Irina is a mama of two boys in Santa Barbara and owner of The Dancing Chef – inspiring the world with food that makes your body smile. We caught up with Irina at her Santa Barbara bungalow and caught her in action! Learn more about her determination that forged the path to starting her own business in SB.
»» Tell us more!
What inspired you to start the dancing chef?
A year and a half ago I couldn’t walk or use my right hand, lift my left arm or turn my head. I was crippled by immense pain and finally was diagnosed with a supposedly incurable auto-immune disease. I was told that I would never be able to run again in my life and my body would maybe be able to semi-function with daily doses of intense drugs.
I was dying! And I was 35 and I had two young children. I tried the drugs for a week but there was hardly any change. After that anger and determination took over. I remember standing in my kitchen and stomping my foot imaginably (I couldn’t in real life because of the pain) and vowing that this will not be how the rest of my life will be like. I will heal no matter what!!! And not by covering up my symptoms with hard-core drugs but by healing my body and soul with food, prayer and a strong willpower!
And I am proud to say: I did it! And food was and is one of my most important medicine. Out of this experience I realized that there is close to none of the food that healed my body readily available out in our western world. I see it as my responsibility to change that and provide as many people as possible with the prepared foods that help create peace in the body.
I am The Dancing Chef because the food that I cook and eat allow me to stand on my feet and dance.
What were you doing before you took “the plunge”, and what was the turning point to starting your own business?
Before I started my own business I was the main caregiver for my two young boys and worked in the evenings as a server at a fine-dining restaurant. The turning point was the sudden shut down of my body. I went to bed one night as a fit, active (I did hot power vinyasa yoga 4 times a week), seemingly healthy (I ate organic, local, fresh homemade meals, often gluten free), young mother and woke up the next morning with a hand that was so inflamed and in pain that I couldn’t touch it. My hand was so swollen I couldn’t even try and bend my fingers. That inflammation and pain spread throughout my body within the next couple weeks (feet, shoulder, neck, left arm) and made me a cripple who was only able to barely survive with the use of constant pain killers.
What has been the biggest challenge for you?
Juggling my time and energy to be present with my boys and running my business at the same time.
How would you describe your style of cooking and how do you create your recipes?
I cook delicious food that seems totally normal but is prepared according to the anti-inflammatory cuisine. I have noticed in my own healing journey that there is a huge difference between eating healthy (which I qualify as eating between 60-70% according to the anti-inflammatory food list) and eating to create peace in the body (which I qualify as eating 80-100% according to the anti-inflammatory food list). I notice in my body that if I go below 80% things start going downhill real fast. And according to the doctors who helped me along on my healing journey, that is what our bodies need to maintain health – 80% of our food intake needs to be in alignment with the anti-inflammatory diet. As closer as this percentage gets to 100% the more our body is able to not just maintain but to thrive.
How I create my recipes is kind of how a painter creates a painting. I get inspiration, get my materials together and then go with the flow, feeling into the food and letting it talk to me through its own expression, using me as a tool to communicate its message of peace.
Do you have a personal favorite recipe? Is there a recipe your kids love?
My personal favorite recipe is this:
- Open my fridge and see what’s in there
- Get creative with what I find
Often my most delicious meals come out of being spontaneous and the willingness to experiment. But if I had to pick one favorite recipe that I created then it would be my Green Goddess Smoothie – it’s what helps me shine in the morning and carries me for hours. As far as a recipe that my kids love: I am blessed with two boys that love to eat and love all kinds of food including how I cook. A few of their favorites are: My kale salad (believe it or not), grass fed- local-organic fillet mignon, and any Paleo baked good I make especially my almond banana cake with dark chocolate (stevia sweetened) and blueberry filling.
When you started The Dancing Chef, did you face any challenges while getting started? What was your biggest fear about starting it up?
I really didn’t have a choice. I had a strong calling to do it and there was no way out. Yes there were/are the questions: will it work, will I be able to financially support myself like this, will I find work,…. And I believe that how I sit with these questions will greatly influence how my life and work unfolds.
You get to cook for people all over the Central Coast! Do you have any fun stories to tell about your adventures in feeding others?
I am fortunate to work as a Private Chef for a beautiful private estate in Montecito. During my cooking interview I cooked one of the favorite meals for the Mister of the house, which included clams. I sooooo overcooked these clams by accident and as he was eating them he said: ‘These are really chewy!” And then he continues: ‘But that’s not the end of the world. The sauce is very good!’ This comes from a man who has eaten the best clams in the world! I will never forget this experience and always will has a big smile and a feeling that warms my heart when I think of that story. It represents to me that life is about perspective and one can choose how to see what’s happening – you can either focus on the overcooked, chewy clams or the delicious sauce. What do you choose?
Who’s inspiring your right now and what keeps you excited and motivated each day?
My children, my parents, my family, friends, myself and my faith and love for this world and cosmos inspire me. I am surrounded by amazing people that all in their own way are committed to make this world a more beautiful place for all of us to live. And I am thankful for that.
What is the hardest part about being a mother while keeping The Dancing Chef thriving? Any tips for balancing motherhood and work life?
I strive to find the perfect balance between being available and present with my children and giving the gift of my food to as many people as possible. In order to do so I really need a well functioning supportive village and to be honest, I don’t have a village like that. However I am blessed with an imperfect village and I am trying to be patient and forgiving with myself for sometimes not moving as fast and efficient as I would want to. It all takes time and that is one of the hardest things for me – knowing that it all takes time and can’t be rushed to do something well.
What is your advice to people out there who want to start cooking clean and healthy meals for their family but they just don’t know where to begin?
Find someone that knows how to cook simple clean healthy meals and who is a good and patient teacher and spend a few hours with them in the grocery store and kitchen. It’s a great way to invest in keeping your most valuable possession (your body) working. You only have one!
What does the future hold?
Giving the food I create to as many people as possible. Next step is to open a cafe in town.
If you had a motto for your life, what would it be?
I like to pick a year motto on my birthday and this years motto is: THRIVING
»» What about outside of your business…
Tell us about your family!
I am a single mom of two amazing boys (3 and 9 years old) and co-parent happily with my ex-husband. My family (parents, sister, grandparents, aunts,…) live in Germany, where I grew up until I was 19 years old. I feel blessed to spend my life surrounded by loving people in Santa Barbara, able to raise my children within an incredible community and nature.
How do you describe your style?
Hmmm…my style…. authentic, loving, working towards the higher good of bringing health and happiness into this world.
Would you rather host a party or attend a party?
I would rather host a party because then I would be able to eat and drink the food that was served 🙂 .
»» As a Central Coast Mama…
Describe your ideal day to savor the Central Coast with your family.
My ideal day for me and my family is a day on which we can be in alignment with the flow of life, enjoying each other and the gifts that are found around us. On one of those days last year we drove up the coast from Santa Barbara to Monterey via Big Sur, stopping to hike, play at the beach, admire the forest, eat, laugh…
»» Current faves!
What are your go-to spots?
I usually cook and eat at home because there aren’t many place where I can find food that I can eat.
Family-Friendly Spot: the beach
Breakfast: at home
Brunch: Alice Keck Park
Lunch: at home
Dinner: at home
Winery: If I would choose to break my dietary rules and go wine tasting (I love wine) I would go to L’Aventure
Craft Brewery: I wish – if I could I would go to Figueroa Mountain Brewery
Night Spot: my bed
Boutique (or local shop): Any kitchen store 🙂
Where do you rendezvous for date night?
Sakana Sushi Montecito (I can eat the fish).
Best girls night out?
Ojai Valley Spa.
What do you do for “mama time”?
Yoga, hiking, cooking, eating, enjoying not being interrupted for a while.
»» To wrap it up…
What’s your favorite part about being a mama in Santa Barbara?
The community of amazing men and women in this town, held together by the sacred mountains and ocean, who are caring for my children is my favorite part about being a Mama in Santa Barbara.
»» Connect with The Dancing Chef online!