Rebekah is a plant-based chef located in Venice Beach, California. She is originally from San Francisco. She practiced Speed Swimming, Synchronized Swimming and Water Polo from a young age through university competing at National and collegiate level. She became a vegan in 2011 and a chef shortly after that.
Tell us about the your sporting career.
I swum since the age of five and competed in both swimming and synchronized swimming growing up. I also played water polo in High School. I competed at the highest level nationally in synchronized swimming and swimming. I race speed swimming competitively in college in San Diego and then retired.
How was your transition to life after sport?
It was rough for a long time, nearly five years. I came from a regimented lifestyle with five hours of training per day to figuring out my own routine. I had the discipline but I didn’t understand I didn’t have to exercise so much every day. I would workout in the gym for one hour and then would do two additional classes. I kept the crazy workouts well after college and retirement. I had the fear of getting fat. So much of my journey was learning to stop competing in everything I did. Yoga helped me a lot with that.
I also have an identical twin sister so competition was sort of build in my psychology. It took me about a year to feel the effects of yoga and let go of the competitive lifestyle. Now I use competition only to challenge myself. I found balance in exercising about hour a day and eating healthy. I now feel pretty good.
What about your emotional transition? Did you associate with your sport identity?
Sport was definitely my identity. I talked about being an athlete for a couple of years after I retired but, during that time, I wouldn’t get in a pool! I didn’t want to touch water, I didn’t want to shower, I didn’t want to be in a pool. Eventually I started getting back in the water to do synchro but that was only four or five years after I retired. It felt good but I also had lots of trauma resurfacing.
Do you still swim on a regular basis?
No, I don’t. It still feels like a job to me. I love when I do it and I feel like I want to continue but I still have so much mental resistance. And also, I still worry I won’t be the fastest out there. I guess it would be good for me to let of that go and be the one in the “slow lane”.
Did you lose your social network after you retired?
No because I didn’t connect with a lot of the athletes in college. When school ended, it was actually a relief. I also had my twin sister so I didn’t have the need for it. The other “synchro sisters” I grew up with will remain my closest friends even if I do not see them on a regular basis.
Was your sister your go-to person?
Growing up, we were each other reason for sticking with sports. We also had a pretty tumultuous family life so sports kept us in line and happy we were not home. Being around coaches and teammates was something more positive in our life as home wasn’t always positive.
Did you always wanted to be a chef?
No. I had zero plans after college. I didn’t know what major to choose because I had no interests outside of sports. My parents didn’t guide me in that way. They were both business majors and they told me I could just do business as it is broad and applicable to anything. So, I chose business management.
How did you figure things out?
It was very very difficult. I worked in restaurants serving tables for a while. I have to say that everything happens for a reason. I was always making friends with the chefs and staring in the kitchen windows looking at what they were cooking. Maybe this is when I became a little bit of a foodie. I got even more drawn to food when I became a vegan because I had to cook for myself and I had to learn how to make new tasty things. I never thought I would be a chef. I had never even considered that profession.
How did you become a chef?
I was working for an event company in Beverley Hills. They were downsizing and moving the company to another location and told the employees to find another job. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to stay in events. Fortunately, I met a gentleman who had a rare immune disease and needed a cook so I interviewed for the job.
Part of my allowance growing up was to cook dinner for my family with my sister. So I had that base and a natural cooking instinct. Growing up, I also watched my grandma cook. She was an amazing cook. I interviewed for this position and didn’t even have to cook! I got the job and I went into it blind but I knew what good food tasted like. I guess it worked because he liked my food! The funny thing is I had been a vegan for a few years but he wasn’t. I was a vegan becoming a chef and cooking meat for someone else!
How did you cook meat without tasting the dishes?
A lot of it was ground chicken. I used to cook chicken for my family so I knew when it was ready. Sometimes I would cook the veggies separately, taste them, then add the chicken and the sauce and hope for the best! I would be grinding meat from scratch and making chicken meat patties! What saved me is that I never had to cook a steak or anything that required more finesse and technique. I cooked mostly chicken and fish so it was pretty easy.
How did you feel about it?
I didn’t like it. When I would go to work, I would disassociate and not think of the animals.
Before we talk more about your cooking career, can you tell us how you became a vegan?
I grew up eating meat but I never really liked it. Also, being an athlete, back in the 80s and 90s, this is where you were told you got your proteins. There wasn’t any research about alternative options. I also didn’t want to speak up and say I didn’t like eating the food at home. In 2008, I went to watch my friends compete in the Olympics and then I travelled for a month in Asia. When I came back, I felt really puffy. I had just eaten whatever I wanted for a month so my mother recommended a liquid cleanse to lose weight. I ended up doing it for 40 days. I completely lost the taste for meat following the cleanse. I became a pescatarian. Then, I moved to Los Angeles and got into the yoga and health community. I started to feel more compassion for animals. And this is how I became a vegan. Once I started to also feel health benefits, I never looked back.
So how long has it been?
I have been on the vegan journey since 2011.
You are not going back?
I can’t see going back, no.
Do you still work for the same person?
No, the gentleman I worked for eventually needed an in-home nurse who began to take care of the cooking. So I continued my journey with food in a different direction. I started cooking for a couple. They wanted me to manage their food, diets, meal plans and cooking. They became my main clients.
What is your culinary training?
I was a self-taught chef for about four years. But eventually I wanted a deeper knowledge of flavors and techniques and a better understanding of the science behind food. I knew though that going to a traditional school wouldn’t serve me since half of the curriculum wouldn’t apply to me. I didn’t need to learn about cooking meat or dairy and I didn’t want to waste time. So I started researching plant-based schools. There is an amazing plant-based school here in Venice but it didn’t work for me because it was full-time and I was working. I ended up enrolling in an online plant-based school called Rouxbe which is one of the largest online culinary school in the world. I followed a six-month program, about 15 hours of practice per week. It was great and I highly recommend it.
If someone wanted to become a chef, would you recommend for them to start with the training or to start directly as a chef like you did?
If you have a base of knowledge and you feel you can develop good flavors, then I think starting off with cooking is an okay idea. However, if you are someone who needs more confidence, then education is a good start. I see the value in both. I felt I had hit a plateau and that is why it was good to further my knowledge. I could see someone mixing training and cooking at the same time. This is what you generally do throughout a career as a chef. Most chefs are formally trained. I eventually took some training at the school in Venice and I intend to continue to do throughout my career. I also take cooking lessons when I travel.
What inspires you and keeps you creative?
I love the food programming on TV. It is very inspiring; shows like Chef’s Table. I feel like The Food Network has taught me how to cook in a way. Eating out is always good, it is like a research project. I go to vegan and non-vegan restaurants. I always find something interesting to eat.
What are you favorites flavors?
I am really drawn to Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food and flavors. The Middle Eastern cuisine is what my grandma cooked. She was born in Iraq but spent most of her life in Singapore. The Middle Eastern flavors and smells are very nostalgic for me. I have been inspired during my travel to Lebanon and Turkey by what they can do with vegetables. As for Asian flavors, I find them really comforting.
If you could pick a cuisine to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It would have to be Thai food.
What is your favorite dish?
Anything with a Thai curry flavor, probably a green Thai curry.
What is your go-to ingredient?
Definitely cashews and green onions. Green onions can go in almost everything. I also like adding frozen peas to salads. It gives it a cold bite. And I started a little love affair with mint after travelling to Morocco.
What is the next restaurant you want to try?
I want to try the Mathew Kinney’s new spot “Make Out’ in Culver City and a vegan restaurant in Santa Monica called Golden Mean, their veggie burger is supposed to be excellent!
Would you do another profession?
Probably not. I want to be in the food industry. Working in and around food is my passion. I don’t always have to be the one cooking but I want to be involved in food. That is what makes me happy.
Do you grow any of the food you cook?
No, that is my next project!
What is your favorite part about being a chef?
I love that it is creative and that no two days are the same. I also love that people are always going to be hungry so, if you make something good, you are probably going to be in business! When you are a chef, you have a really positive job, you are always an exciting part of someone else’s day.
Do you try to convert people to veganism?
No, I am definitely not a pushy vegan. I speak openly about it but I am conscious of not making people uncomfortable. I personally feel awkward around vegan activists and I don’t want to be that person. I mostly speak about it when someone ask. And I usually focus on explaining how to re-create non-vegan flavor with plant-based options.
Is there a community of chefs? Do you work with other chefs and do they inspire you?
Two of my good friends are chefs. I have worked with both of them and I loved it. Outside of that, I have met some inspiring chefs at PlantLab. So I feel like I have developed a small network of chefs I can call for inspiration or for jobs.
What is the link between sport and what you do now?
I am a perfectionist and this definitely came from sport. Even when everyone tells me my food is good, I always think of ways to tweak it and make it better. As an athlete, I had a vision of how my movements should look like and now, as a chef, I have the same vision of how my food and business should be too. I have had to learn to let go sometimes because it really only is food!
Is being a chef as exciting and satisfying as your passion for sport?
There are moments in being a chef when I get similar highs as I did in sports but the feelings are still a bit different. I am constantly challenged as a chef. I use what I have learned to manage some of the stressful moments. I breathe and I tell myself I prepared as hard as I could and that everything will be okay. Recently, I have been pushed to my limits a lot which is good, it makes me feel alive. If you are pushed, it is a good sign. There has been times where I have been more bored in life and it is not good, it means less work.
What skills did you transfer from sports?
Time Management. So much of cooking is understanding how to plan and manage your time. For events, preparation is key. I also work with other chefs and team work is important. Everybody has different skills, approaches and techniques and you need to be able to work together and respect each other’s styles. This is like working with your teammates. You need to be able to work with people and adapt if needed.
Also, the ability to let go and accept the outcome is important. As an athlete, you have to let go of your performance once it is over and, as a chef, you have to do the same thing. Once you have completed your job or your performance, there is nothing else you can do and you need to be able to appreciate that you have given everything you could.
What is your best sporting memory?
I have reached a level in my sport where I can now enjoy it and have fun. It wasn’t as fun when I was growing up because it was so demanding and so much work. Now I can really appreciate it when I do it.
How do you define success and are you successful?
I define success by “doing what you want when you want and enjoying it”. It took me a while to find what I wanted to do. I found it and I am enjoying it so I guess, based on my standards, I am successful! I am still a bit hard on myself sometimes.
What makes you happy?
The excitement of trying a new restaurant, a new recipe idea popping in my head, cooking for friends, or hoping on an airplane to travel somewhere.
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