A bit about Amy: Interview By Andrea Robertson

 Andrea and I just after she lead hundreds of yogis through a yoga practice on Parliament Hill (May 2015).  

Andrea and I just after she lead hundreds of yogis through a yoga practice on Parliament Hill (May 2015).  

As you may have noticed, I love doing interviews with other people for my blog. But normally, I'm the one asking questions. Recently, Andrea Robertson, of Body and Balance, turned the tables and decided to feature me on her blog.  

If you live in Ottawa, you've likely already heard of Andrea. She's an established yoga instructor and personal trainer. She is a regular instructor at Pure Yoga and various community centres in the city. She also works with many private clients. She'a an avid biker and, if you're ever in Gatineau Park during the winter, you'll likely see her hiking, x-country skiing, or skate skiing. She's there just about every day. She has also organized many yoga retreats locally and abroad. This past year, she held retreats in Costa Rica, Ireland, and Wolfe Island (Ontario).  

I've actually been on three of Andrea's retreats. In 2011, I went to Costa Rica with her twice within the span of a year. Then, in September 2014, after I finished my culinary and nutrition training, she hired me to be the personal chef for her retreat in West Cork, Ireland. The retreat in Ireland was such a success, that we'll be heading back again this September!

In the interview below, Andrea asks me about my path to healthy food, cooking and nutrition, we also talk about my first experience working as a chef at the Ireland retreat, and much more! 

Andrea: Have you always been into healthy food?
Amy: I’m lucky to have grown up in a family where good, healthy food was a priority. My mother always had beautiful gardens with vegetables.  She was always cooking and she used to experiment with food a lot. Whether it was using vegetable from the garden or playing around with spices. Growing up in Halifax, I was probably one of the few kids among my circle of friends to be eating curries and sushi back in the 80’s and 90’s.

Looking back, I realize I was blessed to grow up eating this way. I have a versatile palate and I’m inclined towards healthy things. I can thank my mother for that.  In the last few years, I’ve learned so much about nutrition and I've taken healthy eating a few steps further. I’ve gotten into fermentation, soaking and sprouting (of grains and legumes), I eliminated dairy (by necessity), I limit refined foods, and stick to mostly whole foods. Nothing is wasted in my house (which is something I definitely picked up from my mom) and I rarely buy things in cans or packages. 

That was a long winded answer to say yes, I’ve always been into healthy food, but I’d say now, from a dietary stand-point, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. 

Andrea: What led you to your holistic nutrition and culinary certifications?
Amy: In my twenties, I had lots of issues with my skin. I started doing some research and realized that my diet and food allergies were contributing to my never-ending skin ailments. I was also sick a lot, dealt with a chronic hacking cough every winter,  and I was starting to become really anxious. I knew I had to work on my immune system and deal with my stress.  With all that in mind, I slowly started reducing dairy, eating healthier, and I got into yoga. Doing yoga helped me relax, stay present and greatly reduced my stress. This self-awareness also opened the door to many changes — physically, mentally and spiritually. 

However, it wasn’t until I went on the Body and Balance retreat in Costa Rica in December 2011 that I really decided to make some concrete changes, starting with a huge dietary overhaul. I finally ditched dairy completely, and focussed on cooking at home and making primarily plant-based meals. This improved my health more than I could have imagined.  I felt so much better overall. My sleep improved, anxiety diminished, I was free of chronic colds, and my skin conditions are no longer a problem. These changes piqued my interest in food and health and I wanted to share my discoveries with others.

When I applied to culinary school I didn’t really know what I was doing. I did it on whim. Literally, I woke up one night, sprung out of bed, and started googling culinary schools. I stumbled upon the Natural Gourmet Institute. The school is located in NYC (which was a huge bonus), and the program looked great, so within 24 hours of discovering NGI I submitted my application. 

From my first days in culinary school, I knew I wanted to learn more about the nutrition aspect of food. Before I even ended the program I started looking into nutrition schools and eventually applied to the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition here in Ottawa. 

Andrea: The September 2014 Ireland Retreat with me was your first retreat experience as a chef. What was it like? How was your experience? 
Amy: I was really grateful that you asked me to be the chef, especially since you hadn’t even tried any of my cooking, and also because it was my first real experience running the show in the kitchen. Going into this retreat, I did some research on local, seasonal and regional produce, and I wanted to showcase these things, while keeping the menu vegan and gluten free.

I was fortunate to have two sous chef — both amazing, fun, hilarious women from Cork — that were instrumental in pulling it all together and helping me create healthy, delicious and nourishing meals. We had such a blast cooking together, we learned a lot, and had fun playing with recipes and creating new and unique dishes. We made almost everything from scratch and we even fermented some kimchi. We also made use of foraged blackberries — which grow abundantly in West Cork — in smoothies, muffins and pancakes.  We actually made a vegan Irish stew (which is somewhat of an oxymoron) that even the Irish folks loved. I was so pleased with how everything turned out. We made lots of great meals. Everybody was happy and well fed. 

Cooking aside, I really enjoyed this experience. Our hiking and biking adventures were so memorable. The Irish coastline is gorgeous and, as expected, I couldn't get over the rolling green hills. It's so beautiful. I look forward to exploring more of West Cork when we go back again this fall.

[Scroll to the bottom to see a few photos from last year's retreat in Ireland.]

Andrea: Where can people find you?
Amy: I wear a few hats these days. Sometimes I’m a nutritionist, sometimes a chef, and sometimes both. Right now I’m working mostly in Ottawa. However, since my work varies a lot, I’m a moving target. I have several private nutrition clients that I work with one-on-one. Generally I’ll meet them by phone or in person. I’m also the in-house nutritionist at EPIC Fitness, a functional fitness and personal training facility, in the East end of town. I’m there on Tuesdays and Thursday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. If I’m doing cooking jobs, I could be anywhere really! It depends on the gig.  Part of being an entrepreneur means I also have to be pretty active on social media. I try to blog as much as possible and share nutrition info on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Andrea: What are your future work related goals?
Amy: I want to continue to focus on connecting people to health — healthy foods, healthy products, and healthier ways of living. Nothing makes me happier than helping my clients find balance in their lives through improved diet and lifestyle changes. I also want to continue to partner with other entrepreneurs in the community. Especially those that are involved with health, nutrition, food and fitness. I draw a lot inspiration and motivation from being around other business owners.