A lot of chefs have simple resumes; they detail hours spent in kitchens and classrooms, preparing dishes and leaving the real world somewhere in a steamy haze.
Ofri Gilan is not one such chef. Take a look at her resume, and you’d wonder how anyone could fit so much life into one lifetime. Her paths have been as diverse and varied as the trails around our mountains. But one thing has remained constant throughout her life: her passion for good, healthy food. “I love food. I love shopping for it, I love the markets, I love fresh produce, I worship vegetables,” Gilan says with a laugh.
It’s a passion that began at a young age, on her kibbutz in Israel. There a community of 700 worked together to be completely self-sufficient; everyone worked together to make the food, milk the cows, tend the fields, and if not, it affected your social status. “You go into life with a huge skillset,” Gilan points out.
As a young adult, Gilan worked as an educator through the military, her first taste of teaching. After that, she traveled: Asia, Northern Africa, Southern Europe, Australia, India. All the while Gilan developed her palate, trying new dishes and incorporating their elements into her own cooking. Eventually, she settled into working for a talented designer in Australia. Her employer, a graduate of MIT and Harvard, wanted to launch a scholarship program for Australians to attend graduate school at Harvard. His first recipient? Gilan. She dug deep into graduate school, but all the while, there was food. “As a student, I always supported myself by cooking,” she remembers. “Chefs told me I was good at it, but I didn’t see myself in restaurants.”
When she graduated in 2006, Gilan entered the design field, but everything changed with the crash two years later. Gilan reverted to her passion for food and began offering personal chef services in Boston. Gilan focused her work on people with special dietary needs. A personal chronic illness inspired her interest in therapeutic diets, and she worked with hospitals to help train patients to eat well. Though they’re often given lists from dietitians, folks with conditions like epilepsy and Crohn’s can’t follow those lists without the skills to prepare the dishes.
Last year, Gilan, her husband and their son moved to the mountains in pursuit of a lifestyle change. Although she hasn’t been able to break back into her work in hospitals, that perception of food as medicine still fuels Gilan’s business today.
Through her new endeavor, Ofri’s Home Cooking, she preaches tenets of “eat well, feel well” to locals and tourists alike who attend her classes. She’s intent on debunking the Southern stereotypes of frying, battering and sugar-coating food to make it taste “good.” Simple, fresh ingredients are at the core of Gilan’s recipes, many of which hold a Middle Eastern, Mediterranean theme. “It’s the best tasting medicine you’ve ever had,” she promises. “[Healthy food] is the basis of good health. I don’t believe in only diets—I don’t believe food alone can cure you of everything—but it’s certainly the basis.”