We first met Desiree through Instagram, where we interacted over her delicious recipes and our mutual love (bordering on infatuation) for our Canadian grown lentils. Desiree's approach to wellness is refreshing, as she helps guide her clients towards healthy eating using mindfulness. She's a dynamo with a thriving private practice, as well as being a host with her Gusto TV show The Urban Vegetarian. We are so excited to get to know her a little better, and to share this delicious (and nutrient loaded) Golden Quinoa breakfast porridge with you.
Q&A WITH VANCOUVER'S DESIREE NEILSON
What is your day job?
I am a registered dietitian who loves helping people find joy and healing through whole foods.
What is the number one most used ingredient in your kitchen at home?
Extra virgin olive oil. Pretty much every recipe starts with a good glug...I even make my muffins with it. And I am not afraid of salt.
At what age did you first start cooking?
I learned how to cook, standing beside my grandmother on a chair. But the first time I took the reigns, I remember it so clearly. I was seven I think. Characteristically for me, the event was borne out of impatience. My grandmother and I were making chicken, and I really wanted to shake the Shake and Bake but my grandmother was on the phone. To quell the nagging, she told me to do it myself. I can still remember that icky/exhilarating first feeling of raw chicken but damn was I proud when we all sat down to eat.
How would you describe your approach to food?
Fast, flavourful and full of plants. I never feel more energized and well than when I am getting all my veggies in. Figuring out how to do that when you rarely have more than 30 minutes to cook keeps things interesting.
What is the kitchen tool you can’t live without?
What do you eat for breakfast?
My independent streak tends to reject routine a bit so I tend to bounce between smoothies, overnight chia/oat things, porridge and avo toast (always rye sourdough, with or without an egg on top).
Who is your biggest influencer/hero?
Right now, I am really drawn toward the work of Candice Kumai. She is a wellness-focused chef who creates beautiful, healthy, simple recipes based on plants. Candice has such a positive message around self care and feeding yourself well for the right reasons.
Favourite travel destination?
Without a doubt, Tokyo. I love the intersection of energy/calm and chaos/order that is so unique to Japan and how there are always new discoveries down every alley. If I could visit every year, I would be in heaven.
What are you most proud of this past year?
Really getting out of my comfort zone. Just as my daughter turned one, I signed on to do a cooking show, The Urban Vegetarian, on Gusto TV. Me, of the horrible knife skills and ‘health food taste buds’. I was like a dear in headlights through the entire process and they took such good care of me. Watching it on TV for the first time was exhilarating/terrifying but now I kind of feel like I can take on anything.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
My very first boss once told me that if I was going to accomplish big things, I had to get comfortable with chaos. As someone who had previously found strength in routine and order, it has helped prep me for the three ring circus that is entrepreneurship with two kids.
How do you relax?
Time alone is my balm…which is probably why I am super content working alone in my basement! On a daily basis, relaxation is usually found in the tub. I also love hiking with my family and we get out most weekends in the fairer months.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?
I have pretty wonderful humans around me…any night out with them is a gift.
What music are you listening to these days?
I am still fairly obsessed with the new Kid Cudi album...I listened to it everyday for a couple of months but my hubs just introduced me to Sampha and we’ve been listening to the new Bon Iver. I love music and actually publish a monthly playlist on my website.
What foods can’t you live without?
If I have greens in the crisper and beans ready to go, I have dinner.
Have you always cooked with grains and legumes like you do now?
At first, my grains were always in pasta or bread form and beans were an addition to a meal. Like, I need some protein, let’s throw a can of beans on this salad. Now, I create meals with grains and legumes as my starting point. There are literally endless combinations.
What is your current favourite grain to work with?
In baking, rye. I love rye so much. It’s dark and brooding and flavourful. As a whole grain in my recipes, I love quinoa and millet for their versatility and because they cook up quickly enough to fit into a crazy day.
We feel grateful to have the support of so many amazing chefs and foodies. What are some other noteworthy local food brands making a difference in the way you cook?
If I knew the secret to Spread ‘em Kitchen’s silky cashew cheese goodness, I would be a happy woman.
Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host who spends most of her day eating, writing and thinking about food. Desiree has a private practice in Vancouver and recently created an app all about digestive health called MyHealthyGut. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or at her website here.