Truthfully, when I first set out to create HeartBody Santa Fe, food wasn’t much on my radar. Many of the retreats and long workshops I’ve attended haven’t had a focus on food and I’ve had to do so much playing around with my diet that taking care of my own food needs has always felt like the least stressful option.
But a friend shared how valuable she finds eating together at the retreats she runs – the way it creates additional space for new energy, the way it creates a feel of family. And then I talked with Leah. Leah is a both a chef and a former HeartBody Method student (and a few other things!) and she wanted to cook for HeartBody Santa Fe. The more we talked, the clearer I got that she and my friend were (obviously) right and simply pointing out something that I find to be so true in my personal life and wouldn’t be any less true in community: food matters. As we get closer to the retreat, I’ve felt such joy knowing that the deep journey we’ll take together in HeartBody Santa Fe will be fortified with locally-sourced, organic foods prepared by Chef de Cuisine Leah Van Tassel.
Leah and I hold shared values around how food is selected and the role it plays in wholeness. Importantly, Leah has insisted upon the fact that her meals for the retreat will be prepared in accordance with each attendee’s dietary regimen. Diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder more than a decade ago, she returned to health through nutritious eating and understands better than most how important it is to stick with a diet that works and how that varies from person to person.
Having cooked since childhood, Leah made her passion her livelihood after graduating from the Natural Gourmet Institute, which is focused on “curriculum [that] empowers chefs, individuals and communities to be leaders in the conversation about food and wellbeing through the preparation of healthful and delicious meals.”
After working in restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and caterers, she became a personal chef for busy people throughout Manhattan. It was what she loved to do – size up a client’s kitchen, plan a menu, shop and then come back and cook a bunch of meals to be reheated through a week, empowering a family unit to eat more nutritious meals - together.
It was while in New York that Leah and a good friend made the choice to become chefs for a yoga retreat once a month. She loved it – she loved the bonding of a retreat environment and doing what she loves – offering health-supportive food of varied diets – among groups of people who truly appreciated her work.
Leah has since moved to Minneapolis where she still serves as a personal chef and combines this work with a focus on retreat environments that value her approach. As she moves into our time together at HeartBody Santa Fe, I asked Leah about her philosophy and approach to food:
“I wouldn’t claim that my sensibilities and philosophy are unique, but I have a very dedicated commitment to local, seasonal foods. From a food justice standpoint, I want to buy food that directly pays farmers – farmers who are caring for the soil and are nearby. I want to support the local economy. It’s how I personally eat and arrange my life and one of the many joys of my job.
“With HeartBody Santa Fe, I look forward to travelling and to meeting people on a deep level. Going deep is very life-giving and being a part of the experience and facilitating a meaningful time is something that I want to offer to the world – it’s exciting. When I do work in group setting, I cook across the spectrum – meat, vegan, gluten-free, raw. There will be something delicious for everyone.”
When it comes to food, Leah deeply loves breakfast and pizza – she and her husband, David, have made it their life’s work to find the best gluten free pizza in every town they’ve lived in together. In terms of her own artistry as a chef, a simple check of her gallery at http://leahvantassel.com will give you a taste for her gift that she will extend to HeartBody Santa Fe participants. She can also be found on Instagram at leah.vantassel.
Making the decision to bring Leah on board for HeartBody Santa Fe has created such a sense of ease for me. Not only do I feel well taken care of, but I feel empowered by the fact that her care is extending to each and every person coming.
I couldn’t be happier! Or hungrier. :)
(P.S. There's just ONE spot left at the retreat. Please connect if you're thinking about joining. I'm offering extended payment plans, too, if that's of use to you.)