Laura Lee Bryant is a Nashville native who discovered her passion for healthful cooking and nutrition consulting while living a fast-paced, corporate NYC lifestyle. She handed it all over to enroll at the Natural Gourmet Institute. Luckily for us, Laura Lea brought her passion for health, by way of food, back home to Nashville and founded Laura Lea Balanced, or llbalanced. She now consults individuals, corporations and restaurants. For a taste of what she cooks up, check out llbalanced.com and try some of her delicious recipes.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a certified health supportive chef.
As a health supportive chef and nutrition consultant, I teach my clients that their greatest tool for physical, mental and emotional health is the food on their plate, and I show them how to put this into practice.
When I lived in New York, I relied on takeout and frozen meals, but my budget forced me to start cooking for myself. Beans, grains, local fruits and vegetables were cheap! Quickly, I found that eating fresh, mostly plant-based meals had huge impact on my overall happiness. This inspired me to enroll at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Chelsea, N.Y.C., where I became a certified chef, specializing in the relationship between food and healing.
How did you make your way to Nashville?
I felt a pull to return home to Nashville for years, but I had this notion that I should “stick it out” in NYC. As I studied holistic health, I realized there is great power in recognizing what you need, which may be completely different than what anyone else needs.
After I graduated culinary school and completed an internship at ABC Kitchen, a pioneer in farm-to-table restaurant, I knew I wanted to start my new career in Nashville, the city where I have roots and my incredible family.
Are there any common pitfalls that we should work to avoid?
Can you suggest two recipes that even the most processed-food-addicted reader could make and think, “OK, I can do this!”
My watermelon, feta and arugula salad uses easy-to-find ingredients and is fantastic for entertaining. Change the fruit based on what’s available locally. Strawberries would be divine right now.
I also recommend my blueberry coconut overnight porridge, where you simply mix ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate. It’s the perfect healthy breakfast or snack.
Do people get self-conscious around you when they want to put cream and Splenda in their coffee, or maybe eat an Oreo?
Only if they don’t know me. I am all about balance and moderation, not perfection. I certainly don’t recommend those things, but I’m more grateful for someone’s company than I am intent on judging their food choices.
Is it hard to make healthy food choices in Nashville?
It’s easier than I expected, and it has improved tremendously over the years. There are wonderful gems like Sunflower Café and Spark of Life, and other health-minded entrepreneurs are popping up all of the time. My friend Gabrielle Hall recently opened The Free Bakery, and I am smitten with her vegan, gluten-free goodies.
What advice has resonated in your business and life?
We were constantly told in culinary school to “season from a great height.”
If you could change one thing about Nashville, what would it be?
Walkability. Walking everywhere in New York is one of the few things I miss.
What do you like best about living in Nashville?
Seeing the rest of the world discover what we always knew! Nashville has it all. I can enjoy a metropolitan city with sophisticated food and culture, but I’m also just an easy, breathtaking drive to our family’s farm in Leiper’s Fork.
Where do you seek inspiration?
I love exploring the incredibly diverse menus available here — everything from pupusas on Nolensville Road to Thai Phooket in East Nashville to the latest haunt that will be written up in Bon Appetit.
What was your most recent dream-worthy meal in Nashville?
I’m still dreaming about a recent brunch at Pinewood Social. I had the most incredible omelet with Noble Springs goat cheese, spinach, roasted garlic and house-made tomato marmalade. Their beet salad with leek vinaigrette and a fragrant elderflower tea rounded out the meal. I’ve been craving it since!
When life gets chaotic, how do you center yourself?
I started going to The Bar Method on Harding Road a few months ago — a body-sculpting, ballet-inspired workout — and it has become my retreat. I always leave class feeling strong and relaxed.
Where is your favorite place to vacation?
Right now, I am counting down the days till I’m in St. Augustine, FL! My business partner Ashley Benson and I host our luxury detox Health and Fitness Vacations in St. Augustine, and I think it’s the perfect place to recharge.
What’s your fashion “must-have” for Spring 2014?
I’m currently coveting a pair of dark wash jeans from Imogene + Willie that my girlfriend Mallorie just bought. A light poncho sweater, fitted jeans and ballet flats can get you through most of the season.
What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?
I’m in the thick of developing the juice bar for Fit Food Revolution, an incredible new healthy fast-food chain in Nashville that will open later this year, so I’m perusing about a hundred and one books on juicing. I particularly love the Big Book of Juices by Natalie Savona.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Coconut butter, hands down. A spoonful is fantastic for curbing sugar cravings. I’m also addicted to my heated blanket. I’ve almost snuck it into coffee shops! Lastly, black leggings. I live in them, and they can go from gym to fancy dinner — just not the same pair!
Special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for her beautiful photos each week in our FACES of Nashville series. For more on Ashley, see: ashleyhylbert.com
And, for even more of our interesting conversation with Laura Lea Bryant, be sure to pick up this month’s copy of Nashville Lifestyles. On the inside back cover, you can read more of our Q&A, through exclusive content prepared just for Nashville Lifestyles! nashvillelifestyles.com