When describing Samantha Gowing’s professional accomplishments, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Celebrated chef, clinical nutritionist, renowned teacher of Food as Medicine, author and motivational speaker are just some of the many strings she has to her bow.
Also a product developer, business mentor to restaurants, other chefs and nutritionists trying to break into the wellness industry, she holds a master’s degree in Gastronomic Tourism from Le Cordon Bleu, and is the founder of global wellness business, Gowings Food Health Wealth.
Yet at the heart of everything Samantha does lies a single passion: the healing power of food.
From heartbreak to soul purpose
Samantha’s career in the food industry began as a teenager when she worked casually in restaurants. However eight years later, food took on a deeper meaning, when her restaurateur father was diagnosed with cancer.
“When we asked my father’s oncologist for advice on dietary strategies for cancer patients, the notable nutritional advice we received was to avoid smoked salmon (to reduce carcinogens) and eat more bran muffins (to increase fibre) – that was about it!” Samantha recalls. “I suddenly realised that although we had worked in restaurants for many years, we knew very little about food as medicine.”
When her father lost his cancer battle, Samantha says it ignited a deep desire to learn as much as possible about the healing power of food. “Through my grief, I discovered my calling. It’s been a passionate voyage,” she says.
The rise of conscious cuisine
Terms such as ‘mindful eating’ and ‘conscious cuisine’ are frequently used in today’s foodie world, and it was Samantha herself who coined the clever term “thought cuisine” – a take on haute cuisine.
So what does it all mean?
According to Samantha, it’s a heightened awareness of what we’re eating and where our food is coming from. “I think for the most part humanity is becoming more evolved, and through social media in particular, we’re realising just how degenerated and processed some of our food is,” she says.
“While it’s easier now for people to uncover the horror stories, it’s also become easier to find the happy stories, and awareness of how we’re eating, how our body digests it, where it’s come from has increased.”
A unique approach to menu creation
Samantha moved from Melbourne to Byron Bay around nine years ago, and has become known as Australia’s leading spa chef, thanks to the wellness and culinary programs and menus she creates for some of the world’s best hotels and spas.
When creating a new spa menu, she draws inspiration from what the client’s business stands for. “I always start with asking the question ‘What is their intention for their guests?’ and then I create a menu that aligns with that,” she explains.
However when teaching her own master classes, Samantha employs a more medicinal menu creation strategy. “I begin by looking at what’s in season in the region I’m teaching in, and I then combine that with my knowledge of Chinese medicine,” Samantha reveals.
“For example, in autumn, it’s important to support the lungs. In Chinese medicine, white foods support lung energy. So I’ll seek out ingredients like cauliflower and pears, which are great for helping to clear lung congestion.”
Sometimes a lighter approach works well too. “Of course there are also times when it’s just about having fun and creating a healthy menu!” she says.
Mad for macadamias
Samantha is a proud macadamia fan, declaring them to be one of her favourite foods. “From a chef perspective, I love their unique texture – it’s amazing how they can be both crunchy and creamy at the same time. I love what that can bring to a dish,” she says.
However for Samantha, the appeal of macadamias runs a little deeper. “As a nutritionist, I love using macadamias because of their omega 7 content, and their anti-inflammatory properties.”
Samantha is pleased the tide is turning on the anti-fat movement and that people are growing increasingly wise to the health benefits of macadamias, and nuts in general. “There’s now a wonderful celebration and a re-embracing of nuts,” she says. “Nuts are so sustaining. They really make you feel fuller longer and they’re such a fabulous whole food.”
She laughs as she recalls the old approach of imposing strict limits on nut consumption. “My dearest, oldest friend was always weight conscious. When we lived together in our early twenties, we used to ration out our macadamias to three per day, mistakenly thinking we would put on weight if we had any more. Of course we’ve since learned nuts aren’t fattening and now every time she comes to visit, I tease her and load her up with macadamias!”
The shift is also evident in the menus Samantha creates. “I use significantly more nuts and seeds on my menus now than I used to. I really notice the difference when I look back at menus I created 15 years ago,” she says.
Food trends: just add common sense
When it comes to food trends, Samantha is a keen observer, but more out of curiosity than anything else. “I find the obsession with certain ingredients and the running commentary on food trends quite fascinating,” she says. “Anything that hipsters are attracted to makes me laugh!”
She’s also not afraid to dig a little deeper, and if necessary, bring people back to reality with a dose of common sense and authenticity.
“The evangelism around clean eating and green smoothies has become a socio economic status rather than just eating to feel good,” she says. “At the end of the day, an anti-inflammatory diet of lean meat or chicken, sustainably farmed fish, dark green leafy vegetables, a little fruit and a handful of nuts a day is what holds most people in good stead.”
A macadamia moment with Samantha Gowing
What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
I have two – fresh turmeric, and watercress. Turmeric thrives up here in the Northern Rivers. It helps to support your immune system and has an alkalising effect, and houses a powerful substance called curcumin, which has anti-oxidant properties. It’s magical! If I ever cut my finger in the kitchen I rub fresh turmeric on the cut, as it’s great for wound healing too.
Watercress is a true superfood. Its nutrient density is amazing. It’s peppery and really tasty. You don’t need much of it but it does wonders for the body.
What are you loving right now in terms of ingredients?
Coming into autumn I love macadamias. I make this beautiful autumn dish of roasted parsnips, cauliflower, macadamias and roast pears. It’s been a health retreat menu staple for years. People can’t believe how good those flavours taste together. A plate of that with or without animal protein is beautiful.
What’s your personal favourite way to enjoy a macadamia?
I really like to bash them in the mortar and pestle and then scatter them over a salad. Having said that, you could put a bowl of them just as they are in front of me now and I’d eat the lot! I also love the ones from the Byron Bay Farmers’ Market that have been roasted with honey.
Where is your favourite place to eat, anywhere in the world?
There are many. San Francisco and New York are both great. In my hometown of Melbourne, there’s a Vietnamese restaurant called Quan88. It’s the best Vietnamese food – I’ve being going there for 20 or 30 years. Going back there is like coming home. It’s cheap and cheerful, and I’ve never a bad meal there.
What do you like to cook at home?
Anything from a fantastic roast chook to slow cooked corned beef to roasted vegetable salads in the summer. I also love to roast, bake or barbecue sides of fish. Nothing too fiddly – I like big flavours that require little effort. I love Japanese inspired flavours, even for breakfast. One of my favourite breakfasts is grilled fish, brown rice and broccolini. I love how Japanese food is simple but honest with that beautiful salty, earthy flavour.
What is your favourite movie or TV show?
My favourite all-time movie is The Shining! There’s something about that hotel, the Kubrick lighting, the eerie corridors and the incredible bar scenes with that golden hue.
If you were an ice cream what flavour would you be?
Finger lime sorbet.