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Daily Inspiration: Meet Kolika Simmons

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kolika Simmons.

Hi Kolika, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Tucson, AZ. I modeled briefly so I moved to Los Angeles when I turned 18 and lived in California for a couple of years, convinced that I was going to be a fashion designer. At some point during that time, I developed an eating disorder and CPTSD from an abusive relationship. Los Angeles, although vibrant and lovely, was just not for me, so I came home to Tucson where I decided that I was sick of running away from the pleasures of food and eating.

I enrolled in culinary school and moved to Kansas City. I then spent the next 12 years of my life as a chef, and started my blog, WannaBGourmande, convinced I was going to become a famous food blogger and author. I worked all over the city, discovered I had a real talent for pastry and agricultural advocacy. I became involved in the American Culinary Federation as their Chapter Secretary and began to work with various not-for-profit organizations. The most-fulfilling work I had was with the community kitchen at Nourish KC where I briefly worked as a head chef, recycling gleaned food and donated food to create healthful yet delicious meal options for about 500+ every day. It was there I met the people from The Giving Grove and After the Harvest.

With After the Harvest, I volunteered as a media manager, taking photojournalistic pictures of gleanings and helping to create content for them. I’ve always loved content creation and visual storytelling, so I naturally got heavily involved with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. I love connecting with people and it is through these platforms that I’ve been able to create and connect and have fun while doing it. In addition to working with various not-for-profit organizations that battle food insecurity, I would donate gingerbread houses to Gingerbread Lane or baked goods to the No Kid Hungry bake sales run by Gina Reardon. Food insecurity is one of my biggest bugbears to fight and I do enjoy fighting it. At some point during all of that, I began and closed down a small farmer’s market stall called Pistachio Bakehouse where I sold at the Rosedale Farmer’s Market. At some point, I went on the news and KC Live showing them how to make popsicles at home. Really, it all sort of blends together.

When the Covid 19 Pandemic of March 2020 hit, I was unfortunately one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans that were left without a job. It was during then that I became extraordinarily depressed and felt listless. I poured myself into gardening and permaculture, and through that I became more involved with KC Farm School at Gibbs Road. I worked with them in exchange for fresh produce, creating content and helping organize events. I was even fortunate enough to emcee a wonderful event last fall at the farm, called Let’s Grow, Wyandotte! As a citizen of Wyandotte county for seven years, I’ve truly fallen in love with this amazingly diverse piece of Kansas City and love everything about it. At some point, I decided to execute my Burnout Plan(something that every chef has) and begin the next part of my life as an Albularyo, which is the proper name for a Filipinx folk healer. The long and short: it combines herbalism and massage therapy! My mother trained me in herbalism while I worked on official certifications and I’m finishing up Massage Therapy School now. My goal is to make teas and salves to supplement your health, from things that I grow, and be able to get you feeling like your best self again. Touch is so incredibly important, and far too many have become accustomed to a hard touch instead of a soft and loving one.

I’m now married to this absolute poem of a man and we are now expecting our first child. I’m happy.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I’m a brown, Jewish, mixed woman in America that is bisexual and mouthy. I was in an extremely masculine field of work for most of my professional life. I have C-PTSD that took over six years of therapy to just be okay enough to function. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’d experienced racism, sexual harassment, being talked over, and the poverty that comes with being an ‘essential’ employee. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder in my teens. I mean take your pick?

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
To tell you the truth, I’m just so flattered that you find people even want to talk to me so you just tell me what you want me to talk about. I’ve had such a wild and peppered life and career.

If you were to ask me about my writing, I would tell you that it is my passion. I would tell you that it has always been my little dream to be a writer/blogger/content creator and share my voice and knowledge with the world. I would tell you that I want nothing more than to help people take control of their lives through food. I would also tell you that I love hearing myself talk and how much fun I have creating content on my Instagram and blog, showing off beautiful food that I somehow had the power to create.

If you were to ask me about my career as a chef, I would tell you it was the love of my life and now that it’s over – at least in the capacity that I used to work in – I’m mildly heartbroken. I’m also very excited to see where the industry goes now that we adjust to a new normal.

If you were to ask about being an Albularyo, I would tell you how I felt that it was as if I were picking up the bones of my ancestors and breathing life back into them.

If you were to ask me about being a pregnant person, I would tell you how terrified and excited I was.

If you were to ask me about my advocacy, I would tell you that it makes me feel truly fulfilled and secure that I may use my voice to draw attention to important issues such as these. I would tell you that I feel like the luckiest girl in the world getting to go out into fields and meeting farmers, meeting volunteers, learning and telling their stories and giving them voices through pictures. I would tell you how incensed I feel that anyone has the audacity to say that there’s no such thing as food inequality in this country when the way we systemically build cities is to have food aparteids built-in.

Really, you tell me.

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
Never take yourself too seriously. If a food is “missing something”, add a touch of acid in the form of sour cream or vinegar or even a squeeze of lemon. Use spent tea leaves to scrub wood counters. Never use cold water on a caramel burn. Say hello to everyone, nice and polite, when you start a new job. The world only cares about what you are able to do for it and not who you are s a person. If you plant potatoes first in the spring, you’ll know when you can plant other crops when the sprouts emerge. People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers, so be sure to practice compassion with your employees and they’ll pay you back in spades. Confirmation bias is often more powerful than actual facts. There are a gross amount of truly selfish people in this world, which is why it is so important to be considerate and kind. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so be sure to take care of yourself first. Nobody looks good with a sepia filter.

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Image Credits
Shoot Photos, Pete Dulin

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