Fall is an especially important time to think about food. We’re staying in more to cook, planning dinner parties for the holidays, and volunteering food and time to underserved communities. Sure, food is fun—pumpkin pie! pasta! vegging out on the couch with popcorn!—but it’s also a way to practice self-care every day. When you eat the right foods, you’re nourishing your body, boosting energy, and supporting your immune system (so important during flu and cold season!).
Chef Katie Farina knows all about food as medicine and has used that ethos to teach others about the power of a vegan lifestyle through her company, Katie’s Healing Kitchen. Based in San Diego, Farina brings her recipes to life through catering, special events, cooking classes, and a cookbook due this December.
Here, Farina talks about her influences, how a medical scare guided her to a career in food, and why she loves raw desserts (seriously, hers are the best).
Name: Katie Farina
Job title: Chef and Owner of Katie’s Healing Kitchen
Hometown: San Diego
Current neighborhood: Mission Valley
You’ve said your family life was always filled with food. What are some of those early memories in the kitchen?
From a very young age I can remember helping my dad in the kitchen. When I was young he was writing cookbooks on healthy eating with pasta, so recipe-testing was a daily occurrence in our household. We’d make pasta from scratch together, turning our dining room table into a pasta factory with my dad guiding the pasta dough through the press while I cranked it. Then we would lay the strips over a broom held up by two chairs. It’s these simple memories that are perfect examples of how powerful food can be—not just the potential to nourish and heal, but also the ability to bring people together.
Cooking became a serious pursuit for you after your mom was diagnosed with cancer. What was going through your mind at that time and what was appealing about cooking?
Even though I grew up around food I honestly wasn’t passionate about it. All that changed when my mom was diagnosed. I just started reading a ton about health. Realizing that I didn’t want to be a doctor—I barely made it through science classes in school—I still wanted to help heal my mom. I really liked the idea that certain foods were powerful for healing. I could read about the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric and then use it in food. True food as medicine. I also loved that it was something tangible that I could do to help her. I loved the idea that we didn’t have to be at the mercy of our genetics but that we could have real control over not only our energy and vitality, but also our longevity.
Why branch out into cooking classes?
I wanted to show people how easy, cost-effective, and delicious cooking healthy meals could be. There’s often a negative stigma about the taste of healthy food, and I wanted to show folks that it really can taste good and that they can easily go home and make it for their friends and family.
How do you explain the “food as medicine” ethos to people who aren’t convinced?
In my classes I never try to push anything. I simply love talking about food as medicine, always trying to relate it back to personal experiences, customer success stories, and of course medical studies. Sometimes just leading by example is the quietest, most powerful way to make real change.
What’s your favorite dish to make?
I love making raw desserts! Taking a traditionally unhealthy dessert and using real whole foods ingredients to mimic the same flavor and texture is so fun. Plus a healthy dessert can turn almost any skeptic into a believer. I do an awesome raw carrot cake, with no processed flours, just tons of fresh carrots, dates, and cinnamon and people can’t believe it’s not the real thing.
Do you have favorite resources for being a better business owner?
I don’t rely on a lot of traditional resources. Whenever I’m struggling, I talk to my parents. They’ve been business owners my whole life [ed. note: they own Wine Vault & Bistro in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood] so I can always count on them to give me good advice and also not let me get caught up in the negative. They always bring me back to why I started my business.
What’s one tip you’d give to any woman who wants to launch her own business?
Don’t compare yourself or your business to others. It can be really easy for us, women especially, to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others and that along with the social media mess can easily make you think your business—and yourself—aren’t good enough. In reality, if you follow your dreams and give it everything you got, you’ve created something that you can’t compare to anyone else. Being a small business owner is the toughest yet most rewarding venture. Always remember your goal and don’t let anything get in your way.