Whether you are a reader from across the street, or across the continent, a student in one of my Metro NYC area group classes, or a private coaching client, I hope you’ll have an experience that will bring the magic of cooking into your life and transform your relationship with food. My goal is that you will eat better, cook better and live better by knowing me, and have a blast doing it. Why Food Fix Kitchen? Because I think that there isn’t much in life that good food can’t fix! And because, in many ways, in America, and increasingly in other parts of the world, our relationship with food and cooking needs a “fix.” With soaring obesity rates, and the nearly epidemic status of degenerative diseases that are directly related to poor diet and lifestyle, (diabetes, heart disease and many cancers), my mission is to somehow address what’s broken in this relationship in all that I do. I believe that cooking—the art and craft of working with food, knowing our food, where it comes from, what it’s made of and learning what to do with it to create healthful, soulful meals is part of that “fix” equation.
My writing, teaching and coaching style is all about honesty, laughter, spontaneity and being at ease in the kitchen. I love cooking because you have to be mindful, you have to focus on the here and now—after all, knives and fire are involved! Whether peeling vegetables or stirring a pot or salting to taste, you must tune into your instincts and senses pushing everything else you have to worry about to the back burner. Pun intended!
Like a great meal, my food journey has had many courses. My earliest memories were laced with the fear that my fragile mother, Trudy, might die. She suffered from the long-term effects of starvation from three years spent in Nazi concentration camps, and another two in hiding, before the war ended. Her circumstances forced me to become aware, from a very young age, of how the foods we eat, or the lack of good nutrition, can devastate the body. It set me on a path of eating well and living well at an early age. After the war, my mother found work as a restaurant cook, and later, in America, she was a private chef for over 30 years. Trudy spent her life celebrating food and nurturing her clients, family and friends with wonderful, abundant meals. She showed me that while food nurtures the body—it’s cooking that nurtures the soul. Food was her artistry, her meditation, and her gift to the world around her.
Becoming a chef and teacher may have been my destiny, but I didn’t know it. As a former actor, model, stand-up comic, graphic artist, writer and teacher—it seemed like all the diverse paths I took in life always led me back to cooking. Wherever I went to pursue other careers—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta—I ended up in kitchens, “flying by the seat of my pantry” and making people happy with my food. It’s where I felt most at home. I worked in restaurants through my teens and college years, doing practically every job there was in the front of the house and the back; I had my own private catering business in my 20s, cooking for celebrities in Hollywood; and I fed and nurtured family and friends for over 30 years, before deciding to turn my passion in the kitchen into a bona fide career.
The Chef Formerly Known as….
I used to be Rachel Willen and I mention it here only because of Google! If you found me through a search engine you might be confused! I was on Food Network’s Chopped and won as Rachel Willen. I’ve been on Good Morning America twice as Rachel Willen and have many recipes and guest posts all across the Internet under that name. I was Rachel Willen for 22 years. So what’s up with the new name?
Part of what is exciting and satisfying for me in writing this blog (and in living my life) is the opportunity to be REAL—to share my sweet and not so sweet take on life, in-and-out of the kitchen. There was the day my dog Ruby died and I posted a meaty recipe for homemade dog biscuits that I wished I’d made for her. When my marriage fell apart, I seized upon the irony of my first Valentine Day in 21 years in which I was NOT getting or giving a Valentine card, and posted that stunning news along with a comforting recipe for soup. I changed my name, letting go of the one I took on in marriage decades ago, foregoing the decision to return to the name that belonged to my father, and taking on one that would allow me to forge my own, singular identity, while paying homage my hero—the mother who helped make me the resilient, strong woman I am today. If you become a reader, client or student of mine you’ll find out that my work allows me to continuously do “mise en place” on my own life, organizing my thoughts and feelings, putting the ingredients for my “recipe for reinvention” all in place on a regular basis.
My daughter Lily, is an honors student a Tulane University in New Orleans, (of course, she’d pick a great food town), whose recent epiphany about cooking while sampling my braised short ribs, went something like this: “Wait. This is delicious. I’m totally spoiled because I’ve eaten food like this all my life. I better learn how to make stuff.” She now pays attention in the kitchen when she’s home on breaks.
My son, Max Robbins, 28, followed early in his mother’s and grandmother’s “foodsteps” knowing he wanted to be a chef by the 8th grade. It’s his journey toward his goals that set me on the path to mine, because I dissolved into tears on every culinary school tour I went on with him. Seeing all those sparkling kitchens and just thinking about the idea of standing in one of them wearing my own white chef coat, made me feel hungry down to my soul. I knew what I had to do. After I packed Max off to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, I enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in NYC (currently The International Culinary Center) and completed the year-long professional culinary arts program. The rest is history, all documented here on Food Fix Kitchen. You can even read posts from a blog I kept while in school, Mrs. Fabulous Goes To Culinary School here. Since graduating from CIA, Max has worked at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin and Danny Meyer’s Modern, then he worked for two and a half years at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York City, one of those years as “house butcher” and is currently a Sous Chef at Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, CA. I’m a proud mama!
My Current Gig
In late 2013 when my 22-year marriage ended a series of life changes began. I lost my house and the teaching kitchen (the beautiful Garage Kitchen) that was at the center of my cooking school business and I moved to a smaller space in Montclair, NJ where I could not teach. I continue to do private and corporate culinary events on weekends, but the core of my cooking school business disappeared overnight. As luck and universal good timing would have it, just as I lost my kitchen, I was offered a unique opportunity to take a full-time job for the first time in 20 years. I’m currently in “culinary development and instruction” for Rutgers University where I have been at the forefront of developing a healthy eating initiative there. I worked side-by-side with colleague Chef Ian Keith to open a farm-to-table style restaurant on the bucolic Cook Campus, housed within the brand new Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health. The restaurant is called Harvest (I got to name it and design it’s logo) and I’m excited to have created something from scratch (including all the food, which will be all-natural, no preservatives, additives, anti-biotic free, hormone free, etc. etc.) and to have the opportunity to have a positive influence in the future of dining on all of Rutgers’ campuses. Rutgers currently serves over 65,000 meals a day and if I can begin to make a dent in how those meals are conceived and served, and contribute to the health and well-being of the staff, faculty and students, I will be a happy chef, in awe of the way life works to bring you, (albeit sometimes painfully!) to where you need to be!
While working full-time at Rutgers, and continuing to do culinary events and work with clients part-time, I carry on living as a life-time learner who loves to challenge myself and explore my creativity. I continue to expand my skills as a chef, broaden my understanding of what it takes to eat well and live well while using the depth of my experience to empower others to live their most delicious life possible!
For more information on working with Chef Rachel click here.