About Chef Katie Simmons

I’m Chef Katie Simmons

My name is Katie Simmons. I’m a personal chef in Chicago with a passion for plant-based food. Born in the Kentucky bluegrass, I grew up as an overweight kid, hating my body despite a life filled with sports and dance. In my 20’s, I was confused about what sort of career path I wanted to follow. It was a solo backpacking trip to New Zealand that led me to culinary school at Kendall College and working for Whole Foods Market.

  • How did an overweight girl, growing up in Kentucky, become an oil-free vegan?
  • How did a former dancer and choreographer fall in love with the art of cooking?
  • How did a classically-trained chef develop a passion for plant-based cooking?

Finding a joy in cooking fills me with gratitude every time I get to feed people. Experiencing the power of a plant-based diet inspires me to share this lifestyle with you. My hope is to connect with you. I want to help you and motivate you to be the most inspired, passionate, and healthy person you desire.

Read about my journey…


Kentucky Roots: Early love for Fitness and Community

Beautiful Bluegrass of Kentucky Horse Farms
Beautiful Bluegrass of Kentucky Horse Farms

I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. From early on, I learned the importance of family, community, and sharing dinner with the ones you love. At age three, I wouldn’t stop twirling around the house so my mom enrolled me in my first dance class. This passion for music and movement continues to burn inside me 33 years later. As soon as I could, I played on the basketball and volleyball teams. I was in theater and choir. I loved school and was good at it. Yet, with this highly-active life, I was overweight for as long as I can remember.

I was the fattest kid on the basketball court and the one with chubby thighs trying out the dance costumes. I hated shopping for clothes while other girls my age loved showing off their cute skirts. In our home, we ate well. My parents made it a priority to eat a home-made meal every night. There was a limit to the amount of fast food allowed and we were all happy to eat our green vegetables.

But the 90’s was a decade of fat-free diet foods that were loaded with sugar. Foods like fat-free frozen yogurt, Snackwells cookies, and low-fat string cheese were glorified. I was happy to jump on the bandwagon of healthy eating, devouring entire boxes sleeves of devil’s food cookies. This began a sugar addiction that grew as I grew – it came with me to junior high and high school. As I felt increasing pressure to be perfect, food became an outlet. It was an affordable, accessible, and convenient way for me to escape whatever emotions I didn’t want to address. It became my best friend – it was with me for celebrations, failures, and confessions.

Chef Katie Simmons – Healthy, but overweight, running marathons and personal trainer, age 26

This food addiction intensified when I left for college. Heading off to Loyola University in Chicago to study theatre and dance, I built another addiction: exercise. To combat the compulsive eating, I created a compulsive fitness routine. While most of my college classmates were trying to figure out how to maximize their sleep-in times, I was up swimming miles in the pool before 8am Philosophy.

After graduation, I became even more involved with fitness. I became a Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. I got a couple of jobs in fitness management and sales. My own regiment became even more intense – running 10k’s before my 6am clients and requiring an extra 15 minute walk before I was allowed to eat dinner.

Yet the rules of calories in/calories out mystified me. I felt like I was constantly losing the battle with the scale. Always at least 20 pounds overweight, I was classified with an unhealthy BMI while I was also trying to coach my clients on proper nutrition. I felt like a hypocrite. I felt ashamed.

On top of this, I found myself in a career path that didn’t feel right. I had fallen out of my passion for dance – getting rejected on enough auditions to realize the artist’s life wasn’t for me. I was complacent with a steady job at the gym, but I knew this wasn’t a long-term destination. I knew I needed to shake things up, to get out of the comforts of my structured regiment.


Leaving “Comfortable”: Backpacking Solo in New Zealand

So I took a trip. I left my safety, my routine, my dependable job, and went halfway around the world to New Zealand. By myself. For five months.

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand North Island, 2008
Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand North Island, 2008

With no plan, a barely-opened travel book, and a brand-new camera, I remember landing in Auckland with the only goal of finding my hostel. The first few days were horribly uncomfortable. I wanted to go home, I missed my familiar comforts.

But I knew I had to stay. Days unfolded into weeks. I made it through Christmas with the grace of a local family who shared their dinner table with me. I ditched my responsible plan to “find a good job in Auckland” and started backpacking all over the country. With only myself deciding when to travel to the next city, I learned how to listen to my desires. I learned how to follow my passions.

I worked on organic farms and learned how to harvest squash. I lived in crowded hostels where English was lost to Germans, Swedes, and Japanese. The days had become a mess of unpredictability. In the States, my brutal schedule had brought me comfort. In this new world, where the bed I slept was changing constantly, I found different comfort.

Bit of a Snow Day at Mount Cook, highest peak in New Zealand
Bit of a Snow Day at Mount Cook, highest peak in New Zealand

In the crowded hostel kitchen, all of the international travelers would gather at the end of the day. Most of the meals they cooked were simple – Irish kids making baked beans and toast, Japanese warming up ramen bowls, and Germans feasting on bowls of pasta and meat sauce. We were all throwing together easy, cheap dinners that met the simple task of “hot food, in belly”.

Here, my Kentucky roots came back to me. Even though I was by myself, I’d cook a big dinner. I’d make extras. I’d share. I made quick friends around the massive table. Food became a way to start the universal conversation of travelers: What they miss about home, what they’ve discovered, and where they’re heading next. Food became a story. It unraveled, telling truths about hopes, fears, cravings, laughter.

Hiking through the mountains of South Island, New Zealand, 2008
Hiking through the mountains of South Island, New Zealand, 2008

A Passion for Cooking: Classic Training at Kendall College

Kendall College Fine Dining Grilled Peaches and Prosciutto

 

Coming back the States, I knew I wanted this conversation to continue. I began my culinary training at Kendall College, eventually completing my Associates Degree in Culinary Arts.

I worked with respected Chicago chefs — in restaurants, at special events, in volunteer opportunities. Here, I learned to respect the ingredients. I tasted the difference between a fresh organic egg and a factory-raised conventional impersonator. I shook as I butchered my first farm-raised pork loin. I learned how to close my eyes and let the glide of my knife filet down the spine of a wild-caught salmon. I smelled fresh basil, still warm from the garden sun. I got addicted to the candy-sweet burst of Sungold tomatoes. I inhaled the intoxicating aroma of fraises des bois strawberries.

Culinary school instilled a deep appreciation for the history of the kitchen and the discipline of a chef. Technique and attention to detail were celebrated. Cooking under the experienced hands of award-winning chefs, I witness the treasured connection they shared with their farmers and the people they fed. I felt honored to be a part of the food story as it unraveled from the land to the kitchen to the dining room.

 


Transition to Plant-Based: Wellness Club Chef for Whole Foods

Chef Katie Simmons, Wellness Club Chef for Whole Foods Market

Upon graduation from Kendall, I began working at Whole Foods. After a few months there, I was fortunate to be named the Wellness Club Chef for a new pilot program. I would be in charge of developing recipes, teaching cooking classes, and educating customers – all centered around an oil-free, plant-based, whole foods diet.

One small catch: I still loved my poached eggs, organic chicken breast, and low-fat yogurt. As part of my new job, my colleagues challenged me to a 30-day plant-based diet. 30 days of no meat, dairy, refined flour, refined oil, sugar, or anything that might be sneak into that world.

Honestly, those 30 days started off rough. My stomach got bloated the first few days. After the first week, my energy crashed, and a conversation with the registered dietician guiding us suggested I might need to eat more complex carbs. I felt weak and foggy.

Then things started to shift. My energy came back. My weight began to drop. I was sleeping better, and I felt less sore after workouts. As a chef, I loved all the new flavors I was discovering – Indian dal, Thai curry, Moroccan tagine. I began to celebrate plants.

It only took a couple of weeks to realize I had a dairy sensitivity. It took a couple of months to realize red meat was never going to sit well again. The next two years, I let go of chicken breast and organic eggs, discovering a new love for purple potatoes and avocado toast. I earned my certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University, learning more about the nutrition behind plant-based eating. While I was reading about the science of calorie density and the inflammation caused by meat, I felt the effects myself: I lost over 50 pounds, about 27% of my body weight. My workouts became stronger and I recovered quicker, with less soreness. I felt great and I was loving the food. I was free of my addiction to sugar.

Finally, it all made sense.

It took me about two years to fully embrace a vegan diet. There’s no looking back.
I want to share this message and this food with you. Eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet has affected me greatly, and I want to share this positive change with the global community. Let me use my knowledge and passion as a chef to inspire you with incredible, delicious recipes.

Join me at the table. Smell, taste, and see.

Share this food journey with me.

 


Read More: My Mission as a Chef

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