My name is Jessica Toffey McNeil (Jess works too). I am a Certified Natural Chef formerly living and working as a private chef in New York City. I’m a chef on a crusade to preserve the integrity of what we consume, for the integrity of who we are. The “conscious culinarian,” if you will. Environmentally conscious, ethically conscious and body conscious.  Most of the ingredients used in my cuisine are organic, local and farm raised. It just keeps things simple.

In today’s world of media, politics, and the ongoing quest for individuality, it seems like EVERYONE has an opinion about how to eat. Vegan? Gluten-Free? Fat Free? Good carb or bad carb? The good news is, I’m not here to judge, I’m here to help! There is a fabulous world out there with different styles of food and different styles of people and as a chef, I cater to it all. My educational background is in nutrition and physical fitness. I worked as a nutritionist and personal trainer for a few years before I decided to expand my wellness repertoire. Considering I’ve always had this nagging food obsession I decided to go to cooking school. Not just any cooking school, a vegan cooking school called Natural Kitchen Cooking School. I knew I wanted to be a chef, but I wanted to keep it on the healthier side. I have since dabbled in and out of veganism but one thing remains true to my heart: a diet based mostly on plants is what does a body good (and it ain’t too sore on ol’ Mother Earth either … as a mom I try to keep in mind that I’d like this planet to be in decent shape for my kids when they grow up).

A plant-based diet doesn’t have to be hard, scary or scoffed at. Just because one is vegan doesn’t mean they live on lettuce and water. There is an overabundance of sweet, savory, rich and tasty that comes straight from plants. Not to mention protein, the ever obvious and overly asked question to plant-based eaters. I could go on to list the latest vegan celebrities to make it seem “cool”… but it just is so I won’t bother. I saw a shirt once, titled “All Things Vegans Eat”, which was really long so I will spare you that list as well. Plant-based cuisine can be hearty and satisfying while being easy on the gut and virtually free of cholesterol. Nothing wrong with that! Have you been curious about vegan food or wanted to expand your options for Meatless Mondays? Are you newly vegan and need some tips?

That being said, not all the food I cook is vegan – different people, different diets. And although I keep to natural ingredients, and provide healthier alternatives, not all the food I cook is going to be 100% “healthy”. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I ABSOLUTELY make room for decadence and indulgences in my diet, as I think everyone should. Life is about fun, after all. I have a true appreciation for good beer, I am not shy about noshing on french fries, and I love me a good brownie! Just tryin’ to keep it real. There’s no shame in treating yourself sometimes.

I think I was born as what some would call a “foodie.” Lying awake at night I find myself thinking up recipes and brainstorming restaurant menus – or fantasizing about my most recent encounter with something delicious. I don’t know what it is about good food, but I dig a great meal! In all my education and experimentation I have developed quite the culinary rolodex. So let’s eat!

Photo by: Patrick R Bryant