How I Grew into a Plant-Based Chef

In 2006, having resigned from a stressful position in publishing, I found myself sitting across from a career coach I found in one of those free New Age magazines. Halfway through our first session he blurts out, “You are such a number seven!”

“OK, now we’re getting somewhere,” I thought. As a person who’s had more jobs than socks, I was really hoping he could help me figure out my “life’s work,” as they say.

He explained that the Enneagram, a tool used for personal development, places people into one of nine personality groups. Sevens, he said, thrive on change and versatility, and seek out adventure as if it were water; they are the quintessential “Renaissance” people.

While “Renaissance woman” has a nice ring to it, I had come to feel that in my case it described one who couldn’t commit and was too idealistic. But three things were clear to me: (1) I wanted to do work I was passionate about, (2) I wanted to help and teach others, and (3) I wanted the freedom to express myself creatively.

He then asked me a pivotal question: “What kind of books do you read for enjoyment?” Oh, that was easy: I read health and nutrition books, as they had helped me to overcome a couple health issues. From there nutrition had become a hobby of mine. Things were coming into focus.

With nutrition at the core, I began to get excited and envision myself helping others improve their health. I enrolled in a local nutrition certification program knowing that I did not want to return to college to become an RD (registered dietician), and most likely work in an institutional setting (my “seven-ness” sensed there would be less freedom and creativity there).

I simultaneously contacted Dr. John McDougall, whose nutrition books had helped me a great deal, with the hope of landing a part-time or even volunteer job that would allow me to dip my toes into the field. The timing was right and I began working for the McDougalls part-time at their live-in nutrition programs and special events.

It was here that I began my “eyes wide open” education about food and its effects on the body. I repeatedly heard presentations by experts in plant-based nutrition as well as accomplished vegan chefs. I also talked with attendees who spoke of their remarkable health improvements on a plant-based diet. I was finally doing work I was passionate about.

Then in 2010 I had the opportunity to teach cooking classes at another live-in facility that specializes in water fasting and also promotes a plant-based diet: True North Health Center. I jumped in with both feet and now teach there once a week. I also added “cooking instructor” to my list of duties with the McDougalls. I was finally teaching and helping others directly.

My blog has been a labor of love. It is now filled with delicious, plant-based, SOS-free (salt, oil, sugar) recipes, including traditional favorites like potato salad and pancakes, as well as the more unique, such as Tandoori Love Soup and Rosemary, Mushrooms & Kale. With a background in writing, and a passion for photography and cooking, my website is an ideal outlet for my work, a place to express myself creatively on a regular basis.

I love that I am now able to bring my talents, skills and passions to my work. All of these have driven me to where I am today. But I have to believe there was a little luck involved. As for lucky numbers, I’d have to say mine is seven.


  1. Dan says

    Thank you for sharing your story. As was stated already, I really appreciate and admire what you do. Your honesty and willingness to follow your passion is truly inspiring. Keep up the good work, all the best.

  2. says

    HI Kathy, I love reading your story. I am a yoga & nutrition fanatic (in a good way). For many years I’ve channeled my energy into the study & practice of Ayurveda. In 2008 I decided to return to university to become an RD, to gain more credibility with the masses. Whilst I’ve been overall unimpressed with the RD curriculum, I’m so excited by the work of Drs Esselstyn, MacDougall, Furhman and Lisle. And I love your blog too. I’d love to come on one of the education courses with one of these guys. Next week I’ll attend Farms 2 Forks. I’m in New Orleans, which doesn’t have such progressive programs.

  3. says

    Hiya Cathy well done on a great website! From one seven to another, one post publishing career girl to another and one plant-based educator to another (spooky!) it’s very nice to meet you. If you’re ever in New Zealand look me up.

  4. Colleen says

    I have had the pleasure of enjoying your cooking classes at the McDougall programs and was so exited to find your site. Your recipes are all fantastic.

  5. says

    OMG! My career life seems to mirror yours with regards to being a Renaissance Woman!!! I also was totally engrossed in health and nutrition, but didn’t want another degree and went for the nutrition certification. I am just “thinking” about adapting a plant based food diet and recently watched “Fork Over Knives”. I am excited and scared at the same time. I know I need the change, but concerned with food preparation and found your site. Would love any words of wisdom!!! Looking forward to your newsletters and info too!

  6. says

    Thanks Sylvia! I knew there more “me’s” running around out there :) It’s a great time to be working in healthy, plant-based eating, that’s for sure. The tide is high and people are more open than ever to hearing these healthy messages. Yes, go plant-based, learn it and love it and share it far and wide in whatever medium works for you. As far as making a living at it, that is trickier, and I am still working on that part. Sounds like you’re doing great though! 😉

  7. Cindy says

    Thank you, Cathy, for following your heart and releasing your gifts to help our hearts. We seriously need you. Blessings!

  8. says

    Wow Cathy, I feel like I’ve met my twin. I’ve been following your Blog on FB for a few months, but my friends Jill and JulieAnne have just arrived at True North and they were part of your cooking demo yesterday. When I read about your nutrition path and being a “number seven” I felt a kinship. I have always felt I was a bit of a Renaissance Woman b/c I couldn’t work in an institutional type place b/c I would need creativity. I am a trained chef but would rather teach cooking classes – healthy cooking classes – than work in an environment that leaves no room for health or creativity. It is so nice to see that my “odd” personality is not unique. I have also just begun a blog and help many people find the path to health. Thanks for sharing yourself with all of us.

    • says

      Hi Becky, thanks for your note! :) I love teaching at TN, the small classes are so fun. Glad to hear there are other sevens out there who can relate to my story. That’s great that you started a health blog, there can’t be too many of them promoting a clean and lean plant-based diet. Yay!

  9. Chris Wallace says

    Hi Cathy, count me in on your huge flock of admirers… your blog is like a breath of fresh air! We were lucky to have recently seen Dr. McDougall, Dr. Barnard, and Pam Popper at the Tucson seminar and look forward to seeing Jeff Novick and Dr. Campbell here in May… wish you could come be a part of it too. Allow us to offer you our serene and spacious home and serve you the kind of meals you like. Would love so much to meet you… you are like an online sister I can totally relate to, animal lover and all. Wishing you the best with your continuing success! Meantime, I am following your facebook posts. Your recipes and photography are superb.

    • says

      Hi Chris, aww, thanks so much for your kind note. That would be fun to come to Tucson and be a part of that event; what a line-up! And to stay with you! I love staying with locals instead of hotels, if possible. Thank you for the offer, your place sounds wonderful. I will file it away for the future. I look forward to meeting you, my sister! 😉 Thanks for your kudos and support. Much appreciated! xo

  10. Adrienne says

    I just found you, and immediately bookmarked your page! Your site is exactly what I need to help in my plant based nutrition quest for me and my family. My kids are the hardest, they like almost anything but I get trapped in the”easy food” trap. I know what’s best health wise, but sometimes just want to get lunch on the table. It’s the casual, rustle something up meal that I have problems with. Any ideas or directions for further reading? Thanks so much for your site, regardless. You’re already a help!

    • says

      Hi Adrienne, I’d suggest making a list or menu of some casual, quick meals that you can make so you don’t need to think about it; you’ll just need to choose something. My go-to is any kind of starch and veggies steamed, maybe a baked potato with veggies on top w/salad dressing or salsa, maybe a colorful bean salad, bowl of soup, hot grain, big bowl of fruit, some type of wrap, mashed potatoes with mushrooms and peas (I love this one), baked yams (these are great cold the next day too), soba noodles with veggies (cold or hot). I think a little preplanning will really help with these quick meals. :)

  11. says

    My journey is akin to yours, starting with the Enneagram, and here I am teaching plant based nutrition and cooking. Your site is fabulous, Cathy, and looking forward to preparing some of your new recipes. Much success with all you are doing. You are changing lives – for the better!

  12. says

    I’m a number seven too! I started my own vegan meal delivery service two and half years ago. Then six months ago I started teaching cooking classes privately and in organized group classes. I have a part time job cooking vegan food at a yoga and spiritual retreat centre. I’d like to take the plant based nutrition course through e-Cornell. If you can do it, so can I. 😀

  13. says

    So glad I found your site today, Cathy! It’s wonderful. I also made a few huge career shifts in last 15 years from corporate HR to online entrepreneur to fulltime artist (I’ve found my bliss!)….and your site is helping me ground in my body, too….I’m a 4 on the enneagram, so Art is where i belong, but I care deeply about healthy foods, vegan foods, and creative preparation that takes no more than a few minutes. More time to paint. LOL.

    I’m in Santa Rosa, too……I found you thru a McDougall link. Blessings!

      • says

        Thanks for visiting my site, Cathy….: ) Yes, would oodles of fun to get together…coffee, lunch. Talk healthy food, Santa Rosa… Awesome.

  14. Doreen Karp says

    Since attending the 10-day McDougall seminar and attending your cooking demonstration, I’ve been looking at recipes on your website. I love the photographs and array of recipes! It was interesting to learn how you became a vegan chef.

  15. says

    Hi Cathy, I found your site today and this article spoke to me (I am also a “7” and am working on a plant based cooking cert). Variety is indeed the spice of life, isn’t it? Thanks for inspiring others to healthier (and definitely not boring) ways to cook! Bonnie

  16. Lisa Christensen says

    I totally relate to your non-traditional route of learning and work style and have always considered myself a Renaissance woman. I have been plant-based for almost six years now and just completed the T. Colin Campbell plant-based nutrition certificate program from eCornell in a desire to have a more solid foundation under me as I come alongside people and help them navigate their way to health. I am wondering what nutrition certification program you completed when you begin your journey?

  17. Kendra says

    Hi Cathy.! :)

    I’m from Australia and am starting my journey of becoming a plant-based chef. Do you have any advice or recommended courses to take.? I am willing to travel anywhere and everywhere in the world in order to become the best I can be and improve the lives of those around me through the wonders of proper nutrition and joyful food.

    I hope you are marvellously well and look forward to your reply x

    • says

      Hi Kendra, I didn’t go to culinary school, but I presume you’d gain a lot from going that route, especially for working in a commercial kitchen. I knew I wanted to teach and not work in at a restaurant or institution, so I just started teaching myself how to cook this way, by reading the cook books by other chef’s, watching videos, going to demonstrations, and doing a lot of Googling and experimenting in my own kitchen. If you want to get some training, trying searching “vegan chef training” online and you will find lots of good starting points. Overall I’ve found that people don’t really care if/where you were trained; they just care about the food tasting good. Good luck to you! :)

  18. says

    I’ve never taken the Enneagram, but have had numerous people tell me I’m a seven as well. Like you, I’ve “had more jobs than socks.” (What a great phrase!) I have yet to find my “thing” as it were, but am happy to hear you have found yours. Happy to be reminded there’s hope for us Renaissance women:)

  19. jay says

    Good for you! We (all of us starch eaters) should get more organized. After reading Dr. Campbell’s comments at the end of his book “The China Study”. Two things are apparent- We should do something, and We can do something if everyone comes together sort of at a grassroots level. The main thing is teaching kids to eat right for the next 80 years after we’re gone.

Leave a Reply