You Are Complex: Meet Chef Haley Rego of The Holistic Trick
Here at Vibrant Health, we believe health is an inside job, unique to you. After all, you’re one-of-a-kind and your needs are complex – that’s why your supplements should be too.
To celebrate all of the beautiful complexities of our lives, each month we’ve been highlighting individuals in our community – taking a peek into the behind-the-scenes of their work life, wellness routines, and all the wonderful things that make them who they are.
In honor of National Culinary Arts Month, this July on the Vibrant Health blog we got to chat with Chef Haley Rego of The Holistic Trick. As A Certified Personal Chef with a background in Nutritional Sciences and Food Science, she is passionate about improving wellness through food.
In this insightful interview, we got to chat with Haley about her memories of cooking and gardening as a child growing up in Connecticut, a typical “day in the life” as a chef, and her passion for farm-to-table cooking. We hope you enjoy our series…and remember, keep being you!
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Gritty, Peaceful, Old-soul
Tell us about your journey to becoming a chef. Did you always love food and cooking growing up?
Growing up in a small farm and mill town in Northeastern CT, agriculture, nature and food have always been constants in my life. My parents experienced a messy divorce when I was very young. As an only child, I often found myself feeling bored or lonely which led me to experience a simple, yet chaotic life.
I grew up gardening with my mom every summer, eating grape tomatoes off the vine while in the garden barefoot. I come from a long line of homesteaders and horse trainers, and began riding horses when I was five. My first job was on a dairy farm when I was eight or ten milking 150 holstein cows every Friday night. By the time I could stand on a kitchen chair, my Nana was teaching me how to make bread, pies, cookies, and cakes. I always wanted to have my hands in everything and understand how whole systems fed into one another and worked together.
It wasn't until high school, when I enrolled in two semesters of Culinary Arts classes and got my first real paying job as a dishwasher at a local pizza business in my hometown, that I decided to pursue cooking as a career. Next thing I knew, a Johnson & Wales student came to visit our high school culinary class which led me to apply and pursue an A.S. in Baking & Pastry Arts at JWU in Providence, RI and that's where it all began.
What does the day in the life as a personal chef, caterer and coach look like for you?
Always different! From varying client diets and menus to the nitty gritty ins and outs of operating a legit food business in 2023, it's A LOT of work growing The Holistic Trick. And it’s not easy when you lack your own 24/7 commercial kitchen space (we use two shared-use kitchens). Luckily, I love it though! Typically I shop and cook for private meal prep clients at the beginning of the week and dedicate the tail end of the week to special event catering and lining up the following week's services.
There's a ton of behind-the-scenes work that must happen concurrently such as: responding to inquiries, onboarding new clients, invoicing, social media, email marketing, market research, customer relations, placing orders, keeping branding current, paying taxes, paying operating expenses and subscriptions, managing bank account balances, bookkeeping, and much more. In between, oftentimes in the evenings I coach private clients in my coaching practice, Stoke the Flame Coaching. Many of them are entrepreneurs themselves needing higher level life and business support from someone who's out there in the field just like them, who can offer a fresh perspective on their frustrating growing pains.
July is National Culinary Arts Month, celebrating professional cooks and chefs for bringing innovative, unique cuisine from kitchen to table. What are you most proud of in your role as a personal chef?
I'm proud of the way I've been able to harness and encompass all my natural gifts, talents, abilities, and passions through my culinary nutrition business. Not only do I get to make a great living, have freedom and autonomy to create my own destiny, make major nutritional impacts on my clients, and promote and do what I love, but I also get to share my food with other like-minded individuals. Bringing others wellness, peace, and joy through food is a way of life for me.
You have a background in Nutritional Science & Food Science as well! Can you tell us how that shifted your perspective on food and cooking or an “aha” moment you had?
I always think back to "The Science of Baking" class I took freshman year at JWU when someone asks about my aha moment. The class was all about experimenting with various fat, sugar, flour, milk, and egg substitutions and replacements, while considering various variables specific to each ingredient. Some ingredients were healthier than others, others were unhealthy but great for extending shelf-life or creating a flakier product, some made a dense product, others an overly delicate product, some tasted great, others tasted horrid, some completely failed, others worked almost better than the classic recipe AND still tasted great. It was really interesting to have that freedom and flexibility in what seemed to be such a rigid profession (baking is notorious for being an exact science and very technical). This class brought out the free-spirit, experimental mad scientist in me. It taught me, once you know the rules, you then understand how to bend them and make them your own.
Learning how hydrogenated/trans fats were great for extending the shelf-life of baked goods but horrible for human health sparked a new interest, in how food impacts the body. I'd struggled with lactose intolerance and mysterious GI issues my entire life (nervous stomach, now known as IBS) so deciding to pursue a higher degree in Nutritional Sciences & Food Science filled a major gap in this whole system I was so passionate about understanding (including my own). I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to walk through the fire and heal myself on so many levels through food, even more lucky to use my story to facilitate healing and higher consciousness in others.
As a holistic chef, you prepare foods that are delicious, beautiful, and nutritious. Can you tell us more about your process and cooking style?
I'm not classically trained in culinary arts; everything I've learned is either self-taught, learned from extensive work experience, picked up from years of watching Food Network and culinary competitions, or just a random integrated experimental creation. Because I understand the science of food, I often recruit this knowledge through the process of cooking new ingredients or recipes. I love to cook with local farm-to-table ingredients, using all edible parts of the ingredient, while wasting as little as possible. This means considering FIFO (first in first out) before cooking even begins. I'd call my cuisine style Medi/Asian, using BIG flavors from herbs and spices as opposed to sugar and salt and focusing on veggies, healthy fats, complex carbs, nuts, seeds, fruits, and respectfully raised proteins when possible. Again, I'm a huge proponent of utilizing all parts and letting nature and my clients' nutritional goals guide what I cook.
My dream is to one day work, live, farm, cook, and raise life on my husband’s and my 7-acre parcel located in Westport, MA. We've already started a small garden and hope to begin building our "mini-home" by late summer. Building out my own commercial kitchen and additional shared co-working spaces for other like-minded food business owners and artisans is the five-year dream plan!
What is your favorite healthy snack or dish to prepare for your clients — and for yourself?
Clients: Any kind of curry and basmati rice, Asian Quinoa Salad with peanut sauce and a protein, Sicilian Seafood Stew with Almond and Pine Nut Couscous, Plant-based Energy Balls, Vegan Zucchini Lasagna with Cashew Ricotta, local grilled proteins with chimichurri.
Myself: Any of the above; I literally just love to eat and enjoy big flavors from across the globe using local or indigenous ingredients. People are always intimated to cook for me but honestly, if you cook for me I will be beyond grateful and love you forever (extra points if it tastes great)!
What does "healthy" mean to you?
"Healthy" is definitely not one thing or even a final destination, but more so a holistic, fluid perspective you dedicate to over and over again without judgment of self or others. It's a coming home and it's about the whole, the entire system. The macrosystem: yours, mine, your friends, families, coworkers, your surrounding communities, the world at large's health. The microsystem: your personal mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. And how both the macro and micro systems feed into one another to create the health of our collective reality.