When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I was so sports driven that I just thought I would keep playing sports into my 20s. My dad was big into football. He got a scholarship to college and he almost went pro, so he always pushed us kids to be athletes. I was doing water polo, synchronized swimming, and speed swimming. I didn't really consider life outside of sports.
There was a neighborhood pool around the corner from the house that we grew up in. We started summer recreation swimming there at age five. Then my dad would go on these long bike rides and he saw this pool where girls were doing synchronized swimming. He told my mom that he thought Rachel and I should start synchronized swimming. Twins are pretty coveted in the sport because they're perfectly matched.
I definitely didn't like it at first. I wanted to quit. But we were taught not to quit things. There's so much technique you have to learn, so many different skills and elements, to even be able to do something that looks like you're a synchronized swimmer. But then I really started to excel and it's fun to be good at things, you know? So I stuck with it.
Then I started playing water polo in high school and I really fell in love with it. So I thought, “Hey, it's not like I have to be the best in the nation, but there are these teams that travel around the world and play water polo,” and that sounded cool to me.
How did you decide to attend San Diego State University?
I visited San Diego frequently growing up because of swim competitions, so it was always ingrained in my mind as this warm paradise with palm trees. And being from Northern California, it's a very different landscape. It was definitely the goal to get a scholarship and play sports in San Diego, so it was neat when that happened.
I did both swimming and water polo in college. It was really intense. I liked the teammates and the camaraderie, but I was really glad when it was over. It's just very, very demanding. Sports is what I knew, but I think realizing that there was this big world out there besides sports was really exciting.
How did you choose your major?
I didn't really have much guidance from my parents as to what my interests were beyond sports, and I hadn’t done much self-exploration. Both of my parents were business management majors, so they both advised me to major in business because it's broad. So I did.
But I think I would do it a little differently if I had it to do over. I would definitely have sat with myself a little more and thought about my interests beyond sports. I think now I would get into something involving nutrition or health.
I did enjoy some of it. I had a lot of athletes in my classes, so we all bonded together and had a lot of fun. And I really enjoyed my electives like Spanish and women's studies and studying abroad in Valencia, Spain.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I graduated from SDSU and that was really when my soul searching started to take place. I was just thinking, “What am I doing? What do I want to do?” I worked in restaurants for a bit, just to figure it out, because I had no idea. I also worked in VIP guest services at a hotel. And I did some traveling for a couple of years to sort it out. I did a trip to South East Asia, a few places in Central America, I lived in Australia for a summer, I did a couple of Burning Man's. I just really explored.
Then I did a competitive synchronized swimming competition in the South Pacific,
which was super fun. So I picked up synchronized swimming again professionally. We started our own little group in San Diego and then LA and did music videos and movies and private events. We even had a full underwater gig inside the Dubai Aquarium - a mermaid show.
Then I started working for an events company, which I liked, but it didn't really feel like my true passion. When that company was downsizing, they told me, "You can take as much time as you need to find your next job," which was super cool of them. So then that's when I got into food.
I interviewed with a gentleman who had a rare autoimmune disease, and he was looking for a chef. I grew up cooking - part of my allowance was cooking the family dinner growing up - and I would watch my mom and my grandma who is a fantastic cook. I feel like the food thing was kind of in my blood because of my grandma, and that's where my base of cooking started.
So he hired me to cook for him. I was nervous, but I knew I could cook and the food I made always tasted decent, so I just went with that. Maybe it was one of those young and dumb moves, I don't know. But it worked and it went really well. And then he got a bit more sick, so he had a nurse there full-time. She was from Africa and she was a fantastic cook. Her food was full of all these cool herbs and spices and every time I walked in the house it smelled amazing. So that was good and bad. I had less work, but it also pushed me to figure out what was next.
Then I started cooking full-time for a couple. Their diets were a bit specific, so that took up a lot of my time. One of the women in this couple was a kind of serial entrepreneur and she had a tech start-up. Over time, she started to bring me into the company, kind of like her right-hand gal. And I still do that now.
Then I found this culinary program called Rouxbe. It's actually the largest online culinary school in the world, and about five years ago they launched a plant-based program. I was super stoked to find it because I wanted to go to culinary school but I also had to work full-time.
At first I didn't quite get it because the chefs couldn’t taste my food, but when we cooked, we had to take pictures of the stages of cooking. And then we had to be very, very descriptive about how things tasted and smelled and the techniques we used. I got so much out of it even though there wasn't a chef tasting my food in person. And I definitely got enough feedback from feeding the people that were in and out of my house.
I gained a real understanding of how to build flavor in that course. And I learned some of the science behind food, which has helped my cooking. And I'm just a curious person by nature, so learning the reason behind why we do things in the kitchen was fascinating to me. I also recommitted to the diet that I believe is the healthiest, which is whole food, plant-based.
The one area that I didn't get to deep dive into was nutrition, which is understandable because it was culinary school, it wasn't nutrition school. So I took the online Cornell Plant Based Nutrition Course, which was fantastic. I had a pretty good idea of how to cook for people with heart disease and diabetes and things like that, but it furthered my knowledge in that realm. I just wanted one more thing under my belt to solidify my education in the plant-based world, and there were so many good takeaways from that program.
This summer, I started teaching cooking lessons, which have been super fun.
Sometimes with personal chefing, there is not a lot of interaction with clients or people; you just go into a client’s house, cook, and leave. So the food journey that I've been on has been making that connection with people and just chit-chatting about food. I felt like the lessons were the perfect way to do that.
I’ve got my menus live on Cozymeal, which is this app where you can have a chef come over and cook a private dinner for you. And then I also pitched my cooking lessons to Airbnb Experiences – it’s called Vegan In Venice Gourmet Cooking Class.
Sometimes I do the lessons at my house, but I also travel. Like last weekend, I did an 11-person birthday party and we rented out a big chef kitchen in Marina Del Ray. Or I had a couple celebrating their anniversary dinner at a nice Airbnb in Venice, so I met them at their Airbnb for their lesson.
It took me a moment to find my calling, which is in food and nutrition. It's where I feel the most excited and I totally see a future with it. I would love to reach a bigger audience and support more people in transitioning to being plant-based. I would love to host a vegan food show that blends traveling with cooking. I would love to be a resource to a greater group of people and support their journey to going plant-based.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I wish I’d had more guidance from my parents or an adult role model who had said, "There will be life after sports, so consider what you want." It was such a stark life change to go from being a competitive athlete to stopping and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. It was just so much to deal with at 22 years old.
Some real mentorship and asking kids, “What do you actually want?” would have given me a greater understanding of what life could be like. And then you can go from there and decide if you should go to college or trade school. Maybe I would've gone to culinary school right out of high school. And don't be married to the one job you get out of college. Use your time to travel and see the world because that's definitely part of your education and it will continue to form what you actually want to do.
I don't want to put down my journey and I'm so grateful for it, but I think supporting people to pause a little more and sit with themselves and apply that to the choices we make when we're 16 or 17 years old would be good.