Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m 29 years old and I live with my husband Matt in Kansas City, Missouri. I’m a linguist, chef, cookbook author, and nutrition educator. Believe it or not, I do have other likes and hobbies besides food! I adore language (reading, writing, grammar, fiction, poetry, and more), science (biology, astronomy, physics, geology, paleontology, et al.), music (I’m a total metalhead; think NIN, Type O, Cradle of Filth, DevilDriver, Rammstein, etc.), history (especially ancient world history), goth subculture, the occult and other strangeness, fitness and exercise, traveling, wine, bats, and much else. I can be rather hard to categorize or pigeonhole.
Tell me more about your cookbooks.
My first cookbook, Practically Raw: Flexible Raw Recipes Anyone Can Make, debuted in early 2012. It contains over 140 plant-based recipes bursting with fresh, colorful produce and other healthful ingredients. Click here to learn more about Practically Raw and preview several recipes from the book.
My second cookbook, Practically Raw Desserts: Flexible Recipes For All-Natural Sweets and Treats, was released in April 2013. It contains 100 indulgent-yet-healthful raw, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and low-glycemic sweet treat recipes. Click here to learn more about Practically Raw Desserts.
My first ebook, The REAL FOOD Cleanse: 3 Days to Clean Up and Reset Your Diet, debuted in February 2013. It’s a complete 3-day diet plan (including menus, shopping lists, recipes, and more) that allows your body and cravings a chance to cleanse and “reset” themselves, but it doesn’t require you to juice or starve! Click here to learn more about The REAL FOOD Cleanse.
What’s your food philosophy?
I don’t believe in labels, diets, or food dogma—my simple, non-stressful goal each day is to eat predominantly unprocessed, organic, conscientiously-produced, TASTY, real foods, with room here and there for a less-healthful or more-processed treat as I see fit. I’m no fan of dogmatism or strict rules about food—I prefer to be flexible and focus on enjoying what I eat! I think people can set themselves up for failure if they insist on being “perfect” (whatever that means!), and I find I’m healthier and happier if I don’t forbid myself to have any particular type of food. In addition, every body is different, and not everyone fares equally well within the same dietary paradigm. In short: you must eat what’s best for YOU.
I also follow the 80/20 rule: I eat pure, healthful, organic foods 80% of time, and allow myself a bit more freedom the other 20% of the time. As long as I feel happy, healthy, and vibrantly nourished at the end of the day, I’ve got no problem making the occasional not-100%-healthful exception.
Are you a raw foodist?
No, I’m not. Although I focused on raw and living foods in culinary school, and have so far written two raw food cookbooks, I am not 100% raw, and I don’t ever intend to be. Raw food is one of my top specialties, and I include a great deal of it in my diet, but I never aim for an exact percentage, and the amount waxes and wanes according to the season, the day, or even just my mood! I believe raw food is an invaluable part of a healthful diet, but doesn’t have to comprise a humongous chunk of said diet, let alone all of it.
Are you vegan?
No, I’m not. For several years, I freely used the term “almost vegan” to describe my plant-rich diet, but over time I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with that name, which I had simply made up on a whim the day I created my blog in 2008. My diet has evolved since then, and I also grew away from the idea of trying to label myself at all, especially with a term that has ethical, not just dietary, implications. In short, I am an omnivore. However, my cookbooks happen to be 100% vegan, and you’ll find many vegan recipes and product reviews on my site.
What’s your educational background?
2006: Bachelor of Arts, Linguistics, with honors, University of Kansas
A lifelong writer, reader, and language lover, I completed my bachelor’s degree in Linguistics (with honors) in just three years, graduating from college at the age of 20. My specialty was romance languages, namely Spanish, Latin, and French, but I also studied the grammars and histories of numerous other languages, including Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Kaqchikel Maya, Old and Middle English, Japanese, Turkish, and many more.
2010: Chef Certification, Raw and Living Foods, Matthew Kenney Academy
I was classically trained in the art of living cuisine at the renowned Matthew Kenney Academy (formerly known as the 105degrees Academy) in Oklahoma City, OK by such eminent chefs as Russell James. Click here to see a day-by-day account of my time there.
2011: Nutrition Educator Certification, Science and Benefits of Raw Food, Living Light Culinary Arts Institute
After many years as a self-taught health and nutrition enthusiast, I received my training and certification as a Nutrition Educator from Drs. Rick and Karin Dina at Living Light in Fort Bragg, CA.
Your website used to be called Almost Vegan. Why did you change it?
After blogging under the name Almost Vegan (almostveganchef.com) for over four years, I decided in 2012 to rebrand as Chef Amber Shea for a number of reasons. A big one is that I wanted to abandon dietary labels once and for all. I was never a fan of labels to begin with, so I was overdue to get rid of my own! I had also, over time, begun to feel increasingly uncomfortable with that name, which I had simply made up on a whim the day I created my blog in 2008—my diet has evolved since then, and that name just didn’t fit anymore. I also wanted to shift my brand to my own name so I could tie together all my past and future work – blog, cookbooks, anything else I may pursue – under the umbrella of my own identity.
What are some of your favorite and least-favorite foods?
I love sourdough bread, cauliflower, curry, hummus, nut butters, pasture-raised eggs, garlic, grass-fed butter, coconut, watermelon, Champagne mangoes, and beans and lentils. Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern, and Mexican food are some of my favorite cuisines. I dislike boring salads, oranges, smoky flavors, minty stuff, barbecue, and most American food.
What are your health challenges?
I have Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid that has resulted in hypothyroidism for me, as well as PCOS. I’m still working on getting myself back to 100%, but I have improved significantly since getting on the right meds (which were necessary in my case; natural healing did NOT work), and even more so since I opened by diet back up and began reincorporating a wider variety of foods.
I’m thinking of going to raw chef school. You attended both the Matthew Kenney Academy and the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute. Which one should I go to?
The answer totally depends on your goals. If you’re interested in a classical approach to creative, gourmet restaurant, spa, or private chef cuisine, then the Matthew Kenney Academy is your best bet. If you’re more interested in becoming a raw food teacher/instructor or caterer, or in studying plant-based nutrition science, then Living Light may be the place for you. I encourage you to explore both options, as each school is wonderful in its own way.
Another option that is far less of a monetary investment is Russell James’ homestudy course. Your future career plans will have to guide you to decide if investing in culinary school is something you want to do. It’s the experience of a lifetime, don’t get me wrong, but if your goal is almost exclusively to gain skill (rather than “get your name out there” on a national/international stage) – i.e. work in a restaurant, start a packaged food business, work for private clients, teach local classes, etc. – then you can learn a huge amount through a DVD course like Russell’s instead, for a fraction of the price.
Who designed your website? Who do you use/recommend for web hosting?
Lion Face Studio designed and coded my site, and as you can see, they did an amazing job! I highly recommend them (if you contact them, let them know Chef Amber Shea sent you!). For web hosting of my blog, I use Bluehost—they’re inexpensive and reliable, and they work really well with WordPress.