what if it all actually worked out.
Dr. S: Indeed indeed. I always say that these experiences that we have are so magnificent and they serve as our greatest teachers.
And I'm just wondering after being on the show and having millions of people watch you and fighting through fear and even having the courage to submit your profile for consideration for this show - what has that publicity taught you?
RR: That's a good question. And you know I mean it did sort of launch my abilities to become a public speaker and it gives you a certain amount of credibility in the eyes of the public. It’s a beloved show.
[00:12:00] It's a beloved show and I still am in awe today of how important the show is to so many people and how many people watch it and love it. And so you know there is a certain power in seeking a certain amount of celebrity.
But you know it also taught me that it's just a little piece of what you need to be successful, you know people may have hired me more readily because of it. It's certainly like a little badge of honor that I could put on my website that I can you know talk to people about.
But in the end I have to show up and do a great job and I do.
[00:14:10] When I was young I thought you know fame or some degree of celebrity or making money would solve everything for me.
And so I chased that in a way that only made me unhappy with the everyday sort of mundane work that needs to get done. And in the last two years I've been able to really make peace with that. You know - this is what life is made up of. And this is where I have to find my joy - in the everyday mundanity of making myself a better chef, making myself a better mom, making myself a better communicator, figuring out how to connect with people you know - all that is the treasure or the currency of life.
That makes all the difference I think.
Dr. S: [00:16:32] - you know it goes back to that famous quote that like it's not about the destination enjoy the process - it's about the journey.
RR: Yeah - I live in New York City and I live near Columbus Circle which is near the end right near the CNN headquarters and a couple weeks ago I was walking past there and I saw Anthony Bourdain, you know sitting on the steps of the building where CNN is and I guess he was waiting for a cab or something, I don't know but I saw him and I thought I should go say hi to him or whatever and someone kind of cut me off and ran up to - And then the moment was gone you know.
And then three days later he was gone.
He took his life and that I can't tell you how much that has rocked me. It was as if I knew him personally because so many of us felt that way about him.
[00:18:12] But you know it was just a moment of wow you know you're a person that truly had everything that I think I could ever want. And yet he was in a hotel room you know filled with despair enough to take his life.
But his parting lesson teaches us to examine you know what it is we think we want .
Dr. S: Yes.
Dr. S: So I would be remiss if I did not ask you to share one of your recipes with us. Do you have one?
RR: Yes, So I do have about 200 recipes on my Website and one that is kind of a favorite of clients over the years and students and just in general is this roasted balsamic tomatoes. It’s so simple but I get e-mails about it all the time.
[00:20:18] So, you take grape or cherry tomatoes and throw them in a roasting pan, generously douse them with olive oil and then maybe three or four tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, some fresh Rosemary and some fresh time. You don't even have to take the rosemary or time off the stem- just throw it into the mix with the tomato salt pepper and some whole pieces of garlic maybe four pieces of whole garlic and then you just kind of make sure the tomatoes are kind of coated and roast them at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes.
And you'll end up with these beautifully concentrated tomatoes that are reduced and become syrupy with the herbs and the garlic. And this is an amazing staple that I keep a container of in my refrigerator at all times because not only does it make a beautiful appetizer with some crostini - toasted bread but it's a great appetizer to serve to people coming over for drinks or for dinner.
It never fails to impress.
[00:22:09] And then you can have a container of it in your fridge and you can make it into a side dish for a rich roasted chicken or some grilled chicken breasts or you can boil a pot of pasta and throw it on the top and have an instant sauce, you can use it on a sandwich, you can make an omelet out of it, you can turn plain rice into a rice pilaf with it. So it's a very versatile dish.
It's delicious and addictive.
Dr. S: And and might I add easy.
RR: I think it's very easy.
Dr. S: Well I am definitely going to try it and I know that are so many people who are gluten free and dairy free. So another thing is it also sounds like it's a very versatile and applicable to you depending on what your dietary needs are. How lovely. I cannot wait.
So, as we wrap up this amazing time together Rachel, if you could look back and give your 10 year younger self any piece of advice what would it be?
RR: Well I've thought about this question and what I want to say about it is that I don't want to answer it - because you know I've struggled a lot with regret you know. So what I want to say is…
[00:24:36] There are no mistakes.
You know there are times like Chopped where everything came together and you know I pat myself on the back for being so amazing. But there are times when things don't go exactly as planned but they have all contributed to making me who I am now and living this life.
So there's no mistakes is what I would tell my younger self and to live and follow your heart and be as authentic and true to yourself as you can be and don't be so attached to one particular outcome.
Because sometimes where you actually end up is the best thing for your soul.
Dr. S: Rachel- thanks for coming on the show.
You can find Rachel online at http://www.foodfixkitchen.com/
This episode was brought to you by Fearless and Free. Fearless and Free is my online training program that teaches women entrepreneurs and aspiring course creators how to create launch and profit from your first online course. Online courses have produced tremendous freedom in my business and I would love to share my techniques and strategy with you.
If you are interested in launching a profitable online program business head over to www.shehealstheworld.com/fr...to grab your free tool sheet that brings you behind the scenes of all the tools that I use to run my online practice.