Faces of NGI: Q&A with Head Teaching Assistant, Mila Jeanty | Natural Gourmet Institute

Faces of NGI: Q&A with Head Teaching Assistant, Mila Jeanty

Posted February 2, 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.

Mila Jeanty is a Head Teaching Assistant at Natural Gourmet Institute. Her love of food and its healing properties stems from her family’s roots in Eastern Europe. She grew up eating hearty and healthy dishes made by her grandma, someone she looked up to and often assisted in the kitchen. Read on to learn about Mila’s passion for cooking and how she came to be an integral asset to the NGI team.

How did you become interested in food?

In many cultures clean eating has been a way of life for generations. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandma on my mother’s side. She was the most amazing cook and also cooked professionally. I loved to be in the kitchen with her and watch her cook. There were many times when she taught me how to roll dough, make sauerkraut, kefir, butter, fermented vegetables and fruits, bake Napoleon, and prepare elixirs.

She used to sing and tell stories, and she inspired my confidence to cook by going back to the basics. We had a huge backyard where much of our produce was grown. I knew what carrots looked like; I loved my fresh-picked tomatoes; I couldn’t wait for my cherries and peaches to ripen; and I loved my flowers.

There was always socializing with lots of food and family time while growing up. We always ate together! I never had take out food, never drank soda, and didn’t know what a doughnut was made of until today. My grandma never had a recipe, but everyone wanted to cook like her. When they would tell her that their food never tasted like hers, she would reply “The secret ingredient is love,” and smile.

What made you get into cooking professionally?

I grew up a very happy and healthy child. So, I always knew that I wanted everyone I knew to eat good food and to be happy. Before coming to the United States, I had no idea about the problems of obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. I immediately thought to myself, “I don’t want to be a doctor, but I want to help people feel better and lead a different style of life.” The only way I saw how I could do it was through food! Food should be healing and food should be medicine. At that time, I was vegetarian, then vegan, and then raw foodist. I practiced what I preached because I wanted everyone to be healthy. So, I decided to become a food specialist, chef, and educator. This is not the only profession I had, but being a chef is the happiest one I have had.

How did you learn about Natural Gourmet Institute?

I discovered NGI a very long time ago because I lived a few blocks away. One day while I was practicing Bikram Yoga, I told my friend about my dream of becoming a professional chef and becoming a part of NGI. A few days later, she called me and asked me if I would like to come and help at NGI, and I did. I never left! I graduated from the Chef’s Training Program and now work here as a Head Teaching Assistant.

What has been your most memorable experience at NGI?

My most memorable experience at NGI was Annemarie Colbin’s classes. I was an assistant for her intensive classes and remember her words: “Everything we know is just a theory. But from a weak, whiny child, I became healthier and stronger. More importantly, I learned to choose my food so as to feel well.”

What is it like being a head teaching assistant at NGI?

Being an HTA at NGI is sometimes challenging, but at the end of a class when you see all the smiling faces on students, it is really rewarding. It is a lot of responsibility. You have to be punctual, detailed, organized, optimistic, a people-person, hard-working, and good at communicating. Before a class begins, you have to make sure all the recipe items and equipment is ready for the students, and you always have to make sure the kitchen is set up according to the chef instructor’s specifications. You have to be very attentive to the students, chef instructor, and assistants while making yourself available at all times and helping students with any questions they might have. At the end of the class you have to make sure that the kitchen is ready for the presentation of the food and help serve the students. Then you make sure the kitchen is cleaned and ready for another class!

What are your favorite foods to cook at home?

I love to cook my grandma’s recipes. To this day, I have not dropped my ancestral eating habits. I love cooking Shchi, Rassolnik, Svekolnik, Borscht, in the winter. In the spring I like to cook Zelyonye Shchi and in the summer I like to cook Okroshka, Olivier Salad, Vareniki (similar to pierogi). I also enjoy making sauerkraut, tomatoes in brine, Pirozhki, sautéed cabbage, mushroom sauce, Blini, Syrniki, and Kissel.