Celebrity chef combines reiki, mindfulness and integrative nutrition, and clients including Sean Combs are hungry for Serena Poon’s holistic health programme.
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Celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon should not have been surprised at how her body responded to the stresses in her life.
While she was at the University of California at Berkeley, her father was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. Two months after he died, her mother was told she had a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer.
Over the next few years, Poon’s grandmother and uncle also became seriously ill.
“I took all of that on,” says Poon, whose parents emigrated from Hong Kong to Los Angeles as college students.
“I think in our culture, there is this idea of self-sacrifice, ‘I will take care of you, I will pour all of myself into you.’ If you didn’t care for those around you, you were selfish. And then I started to have my own health issues.”
She developed a serious case of post-surgical methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – an antibiotic-resistant infection – that almost claimed her life twice.
“I began working with healers, and I knew a lot of it was experimental. But nothing else was working for me.”
Poon spent a few years working with the energy-based healing technique reiki to return to wellness. As her body started to slowly heal, she developed the fundamentals of a practice she now calls Culinary Alchemy, which she describes as a “combination of integrative and functional nutrition with energy work and mindfulness practices to help people find sustainable holistic health”.
When working with clients – her A-list database includes US film and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer, rapper Sean Combs and actress Kerry Washington – Poon says she supports them not just in what they eat, but in helping to clear stagnation from their energy centers.
She learned the art of fine gastronomy at Le Cordon Bleu and became a reiki master. This enabled her to educate her clients on the foods they were eating – and to elevate their spiritual health.
“Having had those difficult experiences, seeing what could happen with the body that even the doctors didn’t think could happen, I learned how to help people support their body in a different way – whether it’s preparing for surgery, or helping them to recover from it.
“There’s an energy to it. Everything is all about balance and alignment. And I learned how to open up this new pillar in my practice.”
Poon’s segue from the world of private catering to this more esoteric approach was almost predictable.
Born and raised in Pasadena, just outside Los Angeles, she studied nutrition in college – and majored in political science. But she says she didn’t really connect with the subject of nutrition until her father’s diagnosis; he was in his 40s, suddenly told he had stage four liver cancer, and that the prognosis was grim.
“All of my inspiration and passion in this field comes from my parent’s journey with health,” said Poon. “When my father was sick, he really suffered. He did chemo, radiation, and some Chinese medicine. But there was no real education or awareness around food and nutrition.
“Watching him go through that made me feel helpless, and made me want to really dive into nutrition.”
“I teach my clients to connect the dots, to have the understanding that they can nourish their souls.”
Not only does Poon cook healthful, nourishing meals for her clients, but she also helps them cultivate a connection between themselves and what they eat.
Her services appear to be in demand. She is working on a book proposal, and is shooting a pilot for a series that bridges these different approaches. There is an app in the works, and her website sells a selection of products – including bundles of sage to burn for cleansing rituals, and bracelets made from amethysts and other semi-precious stones.
People who seek her out are already “a little bit open”, she says.
“Some of my clients come to me just to take care of their meals, for weight loss and weight gain … But mostly, my clients believe in this integrated approach, that you can’t have one type of health without the other, and there sometimes needs to be something that bridges that gap.
“Our goal always is to live an optimally healthy life as long as we can.”