Aloha…I would love to be flying to Hawaii to visit our next inspiring woman, Chef Leslie Ashburn. That is not the only reason I would like to be jetting off to the Big Island, but I would definitely make a point of sampling her food in between visits to the beach.
I am not a vegan. I am a devoted carnivore. My idea of a perfect meal could be a mooing burger- just this side of raw with red onions and blue cheese and a side of Buffalo wings but I am intrigued by what I have read about Macrobiotic Chef Leslie Ashburn. Leslie Ashburn is not just one of the leading chefs in Hawaii but she is also known for her community activism and has dedicated herself to correcting social injustices, along with working tirelessly to make a difference in the food Hawaiian’s eat by building community awareness of the importance of Preserving Hawaii’s farms and patronizing local food suppliers.
According to Chef Ashburn’s website, www.macrobiotichawaii.com Ashburn believes, “good health comes from the holistic integration of spiritual values, diet, and lifestyle. Of what benefit is a healthy diet if we are lonely and unhappy, or have relationships that drain us, for example? For me, health means having aspects of our life in balance, bringing forth vitality, an intangible force that cannot be measured, yet this vibrance be felt and seen by others. Of course, to achieve this, diet is very important. So is consciously attending to our lifestyle, attitudes, emotions, and relationships, as well as contemplating how we treat Mother Earth.”
Leslie learned about the benefits of macrobiotic cooking while living in Japan. I was not sure what macrobiotic cooking really meant so I looked it up and according to wiki, a macrobiotic diet involves eating whole grains as a primary staple which you supplement with other foods with an emphasis on eating local and seasonal vegetables. On this diet, it is important to avoid eating foods that are highly processed or refined and most animal products. One aspect of the macrobiotic diet brings me back to my childhood when my mom would try to get us to chew 30 times before swallowing – turns out my mom was ahead of her time as this thorough, slightly cud like, approach helps us to avoid overeating, which makes sense since you would have to sit at the table for hours in order to overeat – ok it is really because this gives your stomach time to let your brain know when you are full. Not all macrobiotic diets are vegan but Chef Ashburn made the choice to give up all animal products. Upon returning to Hawaii she wanted to share all that she had learned so she began working as a personal chef and began teaching cooking classes.
For those of you who may be trying to start a similar business you could learn a lot from Chef Ashburn who adopted a very simple grassroots approach to getting the word out about her new venture. She studied local organizations and targeted companies that seemed to share her healthy living philosophy. Leslie put together information about her and her business and using her list as a base she started making cold calls. For those of you who don’t know, a cold call is a call you make on a business, whether it is a phone call, or a visit, where you have no personal contacts – they suck – but Leslie said they were made a little bit easier for her because she was so passionate about what she was ‘selling’ – a healthier lifestyle. She approached massage schools and the culinary institute in Honolulu and started forming mutually beneficial relationships with them which started opening doors. Word spread about Leslie and her role in Hawaii’s culinary world expanded.
When asked what Chef Ashburn envisions for her future growth she stresses the importance of maintaining and developing Hawaiian farms. She feels it is vital that the islands take steps to develop a self sustainable food chain should they ever be cut off from supplies from the mainland. She wants to open a farm to table plant based cooking school that would educate people about the benefits of healthy eating and hopefully start to address the growing number of people who are obese and suffering from health issues that are complicated by excessive weight, such as diabetes. She wants to focus on using plant based ingredients using as many locally grown ingredients as possible. She, like so many of us, knows that eating food that comes directly from a local grower is good for our health, the community and the environment.
Chef Leslie Ashburn’s direction is so timely as so many of us are looking to cook healthier while having less time and money to accomplish that task. All of her recipes promise to be easy and fast to prepare using affordable ingredients. She states that anyone can have a satisfying diet using only grains, beans and fruits and vegetables. People must agree with her as she was recently named one of the top 12 chefs to watch in the islands by Hawaii Hospitality. She was also named “one of Hawaii’s most respected private chefs” when she took part in the GROW Hawaii Challenge where she judged a cooking contest along with Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, and Ed Kenney.
I was so inspired by the personal revelations that Chef Ashburn has experienced as she has tinkered with her own diet, it made me want to try tofu. I am scared but I will try it.