Serena Poon wants to nourish you—mind, body and soul.
This chef for countless Hollywood insiders first found her path through family: First, her parents and grandmother demonstrated the creativity and love involved in cooking, as she watched. Then, when her parents became ill, her love for them moved her to research the intersection of food and healing.
Ultimately, Poon studied at U.C. Berkley and Le Cordon Bleu, learning to merge her fascination with “culinary alchemy” and her belief in integrative health, holistic nutrition, mindfulness and spirituality. After guiding and supporting private clients for years under her Serena Loves umbrella, this year, Poon officially launched her health and wellness brand, Just Add Water.
Here, she explains why, for her, happiness starts with gratitude and self-love:
Live The Process: What sparked your interest in food and cooking?
Serena Poon: Growing up, the heart of our home was always the kitchen. Whether it was a large family gathering or just the four of us at home, the kitchen was where so many of my memories were made. So, I’ve always had a love for food and grew up with a curious wonderment about cooking.
As a child, I loved watching my grandmother and my parents create all kinds of delicious magic over the stove. My father used to love to experiment with dishes, recreating something special we tasted at a restaurant with his own intuitive skills and flavors. My mother used to prepare all the traditional Chinese dishes, some passed down from her upbringing and some that were just traditional to our Cantonese and Sichuanese cultures. My grandmother used to create all kinds of special recipes, crafted from menus she designed in her mind. I used to stand and watch all of them for hours.
LTP: How did the health of your family inspire you to think about the integration of food, healing and wellness?
SP: During my senior year of college, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. It was a hereditary disease, the same thing his grandfather had passed away from years before. At the time, I didn’t even understand the reality of what that prognosis meant. He fought but lost a very painful battle after a year and three months. He was 48 years old.
Two months later, my mother was diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was 45 years old at the time. So, before we even had a chance to grieve my father, we were in another battle to save my mother, who could hardly process the death of her soulmate, let alone her own mortality.
With experimental treatment and (I believe) my father in heaven watching over her, my mother is still with us today. As you can imagine, this completely changed my perspective on life. All that mattered was the health and happiness of my loved ones.
During my father’s battle, I began looking into holistic, herbal and natural remedies for everything from his cancer symptoms to alleviating the side effects of his treatments to providing any extra bit of comfort through food. I had studied nutrition while at college, but this drove my passion further: I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu. I wanted to study the culinary arts to better understand food, nutrition and creating ways to heal and comfort people through the power of food. My parents’ story became my inspiration and the driving force behind all that I do.
LTP: How do your services integrate the balancing of physical, emotional, spiritual and logistical needs?
SP: I offer a wide variety of services for my clients. As a private chef, I design menus and produce events across the spectrum—from small formal dinners to large events/parties that require a full staff to execute. I also provide meal planning and prepared meals for some clients.
For nearly all of my clients, I serve as a nutritionist. I curate very specific nutritional and wellness programs, designed for optimal health to suit their lifestyle choices and scheduling demands. These programs, what I call “Culinary Alchemy,” are an intersection of guidance and education on food nutrition and how it affects our bodies on a physiological and emotional level. I also address how to properly receive food to maximize nutrient absorption and benefits, along with creating the appropriate recipes and menus to support the nutritional, emotional and energetic/spiritual needs of the client.
There is a magic in all of us that not only individualizes us, but also ties us together, universally, energetically. This universal energy is something that I have learned to understand, harness and redirect into how we use food to heal and nourish our bodies. We have emotional connections with food; it can evoke past memories, create new ones. We have a physical relationship with food in that it can nourish, heal and give us comfort and pleasure. As a chef and a nutritionist, I’m trained with knowledge of the physical attributes of ingredients and how to combine them to create recipes that can help support or resolve a person’s dietary needs. As a healer, I am able to marry all of these aspects together to produce programs and plans that are nurturing, sustainable and that resonate with a client’s physical, mental and spiritual needs.
LTP: Are there any products or rituals that keep you personally feeling balanced and healthy?
SP: I’m very big on rituals because they’re so grounding and help to keep us aligned. Self-care is something that I practice daily, beginning with anywhere from five to 20 minutes that I dedicate—every morning before I get out of bed and every night before I go to sleep—to journaling and meditating. Routines and rituals create a place of comfort for our minds. That’s why, for me, it’s important to start and end my day with a certain pattern of habits. It helps me to ease into my day or slow down my mind as I prepare to rest at night. This is when I go through my gratitude list, my affirmations, my mantras and my intentions.
My other ritual is starting my day with warm lemon water, celery juice, immunity elixirs and wheat grass. At some point in the day, every day, I’ll have a healthy green juice (the Luminous Elixir), a Just Add Water and a matcha latte with nut milk. They’re not always in that exact order, but I’ll have each of those to check off my list of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and superfoods.
I’m also a big fan of healing crystals! I don’t ever leave home without some in my purse, particularly rose quartz, selenite and obsidian.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
SP: At one point, I would have answered that my happiness was defined by the health, well-being and happiness of the people I love. But over time, I’ve realized that it’s so much more than that. Happiness is looking at what is right in front of me and feeling content. It’s all about simplicity.
I wake up in the morning and, if I give myself that extra five minutes in bed to go over my affirmations, mantras, and gratitude list, I start my day feeling grounded and excited. I’m happy because it’s a brand new day and anything can happen.
When you simplify, and can stay unattached, there are countless moments throughout a day that can be amazing and gratifying. When I look around me, taking in that which is my life—the people who are in it—to see what I’ve created for myself and for others, I am content. I am grounded, and I am grateful.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
SP: It means understanding and embracing that we are all on our own separate journeys. It means that, along the way, we will experience every category of emotion and, with those, lessons to completely understand and learn from. To “Live The Process,” we surrender to our lessons, to the journey and to the understanding that every single moment on our path is not only designed to align us, but also to teach us how to love ourselves, so that we are fully integrated with ourselves.
How often do we each struggle with some sort of internal conflict? It could be about anything: a decision for work, a conversation we had, an event we declined, a person from whom we disconnected. To “Live The Process” means being kind and compassionate with ourselves as we walk along this path, as we go about our journey and learn—because no one hits it out of the ballpark the first time around.