Meet Chef Elena
Founder & Executive Chef
Elena's passion is helping people experience truly amazing food and discover their inner chef, regardless of their age or abilities. Elena believes that cooking is a powerful tool that can motivate, educate, and build strong foundations for a delicious & inspired life.
Before graduating from The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, Elena was a verbal behavior therapist and therapeutic mentor for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While it was a rewarding job, she always found herself coming back to cooking. This prompted her to leave the more “traditional” therapy world to pursue her culinary passions and now integrates mental health as part of a holistic approach to physical health via cooking.
Elena founded Well Rooted Kitchen in 2014. Her company provides culinary education, adaptive cooking classes, wellness consulting and boutique catering. At the Marks-JHC she led a single parent’s support group where participants bonded while cooking and discussing the challenges of parenting. She was a guest instructor for “Ilona’s Room: Growing Healthy Girls” which focuses on eating disorder prevention by empowering young girls. She co-created “Foodie Friends" where teens with special needs, along with their peer buddies, met weekly to learn how to cook while developing social and language skills.
She is currently a wellness consultant for the Center For Family Support of NY & NJ, where she develops personalized wellness plans for residents of their group homes as well as providing staff training. She leads a variety of cooking classes at the JCC Manhattan, including "Community Cooks”— an inclusive cooking experience where teens and young adults of all abilities prepare and deliver meals to local homeless shelters, and “Cooking Kids” & “Little Chefs” where she teaches young chefs, 2-6 years old, how to prepare recipes from around the world.
Through all her endeavors, Elena strives to show the world that cooking should be adventurous, yet approachable, exciting and most of all DELICIOUS!
Director of Nutrition and Fitness
Robyn’s dedication to helping people get healthy through nutrition and fitness is evident in everything she does. Driven by her first-hand experience of being healed by food, she entered the wellness industry more than 6 years ago with a goal of paying it forward to others.
As the Director of Nutrition and Fitness for Well Rooted Kitchen, Robyn is part of the company’s wellness consulting division. In her role, Robyn is responsible for supporting individuals in their own wellness journey through meal planning, fitness, and nutrition education. Together with Chef Elena, the duo can often be found leading wellness-focused workshops throughout the New York City-metro area.
Prior to joining Well Rooted Kitchen, Robyn was a personal trainer at a high-end Manhattan gym. She also has experience with the group fitness niche, having led boot camp classes on Long Island.
Robyn’s expertise is regularly called upon for inclusion on lifestyle websites like FitFabFun, mic.com, Bustle, and others. She has served as a regular contributor to Fitness Goals, Runner Click, and is also a guest blogger for a newly-launched vitamin company. She holds certifications in fitness and nutrition from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and the International Sports Sciences Association.
Interview with Chef Elena
How did you become a chef?
I like to say that I've been cooking since I was able to hold spatulas. My brother and I would cook elaborate meals on the weekends while my parents slept in (I was 9 he was 4). When I was 12 I catered my mom's baby shower when my youngest brother, Roberto, was born.
As a family, we all enjoy eating and traveling, but most of all the eating part! On family vacations, my mom always laughs when at breakfast we are already asking “what’s for dinner?” I learned from my dad how to hunt down the best food. According to him “you have to ask the lady carrying groceries or the fisherman down at the dock where to go for good food, never eat near museums or monuments because they only cater to tourists and don’t trust hotel recommendations because they’ll just send you to places where they get kickbacks.” As you can tell, we did not take our culinary decisions lightly! I, therefore, was able to experience the authentic cuisine and that laid the foundations for my love of all things food!
While my parents enjoyed the culinary exploration and the elaborate meals my brother and I would create, they were not convinced this should be my career path. This push led me to major in psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina and become a Behavior Analyst. I worked for about 10 years in the mental health field, then I moved to NYC to get a Master’s in Social Work at NYU.
One day, after working hard to support my clients in reaching their goals and dreams, I said to myself “I should really practice what I preach!” So I decided to put my MSW on hold and enroll at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
I truly love what I do!
Describe your jobs:
My jobs are as varied as are my clients. From teaching new moms how to make greenmarket sourced baby food to showing kids how to make fresh pasta. I also consult for an agency that supports individuals with special needs. My work there spans from creating healthy menus to teaching staff and the residents how to improve their culinary skills and helping them lead a healthier lifestyle. I've also run a monthly parent's support group where I taught ways to provide nutritious meals for the family while creating a safe space for the parents to share their struggles and achievements with each other, not just in cooking, but anything parenting related. I've curated a private culinary experience for a family that took them on a culinary tour of Italy right in the comfort of their own home. The variety keeps me inspired! I take great care to uniquely tailor the culinary experiences based on the client's needs and tastes.
Do you do any sort of continuing education to stay up on the latest developments in your field?
Yes! I never stop learning. For example, in 2014 I took a year-long course on Ayurvedic Nutrition. I also attended seminars on Food as Medicine and Mind, Mood & Food through the Center For Mind-Body Medicine. I'm also training as a postpartum doula and working on my level 3 Reiki. In 2015 I took cooking classes in Thailand and Vietnam! I attend yearly culinary conferences to keep up with latest food trends and sharpen my skills.