Christine Oppenheim is a personal chef in Santa Monica bringing healthy plant-based foods to her clients. I have been following her on Instagram for quite some time and had the pleasure of meeting her at a vegan restaurant in Venice a couple months ago. We then ended up at the same New Years Eve party dancing the night away. I look forward to getting to know her better and now you can get to know a little about her too.
Name: Christine Oppenheim
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Where Can We Find You on the Web:
Instagram, twitter, facebook, pinterest: @veggiefixation
How long have you been vegan & what encouraged you to make the change?
It was a pretty gradual transition in changing my diet to be fully plant-based. I went vegetarian in 1996, but remained lacto-ovo for many years to follow. During culinary school, I became more aware of the effects of food on your body and I slowly started cutting out the remaining animal products. For years, I was eating vegan at home, and whenever the option was available to choose vegan. However, I would still “cheat” and nibble on a cheese plate from time to time. (I think any vegan can agree cheese is the hardest thing to give up or say no to! According to some studies, it contains the same chemical as morphine, which triggers receptors in your brain, causing a literal addiction.)
Eventually, I visited Gentle Barn, a rescue farm here in Southern California and spent some time hanging out with the cows. I instantly fell in love with these beautiful, gentle, lovely, large creatures who I’d never had physical contact with before. I think I was hugging a cow named Buttercup the moment something clicked and I looked up at my boyfriend, Jacques, and said “How could I have ever consumed anything that harmed this creature in any way. I’m never eating cheese again.”
You’re a personal chef, how did you get into that line of work?
I’ve loved cooking ever since I was tall enough to reach the stove and was likely helping my dad in the kitchen even before then! In 2009, I decided to finally pursue my passion and attend culinary school. I went to Bauman College, which is focused on Natural Foods and the idea of “Eating for Health.” A couple years later, I experienced health issues of my own when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Food suddenly began to feel like my worst enemy, but it also became my source of healing. I went off my medication less than a year after going on it, and have since controlled my illness through diet (and acupuncture). Realizing the true power of food to hurt or heal, and how your relationship to food can be shifted in an instance, I decided to shift my business. I transitioned from catering to focus more on teaching and personal chef work. Whether I’m teaching or cooking, I work mostly with people who have dietary restrictions or food allergies, helping to expand their palates, especially when they’ve gotten to a point of feeling stuck.
What is your go-to dish for a client who may be a little wary of plant-based foods?
I make a Moroccan vegetable stew that always gets rave reviews. In general, if a client is new to plant-based cuisine, I’ll tend to stick to more ethnic flavors, or dishes and ingredients that are familiar. I never use fake meats, which I think that helps to ease people into plant-based eating, since they are only going to get foods in their purest forms. Oddly enough, though, my most requested item for dinner parties or catering is herbed cashew cheese.
What is your fondest food memory?
If I have to pick just one… My fondest food memory has to be from my early days as a “chef”. I remember the first time I ever prepared a dish on my own; I was maybe 3 years old. I wanted to make a cake for my dad’s birthday, so I melted a tub of ice cream, spread it into a cake pan, then decorated it with jelly beans and sprinkles and refroze it. I was so proud and excited about my masterpiece! It all went uphill from there.
Any big goals for Veggie Fixation in 2014?
I’d say the biggest goal is to teach a lot more and be able to touch the lives of many more people through food. In March, I’m excited to be teaching a class called “Intro to Healthy Eating” through the Community Education program at Santa Monica College. It’s the first time they are ever offering anything like this and I hope for additional classes to follow. It’s a great opportunity to continue spreading the message of good health through a whole food, plant-based diet. I’d also like to start reaching a broader audience than just my local community and offer cooking lessons via Skype or Google Hangout.
Tell us a joke.
I only know a dirty joke. You ready for it?
A pig fell in the mud.
Thank you for letting me interrogate you Christine! I’m hoping I get to try that herbed cashew cheese of yours someday!