Faces of NGI: Q&A with Director of Nutrition, Celine Beitchman | Natural Gourmet Institute

Faces of NGI: Q&A with Director of Nutrition, Celine Beitchman

Posted March 9, 2018

The NGI community is made up of faculty, staff, and students from diverse backgrounds. In this series, we’re featuring a staff member or chef instructor to give you a taste of who we are and how we each contribute to creating a quality, health-supportive culinary education.

Celine Beitchman has been part of the NGI community since 2006 and was recently appointed as NGI’s Director of Nutrition. Her long-time passion for food and knowledge of nutrition are a tremendous asset to NGI’s programming and curriculum. Read on to learn more about Celine and how she hopes to increase the awareness of the connection between food and health at NGI.

You’ve been interested in food since you were young. What drew you to having a passion for cooking?

I was lucky in that my family moved to Europe when I was three and I was exposed to lots of different foods at an early age. But the passion took hold of me after we came back stateside. My mother’s cooking, which had started out a bit hippie, evolved thanks to time abroad and Julia Child cooking shows that we watched religiously. As a young girl, thanks to my mother and Julia, I learned two fundamental things that drove me to the profession: one, food is an extension of delicious love; and two, cooking could be my job.

You have worked in various roles within the food industry. How did this help shape your culinary career?

I didn’t go to cooking school. The world was my culinary training. Instead of a day or a week on a subject, like you might have in a school setting, I would work somewhere for a couple of months to a year soaking up what I could. Back then your chef would recommend you to another chef, or to another part of the business to help guide you professionally, and there were always lots of cooks coming and going with contacts and ideas for me as I found my way. One job always led to another. I’d have a hard time recommending this path to anyone today. Life in general was cheaper when I was starting out, so I could take my time and linger even if the pay were terrible. Nowadays, culinary school is one of the best ways to learn technique quickly and to make connections. But I still believe that any budding professional should get experience in as many areas of the field as possible. You learn that your skills are infinitely translatable and that you can reinvent yourself again and again while still following a continuous thread. You also learn to be as nice as you can to everyone you meet.

In high school you enrolled in City-As-School (CAS) and worked as an apprentice under Annemarie Colbin, founder of NGI. What was it like to be a part of the school back then?

I hardly recognized this place when I walked in almost 20 years after my internship ended. The space had changed from a one-room schoolhouse to the two-floor, three-kitchen, professional set-up we have today. Back then Annemarie taught healthy cooking, mostly to students who were going to be teaching in their own, typically home-based, venues. The cuisine was largely macrobiotic, and the vibe was open and accepting. Annemarie exuded confidence and she gave me the sense that anything was possible.  When I think about it today, she forms a triad with my mother and Julia Child in terms of major influences in my professional life.

You’ve been teaching at NGI since 2006. What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Chef Instructor?

There’s no natural end-point in culinary training, so as an instructor I’m still in many ways an apprentice. I try to keep my beginner’s mind. There’s always so much to learn, explore, and discover.  I once read a piece quoting Thomas Keller who, when asked what he looks for in a cook, said something to the effect that he looks for someone who every day tries to do better than yesterday. Teaching culinary skills allows me to live in that space of always trying to do better than I did, whether I’m in the kitchen or the classroom. I find that infinitely rewarding.

You have received your Masters in Clinical Nutrition. How has this enhanced your teaching at NGI and your own experience with food?

Not so fast! I have six credits left to go. But, what I’ve learned so far has made my teaching a thousand-times richer. It’s made me more discerning, better able to filter out the noise, and a better resource for my students. In terms of my experience with food, I can tell you unequivocally that there is no “best diet”, only foods that suit your current and future goals.

You have recently been named Director of Nutrition at NGI. What are your goals in this new role?

I hope to keep doing what I’ve been doing all along, developing programming and teaching about practical nutrition. Whether you’re doing the cooking or navigating the food scene, my goal is to help you get good food onto your plate day after day.

How do you hope to increase the awareness of the connection between food and health at NGI?

By continuing to make great food and getting the word out about it. How does the saying go, “it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well?” Annemarie’s most important principle of healthy food selection is that healthy food must be delicious. Connections between food and health are unsustainable if the food’s not good to eat.

People are often told to add certain nutrients to their diet like calcium, for example, but are not sure how this translates to the foods they eat. How can NGI help fill this gap?

Our students learn about single nutrients and common foods where they can be found. But even as we teach those elements, we try to convey that a total diet is complex. In our Chef’s Training Program, recreational classes, and certificate programs, cooking almost always ends with a buffet presentation. That’s where we take a bird’s eye view of daily and weekly meal planning, where students learn not only where the nutrient can be found, but how synergistic pairings and culinary technique can be leveraged to increase their benefits.