Chef Katie Simmons is the best personal chef in Chicago, but her journey to cooking has been a winding path from Kentucky to backpacking in New Zealand through culinary school at Kendall College and working for Whole Foods Market. Her own frustrations of being an overweight fitness professional finally led her to embrace a plant-based, vegan diet. She is excited to share her love of food and passion for cooking with this community.
How did a classically-trained chef develop a passion for plant-based cooking?
How did an overweight girl, growing up in Kentucky, become a healthy vegan, cooking in kitchens all over Chicago?
Here's my Journey...
Early love for Fitness and Community
My journey began as a child, drawn to the social communities in fitness and the arts -- constantly running from dance rehearsals to field hockey practices, cross country meets to theatre performances. My Kentucky roots filled my blood with the importance of family, community, and letting the day take a break to share dinner with the ones you love.
But I was not healthy. Through college and after graduating from Loyola, my involvement in the fitness world increased, as did my self-consciousness. Always overweight, I struggled with how to guide Personal Training and Group Fitness clients on nutrition. For some reason, the rules of calories in/calories out failed me. This simple message seemed to be lost in the packaged "energy" bars, fiber-laced cereals, and "extra protein" Greek yogurts. I felt more guilty about eating potatoes than the processed food that filled my cabinet.
Backpack Solo in New Zealand
Then I took a trip. I left my safety, my routine, my dependable job, and went halfway around the world to New Zealand. By myself. For five months. With no plan, a barely-opened travel book, and a brand new camera. Finding my way through the country, I learned how to listen to my desires. I learned how to follow my passions. I worked on organic farms and learned how to harvest squash. I lived in crowded hostels where English was lost to Germans, Swedes, and Japanese. I remembered my Kentucky roots. In the crowded hostel kitchen, I'd cook a huge dinner. I'd make extras. I'd share. I'd use food to start the universal conversation of travelers: What they miss about home, what they've discovered, and where they're heading next. Food became a story that unraveled when shared others.
A Passion for Cooking:
Classic Training at Kendall College
Coming back the States, I knew I wanted this conversation to continue. I began my culinary training at Kendall College. I worked with respected Chicago chefs -- in restaurants, at special events, in volunteer opportunities. Here, I learned to respect the ingredients. I tasted the difference between a farm fresh egg and a conventional, sad impersonator. I shook as I butchered my first farm-raised pork loin. I learned how to close my eyes and let the glide of my knife filet down the spine of a wild-caught salmon. I smelled fresh basil from the garden. I got addicted to the candy-sweet burst of sungold tomatoes, still warm from the sun. I inhaled the intoxicating aroma of fraises des bois strawberries. I not only respected the story of food for people, but I respected the history of the kitchen, the discipline of the cook, and the community created between farmer, chef, and diner.
Transition to Plant-Based:
Wellness Club Chef for Whole Foods
I began to celebrate plants. I left behind the fake foods of my cabinet in place of trips to the farmer's market. I opened my arms to the potato. I researched more about nutrient symphonies, calorie density, unnecessary oils, and the power that a whole-foods, plant-based diet can have in reversing disease, improving quality of life, and creating a healthy, thriving being. I began my position as the Wellness Club chef at Whole Foods Market, developing and teaching plant-based, oil-free recipes. I earned my certificate in Plant-based Nutrition from e-Cornell.
I stopped eating dairy.
I stopped cooking with oil.
I filled my plate with whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and a variety of plants.
And I finally lost weight. A lot of weight. Like 50 pounds weight (about 27% of my body weight)
My energy surged. My body changed. I slept better. My moods balanced. And I still feel great.
It took me about two years to fully embrace a vegan diet. There's no looking back.
Knowing all I know, I want to share this message and this food with as many people as I can. Eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet has affected me greatly, and I want to share this positive change with my community. It is my responsibility as chef to share how delicious healthy eating can be. Please come taste with me.
The recipes on this website are mine, shared to connect.
The photos on this website are mine, shared to inspire.
The writings on this website are mine, shared to educate.
Please share your story with me.
Chef Katie's Services
B.A. in Theatre from Loyola University Chicago
A.A.S. Culinary Arts from Kendall College
Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from eCornell University, T Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
#1 Personal Chef in Chicago by Thumbtack, "Best of Chicago" 2015 Winner
2 Years Chef of Wellness Club at Whole Foods Market, teaching cooking classes, catering, and recipe development for vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, whole-foods diets