Hey, I’m Ronny!
I’m a self-taught cook, food photographer, recipe blogger and coffee enthusiast.
This is my story…
When I’m not working as an Art History professor, I’m cooking, making videos, taking pics of food and eating (usually in that order!) Truth be told the whole video and food photography stuff is pretty new to me. It all began in the spring of 2015… Whoa, wait a second, let’s back it up. It actually all began when I was 11…
The year was 1996, I think. After all, it was 19 years ago and I can hardly remember what I ate for breakfast this morning (Actually, I had a freshly blended fruit smoothie with banana, kiwi, pineapple, ginger and spinach). Okay, bad example! Getting back to the story, it was around 1996 and I was a chubby little boy with a very picky palate. I would label myself a child-connoisseur of all things fast food and unhealthy. My favorite foods included pizza, pasta, fried rice, chicken fingers (the more frozen the better), potato chips, soda pop, cheeseburgers and, of course, the Holy Trinity: McDonalds, Burger King and Taco Bell. For me, the last three were food groups of their own. If it wasn’t deep-fried, greasy, on a bun or loaded with cheese, I didn’t want it. My beautiful, elegant, angelic mother was not pleased with my behavior. Coming from a family of doctors, she was, and has always been, health-conscious, keeping up with the latest developments in medicine, diet, exercise and overall wellbeing. She always provided my brother and I with the freshest, best-est, most incredibl-est food any kid could ever ask for. I, however, in my insufferable, abhorrent pre-pubescence, didn’t know any better. Nor did I understand the burden I placed upon my mother when I refused to eat her “rabbit food,” as I called it. I would regularly push her plates away from me in the hopes that she would cave-in and go buy me something from the McDonalds near our home. In fact, in elementary school, I even went so far as to toss her packed lunches in the garbage so that I could walk over to the daycare, where hot meals with mac and cheese and hotdogs were prepared for the kiddies, and tell them that my mother forgot to pack me a lunch. My mother had no idea until she got a phone call from the school office inquiring as to how a mother could send her child to school without food! As punishment, my mother served a can of whoop-ass that night! It’s not that my mother wasn’t a good cook. She was and is an amazing cook! It’s that I was a picky and selfish brat.
After the whole school lunch incident I knew I had messed up. Big time! Not only did I ruin my chances at fast food, there was a WANTED sign posted on the door of the Daycare. I was a rebel! Maybe not, but I did develop a pretty bad street-rep as the kid who would throw out lunches if he wanted to #thuglife. But now, there was nowhere for me to turn and no hope in sight. Where would my next unhealthy, carb-loaded, fat-infused, sugar-soaked meal come from? My mother refused to buy it for me and she sure as hell wasn’t going to cook it. So I decided that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. I was gonna make it my damn self! But how! How does one make a Double Big-Mac with extra pickles or a Chili-Cheesy Burrito with Fries Supreme? I was at a loss, doomed to walk the face of this earth forever hungry. And then, like a chorus of angels chanting the most perfect of harmonies from a choir in the sanctuary of food, I heard it: the Food Network on channel 56. It was glorious! The most beautiful words were broadcasted through the screen: papardele, margarita pizza, pancetta, tagiatelle, Bolognese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, carbonara and LASAGNA. It was as if Andrea Bocelli himself was singing them to me and me alone! The words were accompanied by images of slowly drizzled olive oil overtop steaming bowls of pasta with different varieties of sausages and cured meats. Snowfalls of grated cheese followed, enough to blanket the entirety of a two-car driveway. It was euphoric and, for me, a transcendent moment! I can’t remember exactly which show was being aired or which chef was cooking, but I remember it was something Italian and the food was pasta. I rushed to the kitchen to discover that there were a few ingredients with which I could create the dish the chef was cooking. I ran back and forth between the kitchen and the family room so that I could gather all of the ingredients and follow along with the steps he was giving. I set a pot of water to heat on the stove, ran back to the TV. I salted the water when it came to a rolling-boil, ran back to the TV. In a separate pan, I heated some olive oil and garlic, ran back to the TV. When the garlic perfumed the air and turned ever so golden, I added tomato purée, ran back to the TV. This continued for some time until, at one point, I had the ever-so-clever idea to turn up the volume on the television! Now, I could just follow along in the kitchen through audio alone. Commercials were my only moments of rest! In the end, from following the chef-angel from the other room, I created a penne pomodoro. I sat down to eat the pasta, grin on my face and all! It was piping-hot and I can remember the feeling of the steam rise to hit my face. The tomato purée was probably undercooked and the pasta was probably well passed the point of ‘al-dente.’ But when I put that first bite into my mouth it was pure bliss. Not only had I created something that was partially edible, I knew that with some practice I could make this more delicious and not have to holdout for the fast food my mother would no longer buy for me. I had solved my own problem and I enjoyed the process of doing it.
You might be asking yourself if it’s coincidence that this TV-chef was creating a dish so simple, so easy to prepare, with so few ingredients that an unaccompanied 11 year-old could follow along and find everything he needed in his healthy mother’s kitchen?
I think not! Instead, it was fate or destiny or whichever other term you prefer. As time went on I cooked and cooked often. Very soon I fell in love with Italian dishes. Perhaps it was because of my first encounter with cooking. Perhaps it was because Italian food was less about measuring ingredients and more about the romantic creation of food that required a constant seasoning of love. I became particularly enamoured with the hearty recipes from northern Italy. The dish that I came back to over, and over again, was beef ragu (AKA Bolognese). I must have made ragu at least 300 times between the ages of 11 and 19. I convinced myself that in order to become a good cook, I had to perfect the art of ragu (something I am still practicing to this very day.) It also probably had something to do with the fact that a good ragu made great lasagna. Northern Italian dishes in general appealed to my sensibilities, my tastebuds and my girth. Oh yes, my girth! I was a growing boy and boy did I grow – both in height and width. Northern Italian food was hearty and full of flavor, satisfying both my palate and my stomach! Win-Win!
My family encouraged my cooking. My mother even grew proud of how tasty my food was. At least homemade pastas, sauces, stews, soups and casseroles were much better than junk food – even if they did involve sticks of butter and the occasional sifting of flour. On days when my family would have guests over she would ask me to help in the kitchen! Then, one summer afternoon my mother announced that some friends were coming over and that she wanted me to prepare the entire dinner! I was overjoyed! Quickly, I donned her coveted floral-patterned apron with the utmost pride! I put pen to paper and hashed-out a menu off the top of my head. At that moment I was the only human in the world and nothing else existed except for the task-at-hand. For the first time in my life I experienced a state of pure focus. It was summer time and they would be dining outside. I knew that I wanted the food to be easy enough for me to manage preparing on my own but with enough flavour to wow the guests. It would also have to be seasonal. I decided on a simple but fresh caprese salad, homemade bruschetta and grilled chicken marinated in olive oil, rosemary and garlic. Some boiled new potatoes with garlic, butter and dill (an ode to my Russian heritage) would round out the meal and satiate even the hungriest of guests. Rustic, delicious, casual, Italian fare with a twist; it checked off all of the boxes. Everyone said that they loved the food and it made me very, very happy – even if they were just being polite!
Some more years passed and I continued to cook for my family and myself. My culinary passion grew in tandem with my weight. Before I knew it, I was quite hefty. No, morbidly obese was the term the personal trainer used. At the age of 17, I weighed a whopping 235 lbs with 40% body fat. The accuracy of that body fat machine is debatable, however. I think I was closer to 35%! For as long as I can remember I’ve been troubled by my body image. My earliest memories are ones in which I was fat and not “good-looking” or “cool”. I was the last to be picked for sports during recess. I was the shy fat kid in the boy’s locker room who waited until everyone else left before changing his t-shirt. Finally, in my later teenage years, I decided I wanted to make a change. At the advice of everyone around me I started to exercise regularly and I went on a diet. I followed the advice of Mike, a friend-of-a-friend and my first true fitness mentor. Mike was a lean, mean, muscle-building machine. He was a bodybuilder and knew the ins-and-outs of the local gym. Which machine worked what muscle and in what order they were most effectively used. He was also a whiz at the whole “what do I eat” thing. The diet he suggested to me was a variation of the same one many bodybuilding enthusiasts continue to follow today:
Breakfast: oatmeal and eggwhites
Snack: can of tuna, plain
Lunch: chicken breast with steamed broccoli and brown rice
Snack: piece of salmon filet, plain
Dinner: lean filet of beef with steamed broccoli and brown rice
Snack: protein shake and spoon of peanut butter
*1 gallon of water to be consumed daily
**Protein shakes after workouts and before bed
The meals were very low in fat (and flavour), high in protein and loaded with carbs. Each meal was to be measured and consumed in 3-hour intervals. It was brutal! Sure, you could switch it up every now and then and have the beef for lunch. But, overall, I hated every minute of it. It was bland, dry and repulsive. I went from years of savoring rich and creamy Italian dishes to force-feeding Styrofoam 6 times per day. But I did my best to follow the plan and continued to work out with Mike whenever he would let me. He knew everyone in the gym and introduced me to all of the coolest guys. They too encouraged me to keep working out and were always friendly. If it weren’t for this small support group I would have given up in the first week. But the weight didn’t come off. Instead I expanded and gained quite a bit of muscle. I soon had large biceps and the calves of a young ox. I grew stronger, lifting heavier and heavier weights. My bodyweight rose from 235 to 255 in a few short years. I never had my body fat retested but I can tell you that I did not get lean. On the contrary, I got bulky and kept most of the fat I started with, particularly in my “love handle” region. Yes, I was making strides in the gym. But I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I was still very self-conscious of my body. I tried to convince myself that this was the physique I was destined for. I was in an eternal bulk season!
One summer, when I was 19, I visited my grandparents in Florida for an entire month. I was continuing with my “bodybuilding” routine and went in search of a local gym. I found one a few blocks away from my grandparents apartment. It was a Gold’s Gym on Collins Ave. I knew about Gold’s Gym from my monthly subscription to Flex magazine, a gift from my older brother. It was where all of the greats trained. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Ronnie Coleman, Lee Priest, Chris Cormier and, my personal favorite, Dexter Jackson. In fact, I once met Claude Groulx at the Gold’s Gym on Collins Ave. My legs quaked as I mispronounced his surname while introducing myself and telling him how big a fan I was. There, in the same strip mall as the gym, was a supplement shop. I remember walking in looking for a small tub of protein powder for my month in Florida and walking out with a bottle of diet pills. Somewhere among the chemical-riddled shelves behind the cash register of this “nutrition shop” I spotted a product that promised to help you lose weight. I asked the muscle-bound clerk if he could tell me more about it. He said it was a miracle and it worked like a charm. I just had to be sure to drink plenty of water. Bro! Didn’t he know I was consuming a gallon per day? That month I lost a significant amount of weight. I don’t remember the exact figures but it was somewhere north of 50 lbs. It was from a combination of very intense exercise (sometimes two gym sessions in one day), what I thought was a good diet and the diet pills. Lots of the diet pills. Keep in mind that this was before the FDA banned ephedrine from over the counter supplements. I remember being on cloud nine when I went back home to Toronto. I wasn’t ripped, nor shredded; in fact I wasn’t very muscular at all. I looked kind of frail, had a lot of excess skin and stretchmarks all over! I lost a significant amount of my muscle – partly because I focused on cardiovascular exercises like running and the elliptical machine. I didn’t care though. In my mind I was 200 lbs of twisted steel and sex appeal! I walked around with my head held high and had a new found confidence. I wore clothes that I had once only dreamed of. That’s right, fitted jeans! It was a bucket list item for me!
When the diet pills ran out I began to panic. What was I going to do? They weren’t available in Canada and soon they were going to be banned in North America altogether. How would I keep the weight off? Before you jump to any conclusions, no, I didn’t get addicted to the pills or get admitted into rehab. I didn’t get a hold of them on the black market. I just wanted to stay skinny. I figured that I would just keep working out and stick to the same diet. Soon enough, in about two or three months, I gained back all of the 30lbs.
Actually, I put on another 25lbs and climbed to my all-time fattest: 255lbs at the tender age of 19! I wasn’t happy. I was actually very, very sad. Not depressed, but very sad. For a long time after that my weight yoyo’d. Up and down. My weight fluctuated like the weather. In the summer months I would lose some weight, especially during month-long backpacking trips to Europe with my beautiful, too-good-for-me, genius, arm-candy girlfriend. But the weight flew back on as soon as I returned back home, sometimes more than others. During the winter I would try to go on diets with absolutely no success. Most of the time I would just fly off the handles and go on a binge. It got to the point where I was so self-conscious about eating unhealthy in front of others that I could only do it in secret. After a night of hanging-out with friends I would say my goodbyes and go off to a drive-thru by myself. The worst was when I would run into someone at a Burger King or McDonalds only moments after telling them I was going home to sleep. It was shameful. I was a liar.
Some more years passed and I hovered around the 245lbs mark for most of them. My acceptance into grad school didn’t help. I was going to need quick meals that were convenient and kept me satisfied. Healthy meals were obviously NOT an option! I also started drinking a bit more regularly than before. Whereas I would binge-drink on weekends as a teenager, now I would have a scotch, or beer, or glass of wine (or 3) every night. It was a much more even-keeled buzz. In May 2012, I accompanied my PhD supervisor on a research trip to England. The itinerary was very ambitious; 10-12 hours per day of photographing Medieval churches throughout the Midlands of England. My supervisor, a fellow foodie and true connoisseur of fine food, wine and scotch, was the best travel companion I could ever ask for. His gastronomical knowledge put mine to shame. Each day began with a Full English breakfast: fried eggs, fried bacon, sausage, hash brown, fried bread, baked beans, grilled tomato, grilled mushroom, and, of course, blood pudding. A proper breakfast was important because most days we would skip lunch in order to take advantage of the natural daylight in our photography. When the sun had finally set we would drive back to whichever hotel we were staying at for the night and proceed to the restaurant to enjoy dinner. Before dinner, however, a tall, cold pint of local beer in the lobby bar was in order (sometimes two). After wetting our whistles we would order from the restaurant menu and sample whatever creations the chef prepared for the evening; we always paired it with a bottle of wine, usually a Côte du Rhône. My most memorable meal was in Ludlow, where I had 2 pints of the local Ludlow Gold Ale before dinner and the most exquisite roasted lamb chops with mint jelly as a main course! To-die-for! The nights would be capped with a dram or two of good single malt.
When I returned from the trip I fell into a pattern: beer before dinner, wine with dinner, scotch afterwards. My mother feared that I was turning into an alcoholic. I gave up on the gym, adopting a more sedentary régime. When I embarked on my own 3-week research trip to the northern half of Spain in October, 2012, I continued in the tradition bestowed upon me earlier that year. One week into the trip, my girlfriend (now wife) flew to Spain to accompany me and act as chief navigator, travel-buddy and dining companion. Before she arrived, however, I laid out the agenda in terms of destinations and meals. A traditional Spanish breakfast is a far cry from the ‘Full English’ but we made due with assortments of pintxos, pastries and two or three cortados. Lunch, however, was always in order and more than plentiful. Sure, we lost a bit of daylight, but we made up for it with the menu del dia; a €7-10 meal consisting of two or three courses that are normally served with a bottle of wine. Of course, nightly dinners involved beer, more wine and scotch. Let’s just say that my wife couldn’t keep up with the rigors of serious eating. She bowed out after the first night – adopting a much more sensible approach of fresh fruits and light salads. I, on the other hand, took this part of the trip very seriously. It was a truly indulgent lifestyle that I thought I could get used to once I returned home. That is until I would sit at my desk to write my dissertation and could feel the rolls of belly fat piling one atop the other from my pelvis to my chin. Rolls-on-rolls-on-rolls! I had more rolls than a bakery! I had ballooned! I recall being physically uncomfortable while sitting. It was a repulsive sensation that left me feeling hopeless. Especially when I thought about all of the times I tried to lose weight but failed. What was the point of even trying to lose weight if I would just end up gaining it all back? But something inside me said enough is enough! It wasn’t necessarily that I had hit rock bottom, though I probably had in terms of my physical health. For me, it was the feeling of the ‘belly rolls.’ I had never felt them before and it scared the living crap out of me. I needed to make a change.
In December of 2012, after my birthday, I decided the best way to approach this thing was to make a list of resolutions. It seemed like the perfect idea, especially with the New Year right around the corner. I had never made a list of resolutions before. I mean, yes, I had said once or twice that I wanted to lose weight in the New Year or that I wanted to pick up a new skill. But I never wrote anything down. For me, there is an intense power in putting pen to paper. The physical act of grasping a pen and creating words somehow feels more real ; it engrains the words into my mind and leaves me feeling accountable. This had to be more than just an outline, however. If it were to keep me committed in the long run it would have to be a list of goals. I believed that in order to be successful, I had to change the way I thought about the whole process of dieting and losing weight. In the past, I had always set a target weight of, say, 20lbs. Then I set a target date of, say, 3 months. If I continued to focus on pounds or dates I would quickly become discouraged like I had so many times in the past. I would approach it differently this time. I wanted this to be a health journey, rather than a diet or weight loss program. I wanted to focus on broader concepts – the fundamentals of a healthy life. Numbers, dates or calories never entered my mind. These things put too much pressure on me for quick results and they just didn’t take into account the rest of my life. They weren’t realistic or manageable in the grand scheme of things. I couldn’t go back to the old ‘6 meals per day’ diet for the rest of my life. It didn’t work for me then and it won’t work for me now. I developed a very unhealthy relationship with food that way. I considered myself to be “high risk,” knowing that I could relapse at any moment.
That night, I wrote down my resolutions on a piece of scrap paper that lay next to my bedside. I have to admit though, I did transcribe the handwritten text onto my iPhone later on, but only because I wanted to carry a copy with me everywhere I went. I later lost the original paper (I’m a horrible person!) I came up with 10 resolutions in all, a good, round number I thought:
- Talk less, listen more
- Think instead of reacting
- Be honest
- Don’t wait until the new year to make more resolutions
- Live a healthy life
- Embrace all emotions
- Practice moderation
- Be environmentally conscious
- Work harder at the things you love
- Just breathe
I won’t discuss them all here, but I will tell you that the first resolution I crossed off of the list was #4: “Don’t wait until the new year to make more resolutions.” I didn’t wait for January 1, 2013, to start my weight loss journey. I began my journey the day after writing out my resolutions. I firmly believe this was, and still is, my defining moment. It set the tone for everything that was to come.
For a few months I experimented with different diets. I tried juicing, detoxing, low-carbing, high-carbing, no-carbing, Atkins, shmatkins; none of which were working. But I wasn’t going to give up just yet. I was determined to never feel the belly rolls again. I wanted to know how others had done it. So I went to the used-books store and poked around the diet section. But diet books make for such dry reading material. They usually focused on numbers and calories and I was trying to avoid those things. Something amidst the rows of books on the wall caught my eye. It was as a little caricature of a man with the body of a hamburger. He held a carton of French fries in one of his hands. The bun around his thighs reminded me of my love handles. The burger patty and toppings were my belly rolls! The fries in his hand just made me hungry. I wanted to eat this little man! It was called The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict, written by William Leith. I opened the book to a random page and read a few paragraphs. If nothing else it promised to be a very good read. I bought it. It turned out that it was my story being told by someone else in a different part of the world. I could relate to just about everything Leith had lived through and had written. I could see myself within his pages. It was also the first book that introduced me to the perils of carbohydrates. The Hungry Years differed from other diet books because it wasn’t a diet book. It was a story about one man’s obsession with food. It still sits on my bedside bookshelf. I read it from time to time as a reminder of how far I’ve come.
Then, in March, one of my best friends told me about this ‘new’ way of eating. He said that his doctor-buddy told him about it and that it is so simple, so easy to follow and you didn’t have to count calories or measure things. What? No calorie counting? It sounded right up my alley, but also too-good-to-be-true. He said that you just had to follow a couple of fundamental principles: you could eat meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. That’s it. He said it was called “Paleo” and that I should Google it. I asked if it was working for him. He said that he wasn’t so interested in weight loss, but more so controlling his flatulence. He wanted to stop farting so much! It was getting out of control! This way of eating helped him big time! But what did I care about farting? I was apprehensive and skeptical at first. I brushed it off, looking for other solutions. Then, one day, he invited my brother and I over for lunch. He made us a big plateful each of baked sweet potato, grilled chicken thighs and a salad. Was it the best meal of my life? No. Was it the worst? Not even close. It wasn’t bursting with flavors but it wasn’t dry either. There was something interesting about the wholesomeness of the ingredients. It resonated with me. It tasted pure and I didn’t feel hungry afterwards. It was at that very moment that I knew I could eat this way for the rest of my life. I Googled the term and came across a number of websites. I searched before-and-after pictures and was left in shock from seeing people’s Paleo-transformations. There were all sorts of pictures of ripped guys and gals doing some crazy stuff on pull-up bars and Olympic gymnastic rings. I wanted to be one those guys and gals! I thought this is just a fad, a mass-marketing ploy to lure the ever-desperate fatty like myself. I skimmed through the more reputable looking websites, putting on my research cap. I tried to look for Paleo products that were being sold. There must be a miracle powder, a magic pill, anything that would expose the Paleo Plot. Back then, I couldn’t find any. In fact, most of the people preaching Paleo from the pulpits of the Internet weren’t even calling it a diet. They were calling it a lifestyle. It promised to focus on real, simple, healthy foods! The whole Paleo mentality meshed very well with my 10 resolutions. It was a more holistic approach to eating and health than anything I had come across before. Within its fundamental principles I saw an opportunity to go back to cooking with new room for experimentation. Ideas rushed through my mind at a mile-a-minute: dairy-free lasagna with zucchini ribbons instead of noodles, Shepherd’s pie with sweet potato instead of white potato, egg fried cauliflower rice instead of regular white rice. Also, the more I read about the adverse health effects associated with foods I thought were good for me, the more I realized just how much damage I had done to myself. Everything made perfect sense now. All of my allergies, my asthma as a child, my upset stomachs, my headaches, my back pain, my lethargy, my BELLY ROLLS. I never wanted to go back to eating anything that wasn’t Paleo ever again! I was like Neo standing in the hallway after seeing the Matrix!
Over the course of the next 8 months I followed the fundamental principles and ditched the booze. I never once went hungry, measured portion sizes or counted calories! I lost over 30 lbs. After 4 more months, I lost another 10lbs. I ran into old friends that no longer recognized me. I grew stronger and faster than ever before! I got lean while gaining muscle – something I always thought was a myth! I could jump higher, had more endurance, more stamina, more drive! I was one of the first people to be picked when I played pick-up sports with my buddies! I was more flexible! I did yoga! I did yoga without getting dizzy! My belly rolls melted away and I didn’t get the stretch marks I was expecting from all of the weight loss! So I did yoga without a shirt on!!! Like every other Paleo convert, I began to preach the Paleo Gospel to anyone who would listen and even those who wouldn’t. I would rant about how good it was to eat real food without feeling bloated or guilty afterwards. I told them that if I could do it, so could they!
I started cooking all of the time and snapped pictures of my creations with my phone’s camera. My wife, encouraged me to post them to my personal Instagram feed. I thought it was a great idea that would make me more accountable for what I ate on a daily basis. Soon enough, friends approached me asking if the food in my pictures was what I ate on my “diet.” I said YES! But first I explained that it was a lifestyle, not a diet! I invited friends over for Paleo meals the same way my friend had once invited my brother and I. It became a sort of challenge. I wanted to see if people would consider going Paleo from tasting my cooking. Much to my surprise, some actually did. After a short while, people around me started to eat Paleo meals and began adopting healthier lifestyles. Not everyone stuck to them but some did and they would call me for recipes. Sometimes I would walk them through cooking a recipe over the phone, reciting step-by-step instructions. I would always ask them to call me back after they finished eating to give me some feedback. Most of the time they were happy campers. What? You can’t win ‘em all!
Oh, remember those ripped guys and gals on the Olympic rings? Turns out that was something called CrossFit. I thought I would give that a go too. At CrossFit I became part of a community of like-minded individuals who shared the same interests as me. We supported each other during our workouts and commiserated together afterwards. It reminded me of my first support group, only better! More than anything, CrossFit was fun and I looked forward to the workouts instead of dreading them. They pushed me past my breaking point and I was addicted.
I kept on cooking, eating and living a Paleo lifestyle. Experimenting with different flavours and developing recipes of my own. Those were the moments I lived for! Most of the time, however, I drew inspiration from my idols: The Two Fat Ladies, Martin Yan, Jamie Oliver, Emerill Lagasse, Mario Batali, Nigela Lawson, Michael Chiarello, Rick Bayless, Tyler Florence, Bobby Flay, Ming Tsai, Heston Blumenthal, and just about anyone else I had ever watched on TV. I would apply their fundamental techniques and flavor combinations using Paleo-friendly ingredients. Each one of these chefs, and a host of others, has inspired and shaped my cooking in so many ways – even if they don’t cook Paleo recipes themselves. I drew from my travels around the world, recalling flavours and memories from places like Thailand, Malaysia, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain and everywhere else Catalina and I have been. I shared more and more pictures of my meals on Instagram but never wrote down any of the recipes. They were kept secure in the vault of my mind. My wife and friends encouraged me to start a recipe blog or to post cooking videos on YouTube so that others could taste the meals for themselves.
I always loved the idea of sharing my recipes. As a kid, while cooking in my parent’s kitchen, I imagined I was a Food Network chef. That first cooking experience really left a lasting impression upon me. I would pretend the cameras were rolling while I explained to viewers at home that today I was going to show them how to make pasta from scratch! I could almost hear the applause coming from the live studio audience as I added crushed garlic to a pan, grated fresh Pecorino Romano (Parmigiano-Reggiano was too expensive) over top a bowl of pasta or yelled “BAM” while dusting a piece of fried fish with paprika! But I was always afraid that if I tried to change the nature of my cooking, that if I made it about something other than cooking itself, it would turn into a job and I would lose my love for it. I would be drained of my passion and transform into some horrible monster.
One day in the spring of 2015, while chilling-out with some friends, the topic of me sharing my recipes came up again. Shortly thereafter, I decided that I was going to give it a shot. Why? I’m not entirely sure to be honest. Maybe because there were people that said I couldn’t do it. That it was a waste of time. That I should just stick to feeding myself. That I would fail. Maybe I just didn’t want to go on living my life asking ‘what if?’ What if I followed through with my childhood dream? What would happen? Sure, the dream might have shifted directions and it wouldn’t involve making the pasta I had once imagined. But why should that stop me? After all, I’ve fallen in love with zoodles as much as I have with tagiatelle.
I created a dedicated Instagram account so that I could share my passion for food, cooking and the Paleo lifestyle. But I didn’t want to cook what I thought was boring Paleo food. I’m talking boiled sweet potatoes, baked chicken thighs, and steamed Brussels sprouts. I wanted to show people all of the amazing Paleo possibilities. I’m also a firm believer in eating with your eyes first so I coupled it with a growing passion for food photography. I wanted it to be Paleo for Foodies! I would call it @Primal_Gourmet (mainly because Paleo Gourmet was taken!) The feedback was overwhelming. Before I knew it, thousands of people started following @Primal_Gourmet. I began receiving comments and direct messages from people telling me that they were also on a Paleo journey. Or that my transformation inspired them to finally make a change in their own lives. I was someone else’s William Leith!
People wanted the recipes though and Instagram just isn’t conducive to posting long instructions and ingredients lists.
So, I had to expand.
Thus cookprimalgourmet.com was born!
Well, we’re still working on that, aren’t we?