Chef Kirsten Helle
There is the hustle and there is the flow – and then there's the dance between the two.
Chef Kirsten Helle is a little bit of it all and she uses her intuition to help guide her in which mode she should be in. Sometimes it's moving full speed ahead, other times it's slowing down, maybe even veering off the path for awhile to stock up funds, energy or whatever else is needed – until the next push, the next flow comes.
Kirsten grew up with a love of food. She was raised in Puyallup by a dad with a passion and love for cooking; he actually converted his garage to a meat curing haven where locals would bring him their meat and he would convert it into salami, pepperoni and other deliciousness. He was self-taught and even figured out how to turn a commercial freezer into his own DIY smoker. Weekends were spent with family trolling food markets and taking excursions to Uwajimaya.
Hers is a close knit family that is loud, boisterous and loving. They also share traits of heart disease and a lot of extra weight together... Food was what was put on the table and enjoyed, there was no thought to health or nutrition. By the time she hit middle school, Kirsten found herself overweight, self-conscious and shy, with growing food attachment issues.
Fast forward a few years, a very short stint in college and she finds herself at 23 working the grave yard shift delivering the Seattle Times Newspaper in order to be with her infant daughter during the day. It's for her daughter that she decides to start cooking, aware that she has to be more conscious of what she is feeding her baby. Here she discovers her own passion for cooking.
Dreaming of culinary school, but knowing she can't afford it, she instead goes to the library and checks out books from the Culinary Institute of America and the Cordon Bleu. “I would self-study and act like I was in school. So I would do three months of immersion at a time – three months of Italian and then move onto bread baking for three months... learning the basics like how to julienne vegetables. In the process I developed a love of cooking” and her own innate knowledge around food. She came to the realization that she wanted to be a chef but didn't want to work in a restaurant and it was then that she saw Giada on the Food Network, that she decided to become a personal chef.
Which began the next foray into learning... this time, business development so that she could successfully one day launch her own business.
Two years later, Kirsten can remember the exact day – she had her lightning bolt moment and epiphany that would change the course of her future. She found herself sitting on a couch, 100 pounds over weight with high blood pressure and prediabetes. As she looked down at her 2 year old daughter playing on the ground, she realized that “I hated looking at myself, hated everything about myself at that point, internally and externally.... I decided then that if I continue this, she's going to see me as her role model .... it killed me to think of her thinking this of herself at 25 years old down the line. So I decided right then and there, I'm going to just take care of my heart. And that was what I focused on, not the external, but I focused on the good in me.” She decided it was time to break the cycle. And then she had a vision of herself; being older and swinging her grand kids around, filled with energy. A vision she is determined to make into a reality.
Just like that she decided to take her body and health into her own hands; just as she learned cooking techniques and then business development, now she started diving into what eating healthy actually meant – the deep dive into nutrition books, health, etc. she self-taught herself everything she craved to know. Up until this point, she thought healthy meant eating a Lean Cuisine or a Slimfast, she had to learn what it was to have a healthy relationship with food. To discover how to bridge the gap between healthy eating while also enjoying the special moments that can be about food, like eating the cupcake at a birthday party.
Kirsten takes the next three years to study and to focus on her health, gradually losing 100 pounds that she has kept off to this day. Continuing to study nutrition, business basics, web classes and how to open her own business one day. She developed her own study program, based on her needs, desires and ambitions and threw herself into her studies – still working nights but now doing a little cooking for people during the day.
Then she had her second child, a son. She remembers waking up in the middle of the night when he was 5 months old and saying “the time is now”. And just like that, the hustle began. Kirsten started having fun with marketing in the pre-internet days - sending post cards, placing ads in the Little Nickel classified paper and on craigslist. And people started noticing. People began to ask her to do private catering and she was busy, booking parties and steady catering work.
When everything imploded. What she had hid from everyone around her was that she was in an abusive relationship. She was embarrassed and carried the shame on herself in order to not disrupt or upset her family. Until one night, the police were called. To insure the safety of Kirsten and her two young kids, they were taken to a homeless shelter. There she met a female pastor, who asked her why she was so sad and she said “I feel like I failed. I feel like I'm going to have to get a divorce now, that this is what it's leading to. And that's what I want, but I don't...” and this pastor looked at her and said, “You don't have to do this. You don't have to be here. You don't have to put up with this, this is not meant for You.” And that was her second lightning bolt moment – permission that it was OK to leave. She pulled up her bootstraps, took the daring that it required to share with her family, to ask and fortunately receive their help, and she never looked back again.
She was still working her catering business, but went back working the night shift at a large grocery to bring in more money. When her next big decision as an entrepreneur had to be made. Her grocery store offered her a promotion. This promotion would require her to work days and wouldn't allow her to keep her catering business moving forward.
She found herself alone, a single mother of an 8 and a 3 year old, while also opening her home to her 16 year old niece and her infant daughter. The choice came down to paying the bills, keeping her children safe and fed while building a strong foundation for them and herself. After much gut wrenching, she accepted the job and put her burgeoning chef/catering business lovingly to the side.
It was a time to hunker down and slow the process. She still held the vision of herself as a personal chef, one day owning her own storefront, but now that vision was getting pushed out – she figured that she would come back to it twenty years down the road. She was willing to be patient for when the time would be right to come back to her passion.
For the next 3 years, with her business on pause but finally loving the autonomy in her life, the nucleus family that she was the matriarch of, all the while learning valuable skills and business know-how in her role as an organic produce manager at the grocery store, when she met someone. A loving man that supported and encouraged her. So much so, that within a year she was moving her family an hour north from their home, away from her safe job, with his encouragement to make her vision a reality.
It was time to bring the hustle.
So she did.
Though times are changing with the growth of the internet and social media. So, as she does, she starts researching social media to grow her business. She starts her own food blog, it gets noticed, and goes on to win Best Seattle food blog, garnering more attention and attracting new clients as a personal chef.
Kirsten has found a niche with clients who have very specific food needs, requests and or allergies or intolerances. And because she knows food – and knows how important food is to not only sustaining our bodies, but also to sustaining our soul. Chef Kirsten is not going to give you a plate of raw vegetables, she's going to give you an experience that not only tastes wonderful, but is healthy and infused with love – and really trust, humor and acceptance for who you are and where you are, right now.
And as she's in the hustle and the trajectory sometimes works – one of her clients refers her to a Seahawk, who recommends her to one of his teammates, and another... now she has a thriving business, both monetarily and creatively and needs to hire additional employees.
When the bug bites again. Kirsten wonders “I meet with a lot of women entrepreneurs who all say the same thing, why when things are going so well, do we have to go and stir the pot up again in order to look for the next step?” My answer to that is because you are conquering your fears, learning new skills and are ready to go on to the next bigger and better evolution of you. You know there is more greatness out there for you – and you are now ready to claim it.
The next step for Kirsten is bottling her sauces. For years she's been focused on bold flavors and healthy sauces to keep her clients taste buds happy. But it's not that she just thinks her sauces taste great and want others to try them … though they do and she does. It's bigger and more noble than that.
Kirsten wants families to know that rather than grabbing a box of Hamburger Helper, there are other quick and healthier options out there that taste good. She wants families to reach for her jars at the end of a long day and feel good about themselves and what they are putting on the table for their family. That's why she has different flavor profiles – so you not only have options so you don't get bored, she also wants to help families expand their palette – that there are other cultures out there, so they can say “Mmm, tonight we explore Spain!”
She wants to help educate people on health and the importance of being happy and healthy in whatever size body you have. If you are larger and happy and healthy in your weight, than work it! But if you feel that your weight is a hindrance to your energy and living your life, then Kirsten wants you to understand that she's been there. And sometimes she's thinner and sometimes she's not – but it's not about your size, it's about what you are eating and how you feel about yourself.
Kirsten is also passionate about the business development side of her business. She knows what it's like to have the good credit, the well-planned business plan and because of being a woman, not getting the loan... she's frustrated and hopes to one day be handing out the money.
But what she wants you to know, right now, is do your homework. Because when she's handing out the money, that's what she'll be looking for. Figure out the business side of things and if that isn't your thing – than reach out to someone who it is there thing. Don't get further in debt trying to run your business on the belief that it's going to work. There is trust in visions, which Kirsten has and embraces, but then there is also trust in the actual business workings.
When she didn't get the money she needed? She slowed the business down and was forced to become a lot more strategic. She took that extra time to learn what she needed to learn, while continuing to build the business. She sold a boat, she sold a rental property – all the equity she had built up over the years, she's now tapping into for this next phase.
She is being patient. And with every slow down, she realizes there are lessons to be learned in the alternative path, while still holding tight to the vision for the future.
And she has found by the forced slow down – she hasn't made as many mistakes. She has had to be more cautious in her growth because the money is all her own. And though there is something in having a vision and making it come true – there is also something in knowing that a pyramid wasn't built over night, the strong base is what will make sure that the top doesn't topple over. When she decided to sell her sauces, she spent a full year developing them and getting them out for testing. One thing Kirsten has, is patience.
And she she feels that she can help people. Other fledgling food entrepreneurs. But there is also a humility in Kirsten. Because she is a self-taught learner, she didn't go to college or have any formal training – though her self-study was no less strict than a traditional school and I would argue probably a lot more comprehensive – she feels that she isn't in the position to give advice. But she wants to tell you, that she knows it's exciting, but slow down and build the foundation. If you have a strong base and are patient, the harder it will be to knock over. She wants to help the food entrepreneur, give them the knowledge to become a success. You have a great idea? There is room for us all, but you have to do it right.... you've got to invest in your base. And she wants and is willing to help you with that.
Because she knows that when it's time to hustle, once you've done your homework, it's time to trust your gut and soar.
Chef Kirsten Helle can be found at https://www.mesadevida.com/ and for purchase at Amazon!
* This article was originally written for https://fbombbreakfastclub.com/ where Kirsten and I are members. F Bomb Breakfast Club is a group of badass women entrepreneurs who meet monthly in Seattle. For the condensed version of this article please go to: https://fbombbreakfastclub.com/blog/mom-on-a-mission-meet-chef-kirsten-helle