Chelsea Turowsky is the San Francisco-based founder and owner of the artistic and health-forward catering company, the personal meal-delivery service, and an ongoing, additional pop-up food project—OMIOMI.
I came across Chelsea’s work on Instagram, which I browse through every day for inspiration on the latest visual food trends. I can’t say what exactly drew me to Chelsea’s food in a word. Undeniably, it looked thoughtfully curated and feminine—somehow, I’ve started to recognize when there’s a woman’s touch behind a dish. However, it was more than that. The prettiness disclosed the attentive research conducted on local prime produce, whereas the curated revealed a combination of creative influences and personal experiences, which both surprised and comforted the eater.
In this Workplace Wisdom Interview, I chat with Chelsea about the feminist movement in the kitchen, how she designs her lunch concepts, and why she thinks that, as a cook, she has a responsibility towards both the people she feeds and the planet.
Could you describe your cooking style?
For the sake of temperature control and nutrition, when catering, I generally cook plant-based foods only. I draw inspiration from memory, dream, history, landscape, and neuroscience, for example, to cook and present food that is concept-forward. I also consider and am inspired by the foods of places I’d like to visit, and question how I can both cook and respect the dishes of cultures that are not my own. At its heart, my style is a balance between colorful, compelling aesthetics and fresh, mindfully nutritious ingredients.
It’s crucial to me to be inventive; for this reason, I rarely follow recipes, except to learn new techniques and then slightly tweak them. With social media, it feels increasingly important to draw less inspiration from exact food photographs, but more from stories and ingredients. I’m deeply inspired by days at the farmers market and personal transactions with the Bay Area farms I source from. Any time that I shop outdoors and directly support my region’s farms and their offerings, it feels right and closer to what I’d like OMIOMI to represent.
What are the concepts that inspire you most at the moment?
I’m excited by food concepts that encourage personal, intimate exchange through food at the community level. Some examples are Heritage Food Radio Network and the pop-up dinners at Dimes in New York, honoring causes like The Indigenous People’s Dinner.
I love popping-up with food in new spaces, particularly where you wouldn’t expect it. Last month, I put on the first of my dinner series, DREAM FOOD, at Gravel and Gold, a San Francisco women-run design collective and shop. The dinner is about presenting my personal memories and dreams–my story–through each dish, and opening a dialogue on food’s ability to transport us.
For example, the third course on last month’s menu was called Precious Objects, a translation of an urgent recurring dream where I am told I need to gather my most precious belongings and flee. The first of the series was a hit, and I’ll be continuing it in Berlin this month and in San Francisco again in June.
What do you think about the current #metoo movement in the kitchen?
Female recognition in every field is a major topic right now, as it should be. I strongly support established food organizations like Bon Appetit and Cherry Bombe who spotlight female chefs and are largely female-run. Just as in other lines of work, the respect due to women in food is growing.
But as a white, queer woman I will also say that levels of racism, classism, and homophobia still permeate the food industry, both subtly and overtly. We need to work toward food having an inclusive feminist moment, and maintain that. The Bay Area is an incredibly inclusive place, but it doesn’t adequately represent what’s likely happening, or not happening, in other areas of the country (and world).
As a private chef, you cater food at companies and coworking spaces. From your perspective, what’s the role of food culture in organizations?
Food is a modern way for a workplace to exhibit their respect for their employees. I have entered many a San Francisco startup filled with the junk food of our childhoods (and the occasional healthier granola bar or banana). Especially in a city like mine, with such access to local, healthy food purveyors, I feel there is no excuse for workplaces not to offer quality food to their teams and employees and to regularly weave food culture into the office routine.
In addition to nourishing their employees, a workplace has the opportunity (and responsibility?) to support local commerce and to encourage their office to be invested in small food businesses and about healthy eating in general. This is one of the primary reasons I am so drawn to the Meal at Work campaign and feel its mission could revolutionize work culture! A shared meal might seem simple but it’s that nurturing simplicity and connection through food that I feel is already missing.
You seem to meditate a good deal on lunch as a concept that can, essentially, make or break a person’s (or team’s) work day. Can you tell me more?
Because most weeks I essentially make a living by making other people’s lunches, this meal is constantly at the forefront of my cooking. Our bodies need energy, and we generally rely on our diet to provide that. I don’t exactly feel a meal should be formulaic. However, I do advocate that a thoughtful lunch acts as a method of self-care and an avenue toward being our most productive, healthiest, and creative selves.
I meditate on lunch as a symbol, an idea, and questioning; how do we want this meal to make us feel? What do we need out of this meal, and how do our needs vary by person, climate, and profession? Running the meal delivery service, I do carry a serious feeling of responsibility to create lunches for my clients that will delight them, be mindfully packaged and delicious; meals somewhere between familiar and surprising.
And finally, what are your favorite snacks at work?
As of late, sunny side up eggs on fresh salad, sometimes with tahini, with some type of seed or nut addition. An egg in the middle of the day is super luxurious to me. Its taste is comforting. This dish is also incredibly simple to prepare, protein-packed, and when covered in turmeric and coarse black pepper, naturally anti-inflammatory.
I have a sweet tooth and take pleasure in any kind of fuel I might get through a treat. I love to snack on these little gluten-free lavender almond cookies that have the right amount of sweet. I’m sharing the recipe here for the first time as a thank you for the interview.
Lavender Almond Gems
Makes ~2 dozen small cookies
2 cups almond flour,
¼ cup/ 60 gr nut butter (almond or sunflower),
¼ cup/ 60 gr raw honey,
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil,
½ teaspoon ground flax seed,
2 tablespoons plant milk (almond preferred),
1 teaspoon dried or fresh lavender,
2 teaspoons vanilla,
1 teaspoon baking powder,
½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 °F/ 180 ℃
To a food processor, add all ingredients and pulse together until smooth and dough-like.
Shape roughly 2 dozen bite-sized balls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Delicately add additional lavender, sesame seeds and salt (optional) to each cookie, lightly pressing down with two fingers.
Bake for 7 minutes, remove from hot pan and allow to cool.
For a wider look into Chelsea’s work, visit her website: www.omiomi.kitchen
Need some help to re-design your organization’s food culture?
At WE Factory, we help organizations (re)design their workplace food culture to support their teams’ creative potential and wellbeing. Read more about our services on Workplace. If you like to get involved with Meal at Work, join our community on Meal at Work.