Like many chefs, it all starts in the kitchen with a parent and an Easy Bake Oven on the side. At least this was the culinary beginning for vegan and raw enthusiast Nina Curtis, the executive chef at Malibu’s The Ranch at Live Oak. Being the oldest of four, the California native began cooking with her mom at the age of 10 and hasn’t been able to step out of the kitchen since.
“My mother put so much love into her food,” says Curtis taking a trip down memory lane. For more than 17 years, Curtis has professionally shared her love of cooking with family, friends and clients. Specializing in vegan desserts, Curtis uses the power of food for healing and empowerment.
Curtis, a Pepperdine University MBA graduate, has the experience and credentials to help anyone become whole having trained at the Living Light Culinary Institute, the Trinity School of Natural Health and Natural Gourmet Culinary Institute. In her current executive chef position, she leads a team of three to create daily meals totaling 1400 calories for guests at The Ranch who arrive on Sunday and leave the following Saturday. It is during these six days that she teaches guests about how food has the power to heal one’s body through cooking classes with most of the ingredients sourced from the property’s garden. “The food will tell you when it is done,” is what you will hear Curtis say in her classes. Just as your body will tell you what it needs, the food will do the same.
Her passion for a plant-based lifestyle is one that was nurtured over time. A competitive bodybuilder for ten years, Curtis slowly started transitioning and in 2009 made the decision to embrace the lifestyle 100 percent with the goal of helping others heal their bodies through food. This change took some convincing with her father, but after he assisted her with serving 400 vegan tacos at the Los Angeles Food & Wine event in 2013, he was totally on board.
“I meet people where they are at,” says Curtis whose work at The Ranch is a prime example of this. Curtis believes in taking it slow and starting with foods that are familiar before introducing something totally new to guests who come from around the world to the one-week minimum intensive luxury boot camp designed to help detoxify, shed unwanted pounds and gain physical endurance. She is currently working on more than 60 new recipes that will be served there in the future.
Even with a six-day work schedule, Curtis finds time to engage in other holistic practices such as being a licensed esthetician and aromatherapist. She also founded The Nile Institute, a skincare and wellness practice that was once based in West Hollywood. She does catering for clients outside The Ranch and is planning a series of pop-ups where her food, especially her desserts, can be experienced by as many people as possible.
Walking the walk as she talks the talk, Curtis knows that we are what we eat. “If I can teach you to cook and teach you to heal through cooking, I can liberate you.” And with that, let the healing begin.