If you live in Los Angeles, chances are that you have crossed paths with Chef Taji and her magic in some way or another. If she were a Game of Thrones character, she would have a title like Daenerys Targaryen:
Taji Marie--Culinary Educator, Goddess of Soul Nutrition, Gatherer of Good, Purveyor of Fresh Food, Queen of the 405, and Nourisher of Kings.
(NB She actually feeds the LA Kings. They won the Stanley Cup twice in the last five years and I think her granola recipe deserves some credit for that).
Anyone familiar Los Angeles knows full well that traveling between neighborhoods is no small feat. One does not simply go from the South Bay to Silverlake, or even from Santa Monica to West Hollywood.
And then, there's Taji, who somehow defies the laws of LA living. In a single week, her work spans from Manhattan Beach to Downtown, then to El Segundo, then back home to La Brea and beyond. Most incredibly, in a single week, she not only feeds hundreds of people through her catering company and her work for Grow, but also teaches them how to feed themselves through cooking classes and her blog. When the weekend arrives, you might find her hosting a Gather for Good event or a nourishment retreat.
Taji is an understated culinary matriarch quietly feeding Los Angeles from all angles with fresh and comforting cuisine (e.g. bison mushroom ragù, broccoli spanikopita, homemade harissa, oatmeal with pomegranate and satsuma...). She bucks trend by ignoring the foodie zeitgeist, the ever present "eat here! yelp this! gluten is the devil!" that hounds the psyche, in favor of a more grounding information source: your own gut.
Besides offering foundational skills and support in her cooking classes, she works to unchain students from what they've been programmed to fear (yes, fear!). She says that most often the challenge is getting people to let go of cemented ideas about what is good and bad to eat, and the right and wrong way to prepare food. "It just doesn't resonate with me that we should be so extreme," she explains, "it's about balance and what feels right for you."
Her greatest advice? Trust your gut. It's Taji's philosophy for life and food. A mantra instead of an equation. An approach that speaks to a more soulful need for nourishment.
"I like to say that we're all emotional eaters, even though that's kind of a dirty phrase sometimes...I think food is emotional, I think eating is emotional. I think you have to let that in when you talk about how to feed yourself better."
Taji and I share some resounding parallels in our lives. We both love food and we've both had serious health problems that have challenged that love very seriously at times. In fact, when I first met Taji, I was hardly able to eat more than toast and miso soup due to stress. But, deeper than that, we've both worked through trauma and stress that had manifested in our bodies and our eating habits.
...Which brings me back to nourishment and, for me, healing:
Call it a mind-gut connection. Call it soulful nutrition. Call it emotional eating. I am so glad that Taji is sharing with the world what we all need to hear when it comes to our eating habits. Through her own life journey and passionate work, Taji reminds us of the difference between consumption and nourishment, of the serious effects of stress on the body, and most of all, that the compass to navigate all the noise is trusting your gut--physically and emotionally.
Be you. Be emotional. Listen to your body. Nourish yourself and your soul.
...How many chefs tell you that?!
Above all, Taji reminds us that the most incredible gift that comes from nourishing yourself is not just your health and happiness, but the ability to nourish others--even across Los Angeles when you get really good at it!