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Rising Stars: Meet Emily Baird

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emily Baird.

Emily, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I’ve always loved food. I started cooking when I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area. My mom briefly worked for Alice Waters, and I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by the burgeoning culture of “California Cuisine.” It was all about eating seasonally, locally, and organic. At age six, I would go to Cafe Fanny and drink freshly squeezed orange juice at the counter while my mom worked the weekend brunch shift. In elementary school, I would drink small glasses of balsamic vinegar and my preferred school lunch was goat cheese on an Acme baguette. 

As I got older, I wanted to be a chef but I worried that making it my profession would kill the joy in it so I went to college in Montreal and studied English Lit. I got a job at a magazine but was miserable so I reached out to a catering company who hired me part-time, minimum wage. Despite the pay, I was so much happier working in a kitchen I knew it was the only real choice for me. 

Eventually, I started catering on my own and built up a small clientele when I had the opportunity to move to Portugal. Once I got there, I found a job in a restaurant in Cascais as a gard manger/pastry chef (it was a small kitchen.) Again it was terrible pay (€500/month) but I was in heaven. We would do lunch service, prep dinner, then jump in a car and go to the beach for a quick swim to rinse off the sweat before dinner service. My chef there, Henrique Sá Pessoa became a mentor and went on to have 2 Michelin stars. He taught me so much, but most importantly, how to run a calm kitchen with a positive and respectful environment. I can’t stand yelling in a kitchen. How is that enjoyable for anyone?

After a year, I moved back to North America and enrolled in culinary and pastry school in Vancouver. I then got a job as a private chef on a yacht which was an amazing experience, cooking and traveling all over the Caribbean and Bahamas. After that, I moved to LA where I’ve been a private chef for 15 years. I’ve cooked for President Obama, movie stars, musicians, royalty, inspiring politicians like Stacey Abrams and Adam Schiff and I started an Instagram account called @everythingyouwanttoeat where I share recipes, cooking tutorials and a little bit of my life as a working mom with two young kids. 

When Covid started, my catering work dried up and my partner’s wine bar Tabula Rasa Bar closed. So many people were losing their jobs it was scary. My way of coping was to look for a way to help and put my skill set to use. I saw a message on an online message board from a single mom asking for food so I sent her a dm and asked if I could bring her groceries and cook her a meal. That idea took off and I started doing it whenever I could with money raised on my social media accounts. I called it Chefs Feeding Families. (@chefsfeedingfamiliesla) 

Then George Floyd’s murder happened and I took a harder look at things. I realized that 99% of the people I helped were BIPOC and it was proof of the systemic racism all around us. I decided to devote Chefs Feeding Families to helping BIPOC families and immigrants as part of its mission statement. In 11 months, we’ve delivered over $23,000 in groceries and household necessities to families in need with the help of money raised on social media and a few awesome volunteers. We’ve also helped four single moms pay off all or most of their back rent through donations from followers on social media.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Cooking for a living is never a smooth road. The pay only started being enough to really support me and make starting a family a possibility when I found a fantastic private chef job with a family who put me on salary, offered healthcare, paid vacations and paid maternity leave. Sadly none of these things are a given in the food industry. I also struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. I battled it for years trying to keep it together and white knuckle it. It wasn’t until after I had a DUI and an intervention that I finally sought professional help. I was so exhausted from trying to hold it all together on the outside that the inside of me barely existed anymore. Even then, it felt very embarrassing and shameful which is part of the reason today that I’m so open about my addiction and alcoholism. The stigma around it, especially when it comes to women and mothers is so counterproductive. Today I’m 8.5 years sober with the help of therapy, 12 step groups, my family (being a mom is incredible incentive to stay clean), and a lot of hard work.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
My style of cooking is heavily influenced by growing up in California. It’s seasonal, organic when possible, and full of bright flavors and colors. I don’t believe in a lot of rules when it comes to cooking. I try and teach people through my Instagram tutorials and zoom lessons that you can learn to cook intuitively and that should be the goal. Once you start understanding techniques and flavor profiles/seasonality, you can make anything. I always encourage improvising and substituting ingredients to make food personal and unique to whoever is cooking it. I also thrive on inspiring people. Whether that’s to have fun in the kitchen, support immigrant rights, vote, or help feed families in need, we all benefit when we find ways in our daily life to lift other people up.

Is there a quality that you most attribute to your success?
Optimism, gratitude, and a sense of humor is the key to everything for me.

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