Mikaela Reuben, Culinary Nutritionist + Health Consultant
Mikaela Reuben, with her Botticelli curls and effervescent energy, is a force in the foodie world. Canadian born and bred with a stint in Hawaii, Mikaela certainly effuses a laid-back, creative approach to recipe development — but her knowledge of the body + nutrition is far from off the cuff. After witnessing her father survive a heart attack and embrace food as medicine, Mikaela used her degree in Kinesiology and passion for dietetics to snatch her dream job, which includes: traveling the world, feeding movie stars, and making health a priority all along the way. Read more about her refreshing take on diet, her wellness heroes, and how she celebrates an adventurous palate while keeping the most nutrient-dense foods in constant rotation.
Can you share with us your journey and how you became a nutritionist chef and health consultant?
I have always loved food. My parents used to find me up in the kitchen late at night covered in flour trying to bake and mix things like a mad 7-year-old scientist. I loved cookbooks and eating and wanted to to try every food possible. As I grew older this food obsession became my identity and I traveled with snacks and a food bag wherever I went.
My first degree was in Kinesiology, I would have taken nutrition if it had been offered at my University but it wasn’t. I loved learning about the body but there was always something missing. I was amazed not only by how the body moved but also what fueled this movement, the breakdown of food and how it was the basis of everything. I loved when we did the meal planning and sports nutrition part of the program but I wanted to know more. I started traveling a ton, because I was dating a pilot, and took cooking courses all over the world and began exploring food cultures, health rituals and customs in each country I went to.
What was the "a-ha moment" or event that led to your break in the culinary world?
I lived on Maui after I graduated from University, and as I waited to begin my Masters in Physical Therapy, I decided to write a cookbook. Seemed easy enough. I could take all my passion, food and nutrition knowledge and apply it. I wanted to call it Saving Hearts. Heart-healthy food where all the proceeds would go back to starving third world populations.
At the time my Maui-based photographer friend wanted to do the food photos for me and we set it all up at her neighbors house. In the middle of cooking the owner of the house, who happened to be a famous actor, showed up with his private chef and all their friends. Apparently the chef was supposed to cook lunch and we had just trashed his kitchen. I was in my early twenties and hadn’t thought to ask some of the more relevant questions like, "Are we allowed to be here? Who’s house is this? And why did I decide to wear my pajamas today?" And so on...
The chef freaked and tried to kick us out. I was so scared that I just stood there and kept cleaning. I started asking him questions as I tried to avoid getting in his way. About 10 minutes in he began to soften and asked what I had made before he arrived. That was the beginning. He tried my food, asked me how I knew how to cook, and told me about his career which was everything I had ever dreamed of. It was the first time I had heard of a job like his. A traveling chef who worked on movies, rock tours, and events and got to travel all around the world while creating top of the line nutritional cooking.
I told him I knew a lot about nutrition and asked if I could accompany him to the market the next day, and he agreed. At the market, he told me how to pick the best tomato and I told him what I knew about the nutritional value of cooking a tomato. We spent two weeks straight like this visiting markets and cooking together before I had to leave for Vancouver, Canada to begin my Masters.
One very unhappy year into my masters later (once you know an alternate reality of your life exists in the world, it is hard to stay on the previous path), the chef called out of the blue and casually asked if he could train me to work on a film for the actor who had met me that day at the house in Hawaii and tried my food. I said yes.
The first movie went so well the actor asked if wanted to live in Paris and do another film….10 years later here I am. I have supplemented the career with many other courses and chef trainings and it has evolved into spaces I had never imagined possible.
How does the idea of "food is medicine" resonate with you?
When I was 17 my father had a heart attack. He refused to get a stint and chose instead to use food to heal his current condition. For two years he tried diet after diet: from low-fat, to low-carb, to high-fat, to vegan, to paleo (was more like Atkins at the time). I watched his skin change, his weight fluctuate and his mood swing but he eventually found his perfect diet which was a combination of many. He lost 65 pounds over the two year period and began running marathons again.
Once I had witnessed this food-based, human transformation my curiosity for nutrition really began. Food was now even more interesting, it was delicious AND it could change your mind, body, skin and mood. I had heard it all before but seeing it really changed my approach. The goal now was how to make healing food that also tasted good.
You've traveled all over the world- what have experiencing other cultures' cuisines taught you about life, food, love, creativity etc?
It has reminded me again and again that my palate is uniquely my own. Only I can tell what tastes best for me. No one else can tell me this, I must try it, taste it and choose it. This is like life and love and all of the above in my opinion. A journey to find our unique likes and dislikes so that we may find our own personal version of happiness. My truth is my truth and no one else’s, my taste is this same way. The more cuisine I try, the more I am reminded of this authentic version of self.
What is it about food that you feel so connected to?
I love that food has the potential to connect humans to other people and to themselves. Food is a story, it is a part of human evolution and is at the center of our survival. For me it represents nourishment and self love, something that can be shared and something that bonds all of humanity.
It also blows my mind from a scientific standpoint that when we eat something it is broken down into components which then fuel and provide nourishment to the human body. I think this piece is kind of magical. Garden to carrot into mouth into fuel and vitamins that help strengthen skin and eyes and give muscles energy to contract. And of course food is delicious too. I love the eating part.
What is the most wild thing you've done in the name of wellness?
Tried to stop eating pizza, haha. But really.
What is your favorite form of self-care?
I love going for walks in nature and my infrared sauna. I have one in my living room and I use it almost every day when I am home. It doubles as alone time too and when I am inside of it, I use my dry brush and then have a cold shower after. It is my favorite.
How do you nourish yourself?
I nourish myself by eating healthy food whenever I can, but I ALSO nourish myself by eating not-so-healthy food that I am excited to try. I am happiest when I approach life with balance and allow experience to happen organically rather than through a limited set of strict rules. This allows me to appreciate the health when I choose it.
What are your go-to recipes, or do you still stay creative and try new things when feeding yourself?
I don’t ever use recipes but I have a few things I tend to keep in the fridge for last minute on-the-go meals. I always have broccoli, purple cabbage, kimchi, sprouts, avocado, hemp hearts, spinach, berries, udo’s oil or hemp oil, and eggs. I love vegetable stir frys with mungbean noodles, steamed broccoli tossed with ume plum vinegar, hemp milk smoothies, and giant salads with sprouts, kimchi dijon dressing and hardboiled eggs.
I am still super creative when I am cooking for myself. I love experimenting because I can make all sorts of weird combinations and mistakes when I am the only one eating the creations. The biggest difference when I am feeding myself is that I tend to take short cuts so that there is less clean up at the end. Not a big fan of doing dishes:)
What are you most inspired by, right now? Any tips/tricks that you can pass on?
In life: I am inspired by a newfound appreciation for alone time, and as ALWAYS, travel, new cultures, nature and human connection.
In career: I am inspired by the fact that stress reduction and individuality are both becoming major focuses in the food and wellness space.
Stress negates healthy food. If someone has a fight or flight response everyday, is in an unhealthy relationship or has poor work life balance, all the healthy food in the world will not make that person healthy. I believe stress is the number one killer and I think this is becoming a much more widely accepted concept. This inspires me to encourage people to check in with themselves and their stress levels if they are asking me to help them get healthy.
I am thrilled that people are approaching health as a unique and personal journey of exploration, and not just accepting that there is one pill or one strict diet that works for everyone. I have cooked for clients from all backgrounds and dietary restrictions and have realized that each person’s ideal food plan is never exactly the same. I am seeing more of this sentiment in the media which is going to make it easier for people to understand their own health needs sooner than later.
Who are some of your wellness heroes?
I mean there are so many now! Hard question, but the first person that comes to mind is Michael Pollan. I like him because he offers balanced, science-based recommendations that feel achievable and positive.
What does legacy mean for you and what is the mark you'd like to leave on the world?
I actually haven’t thought about this much oddly…. but if I had to answer I would say that I hope when people think of me they feel inspired to live life to the fullest. I hope to encourage people to be themselves, to live more, laugh more, cry more and feel more, while I am living and when I am gone.