LIFE In the Kitchen: with Terry Walters
By Natalie K. Pollock
It has been 14 years since Terry Walters of Avon wrote her first healthy food cookbook “Clean Food,” a collection of original recipes and an explanation of the health benefits derived from eating fresh, seasonally available foods. She was recently voted Best Chef in the Best of Hartford Readers’ Poll.
Walters is also the author of “Clean Start,” a James Beard Foundation Award finalist, and recipient of the Nautilus Gold and Silver Book Awards.
Her third book “Eat Clean Live Well” is based on her blog. She has been featured on television and radio, in print and in Internet media, and has worked as an educator, consultant, clean food chef and advocate for clean eating in schools, corporations and organizations. A West Hartford native, Walters lived in Chicago with her husband Chip Walters while he attended business school there. She subsequently earned her Master’s degree in business communication and public relations, after studying psychology and business in the 1980’s. The couple has two grown daughters, Sarah and Sydney.
Walters also trained with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, the Natural Gourmet Cookery School, the Kushi Institute, and the Chopra Center.
After several years offering cooking demonstrations for such retailers as Whole Foods and Sur La Table in Canton (now closed), Walters created an annual program of hands-on cooking classes that she continues to offer in her home. She also offers a lecture series.
Q. What does the Best Chef award mean to you?
A. We have an amazing Clean Food community. I started working on it 22 years ago and people are still with me.
Thousands of people from my audience have gone through my cooking classes, but also who knows home many more virtually from Canada and Australia. My heart feels very full.
Q. What is your favorite business-related activity?
A. My favorite part is the classes. I cannot imagine my business without them. They are about community and sharing and nourishment and collective wisdom. During Covid, I led a Circle of Nourishment. Every Friday morning anyone from the community could reach out to each other on video [and talk about food-related issues].
Q. In addition to a consulting with such companies and organizations as Goldman Sachs, Northeastern University, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, what was your involvement with pet food?
A. I was on the advisory board for Nutro, a Mars Corporation brand based near Nashville. They were interested in creating a Clean Feed line for pets. My involvement of over a year required a lot of traveling. One nice thing that grew out of the work was that their employees wanted to learn about feeding clean themselves. So it was a win for the pets and for their humans.
Q. Are you still working with corporations?
A. I am speaking in corporate wellness programs virtually 24/7. And I am still consulting with other groups and providing health coaching for individuals. I have always been involved in corporate wellness. There was an incredible need during Covid because people were at home and spread out.
Q. Are you planning to write another book?
A. After my last book I had an existential crisis. People don’t need a book about clean food anymore. But I kept teaching and creating programs. I wrote a booklet in spring of 2020 and then decided to turn it into a big book I call “Nourish.” All the recipes are full meals that people can make work with the ingredients they have at home. For example, I offer one recipe but with four variations. It’s still vegan and gluten-free and seasonal [like my other books]. The new book will be available in spring of 2022, and I will be self-publishing again [just like my first book]. I want to enjoy the process and have more control.
Q. What do you do between teaching and writing?
A. I have been writing poetry during the pandemic. I did a program on writing and reading poetry for the Circle of Nourishment. It was popular and has continued. Poets have flourished during Covid, like Amanda Gorman.
Q. How did you come to be at the forefront of the clean eating movement?
A. I got into healthy eating at the University of Rochester. My cholesterol was very high, and I did not want medications. So, as I was living off campus I had to learn how to cook, rather than going to the cafeteria. I eliminated dairy and animal protein, and I lowered my sugar intake. I had a lot of books to learn from but not to cook from. My older brother came home from college a vegetarian, so mom began cutting down on red meat or she offered two options. She cooked everything from scratch. And our two girls had health challenges. People saw what my kids were eating and asked me about that. So, I started teaching classes. It’s remarkable how far that world has come. There has been a huge change.
Q. How do you feel about seeing so many people in books and online in your space?
A. I love it. There should be more. I can’t be everything to everyone. As long as people are making choices and see an impact on their health and community, it’s all good. I try not to let judgment seep into my world. My books are vegan, but my health coaching is about what works best for the individual.
Q. What is the most popular dish that people ask you about cooking?
A. Every season there are favorites in my classes. My classes are by season. Sourdough is always popular. I offered one class on sourdough each week at the beginning of Covid. There was a steady flow of people picking up starter from me. It’s my favorite to teach because it’s magic – just flour, water, salt, time and love. And it’s the most forgiving process. It will always come out.
Q. What is your “secret” ingredient? What should everyone know?
A. My secret ingredient is love. You also have to use all the tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and pungent/heat -- to achieve umami [a pleasant, savory taste]. Food should nourish all the senses.
Q. If you could take any celebrity chef out to dinner, who would it be and where would you take them?
A. There is a woman in London named Sourdough Sophia. I follow her on Instagram. I adore her because she is so down-to-earth, and she shares her process with no airs. I would bring her here so we could bake together. I also follow Chef Rene Redzepi from Noma in Copenhagen. The things he does with food!
Q. What herb or spice best describes your personality?
A. I am addicted to za’atar. It will be in my next book. It’s smooth, happy, unexpected, and pulls things together. Maybe that’s what I want to be.
Q. What do you like to cook when having guests to your home?
A. My favorite thing to cook is pizza with any vegetables, and there is only one dish to clean. Sourdough for pizza crusts ferments for 48 to 72 hours. The fermentation eats a lot of the gluten so you never feel bloated. And I also like to make tacos. I like to get everyone involved in putting both the pizza and the tacos together. VL