For anyone new to my Instagram, to my business, or for those who haven't heard my whole story, I thought now would be the perfect time...
I grew up in San Diego and am the youngest of six daughters. My Mom & Dad are both from the Philippines and actually met in San Diego in 1969. My Dad was the oldest of 10 kids! He grew up poor in Pasay City and worked nights at a slaughterhouse to pay for his education and to help his family. He’d bring home scraps for his mom to cook—she was an AMAZING cook. Refrigeration wasn’t prevalent, so grandma masked and spiced things up by using bold flavors. Her food was so flavorful and really delicious.
Meanwhile, my mom lived in a beautiful provincial town across from the ocean. Her family grew their vegetables and fruit—all they needed for a delicious meal was a fresh catch seasoned with salt, pepper, a chile or citrus, and vegetables. She grew up on very minimal, fresh, farm-to-table cooking.
Fast forward to me growing up... I have five older sisters who are overachievers—we have a valedictorian, salutatorian, and doctors in the family. And then there was me with undiagnosed ADD. I struggled academically (relatively-speaking), though I was always in honors and excelled in the subjects that I was most interested in. Unfortunately, I didn’t do as well as the others in ALL subjects. As a result, my dad constantly lectured me and was always disappointed in my academic performance because I didn’t get straight A’s like my sisters.
Our family always had dinner together at the table. We’d hear the “when I was young...” stories and often, I’d hear dad complain about mom’s food having “no flavor.” Remember, she learned to season minimally while growing up.
One day, I had enough of hearing his complaints about her food, so I got up and asked him to give me his plate. I told him I would make it better. He gave me his plate, and I brought it to the kitchen and worked my magic using whatever spices I could find. I remember tasting it first to make sure it was better. When I returned his plate, he tasted it, nodded, looked at me, smiled, and said, "it tastes good." It felt like for the first time in my life my dad gave me his approval, and that made me happy. It was through food that I was able to connect with my dad.
His approval felt so good that I dove into a gift someone had given my mom: a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. Mom and I cooked our way through the cookbook, and I never heard a complaint from dad again. From then on, I loved cooking and baking and seeing peoples’ reactions to my food. I’d have friends over to enjoy my baked goods over the holidays and would teach classmates how to make lumpia (Filipino-style egg rolls), and pancit (Filipino-style noodles), and we’d sell it at Food Fairs to raise money for our class activities (I was the class and student body president for 4 years). It was fun, and I loved how food brought people together!
Because my Asian parents expected my sisters and me to be doctors, lawyers, etc., I never considered becoming a chef. To my parents, or so I thought, it wasn’t considered “professional.” During his speech at my sister’s med school graduation party, my dad went down the line of my sisters, mentioning what everyone was pursuing. Then it was my turn. I cringed. “Now Yvonne, my youngest... I don’t know what she’ll do after college. I think she’ll either be a model or a chef.” When I heard those words, I was completely mortified. It felt like a serious blow to the heart. I was hurt because I thought he didn’t value it as a serious profession—or maybe in retrospect, I was conditioned to think that way. I never spoke to him about it and was mostly angry at him for a long time for saying it.
My sisters and I moved away for college—either UCLA or Berkeley. Always the black sheep, I went to UC Santa Cruz. It was my first taste of freedom. I broke out of my shell and loved it.
During college though, my health took a turn for the worse. On the verge of dying, I couldn’t walk or even lift a spoon, had heart palpitations, and was rushed and carried to the hospital. I was diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism with Grave’s disease; my body was over-producing hormones, my heart rate at rest was 143 at one point, and the sugars in my body were pushing out my eyeballs. It was gnarly.
I immediately underwent radiation therapy to zap my thyroid. Post radiation, my body changed completely. Eyes—super bulgy, hair—dry and falling out. I went from being super hyper & skinny to super mellow & gained over 30 pounds. My hormones were out of whack, and I looked like a completely different person. I then went through depression and my sisters did research so I wouldn’t start and become dependent on antidepressants. One found that eating a diet high in fruit could help. So, I ate a lot of fruit. I then watched Legally Blonde and learned about endorphins, the “happy hormones,” so I took up running...a lot. Think Forrest Gump a lot. I lost all the weight & more. I became super obsessive about calories, which was detrimental to my health. By that time, I had an eating disorder. I'd run off all the calories I ate and looked very gaunt. Thankfully, I had an intervention and fixed that problem. With my thyroid under control and my health improving, I also was able to focus well and did extremely well in school. I was feeling good.
The summer before my junior year of college, I showed dad my grades. He couldn’t believe I received A’s in Accounting. He went into his file cabinet to pull out his college transcripts and showed me the only class he didn’t receive an A in. It was Accounting. That summer, my mom was away in Baltimore watching my nephew while my sister finished her residency at John’s Hopkins. I invited my dad to take a road trip with me back to college for the Fall quarter and he agreed.
It was the first time that I spent so much time with my dad, just the two of us. I had his undivided attention for eight hours straight! To be honest, I was a little worried at first, but during that trip he healed my heart and soul by speaking to me with a lot of love, understanding, dignity, and respect. He stayed in NorCal for a few days, we went bowling and went out for dinner, then it was time for him to head back to San Diego. We gave each other big hugs, I kissed his warm cheek, and we said a tearful goodbye at his gate at the airport, waving goodbye until we didn’t see each other anymore.
The following month, during a phone conversation, he said my mom would be coming home soon and to not bring any friends home when I visit so we can spend quality time together, just the family. Then he said we’d all be together again soon. When it was time to say good bye I told him, “I love you, Papasan!” he said, “I love you, daughter!” and we hung up. Later that night, when I got home from the City of Santa Cruz birthday celebration with housemates, we came home and together listened to answering machine messages. My sister, Janet, left me a message saying dad had suffered from a massive heart attack, and that she was going to the hospital. I tried to reach her several times and finally her husband, my brother-in-law, picked up and broke the news to me. Painfully, he told me that my dad didn’t make it. My dad had passed away. I was devastated. My life would never be the same again.
Right after dad passed, during college, I dated Geoff in LA whose uncle is the acclaimed Los Angeles food writer, Colman Andrews. We ate at the best restaurants, including those rated highly by Zagat, which resulted in my favorite chef being Suzanne Goin.
I finished school and graduated with a degree in Business Management Economics & Accounting, & emphasis in Education. I was not sure what I wanted to do, but always knew I’d own my own business like my dad who had a real estate company. Something I didn’t mention earlier was that I grew up working for my dad. I was either wearing a printed t-shirt with his company logo on it with my name printed on the front or wearing a cute business suit. We’d pass out fliers door-to-door, or we’d work hard flipping houses, or I’d go to his office and answer phones. You can say that I basically started selling real estate at age five.
One day, my cousin gave me a book that I read on a plane ride. The author recommended that his daughter be an accountant because it’s practical, a good training ground if you want to have a business, and every company needs an accountant. So, I took his advice.
I worked for companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bank of New York Mellon, and Universal Music Group. I also had my real estate license and bought and sold real estate.
In my accounting and finance positions, I didn’t love the work. I felt unfulfilled, like something was missing. Honestly, my favorite parts of the job were dressing up and the social aspects, like taking out clients to restaurants, happy hours, and holiday parties.
One day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had enough of the work. I told myself, “I can’t continue doing this. I need some excitement in my work. I need human interaction, and to do something I enjoy.” So, I decided to pursue my first love: food. My favorite way of connecting with people.
I packed my business clothes and enrolled in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu.
This was one of the most exciting chapters of my life where I gained a good foundation of French and International cooking skills.
After culinary school, I still didn’t cook like my favorite chef, Suzanne Goin. I wanted to learn more, so I emailed her, and she responded, and asked me to come in for an interview and stage (kitchen try out). I did, it worked out, and I worked under her wing at Lucques in savory (pantry and prep). I also worked all the fun catering events (SAG awards, Oscar parties, President Obama’s fundraiser dinner, and for high profile clients), and later she asked me to join the pastry team at her newer restaurant, Tavern. Working the line and preparing food and dessert in top restaurants and for exciting events was so exhilarating and incredible.
Preparing delicious food with some of the best in the industry was an amazing experience. Being in the kitchen was a joyous occasion. We were creating the best food for patrons to celebrate with. It soothed and nourished my soul, yet it was challenging, physically and mentally. Being on my feet for at least eight hours straight, in a very intense and sometimes militant environment helped me develop resilience and thick skin.
Back to my health. Although I was an avid runner and physically thin, my blood results came back revealing that I had borderline high cholesterol, and with my Hypothyroidism, I was an excellent candidate for Diabetes. My doctor repeatedly told me I needed to make changes in my diet to prevent disease. At Tavern, we made the best walnut and chocolate croissants with a special French butter, and I’d eat the day-olds every day. And maybe a cookie, too. I thought exercise would do the trick, but no, exercise doesn’t help fatty plaques from collecting in the arteries.
One day I was making 30 quarts of chocolate buttercream, and had an aha moment. Although extremely delicious, I realized I was working with all butter, and that I was in turn contributing to heart disease. Heart disease is how I lost my dad. It didn’t feel right. Something did have to change. This was a big turning point for me. It was at that moment that I decided to take preventative measures for my own health so as to not suffer the same fate as my dad. I also didn’t feel great about feeding people large amounts of cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in animal products.
That day, I meditated and prayed, asked God to present an opportunity where I can contribute positively to the world. And just like that, someone called and asked if I could be her personal chef, help her lose weight, feel great, be nourished, all while still satisfying her palate.
So, I left the restaurant business which I loved and appreciated so much, and started a new journey. I worked with my client’s health coach in planning and preparing meals, then I studied nutrition.
I read Kimberly Snyder’s Beauty Detox Solution and it changed my life in the most positive way. I started researching using my own body to see what foods made me feel best. I started drinking green smoothies every day, which I still do to this day. I feel best using Kimberly’s principles—preparing food that will aid digestion, keep my energy levels up, and heal and beautify from the inside out. Eating in such a clean way removed brain fog and I was able to see the world so clearly. A cloud that had previously been between me and the world had disappeared. This is the best way that I can describe it.
I ended up creating recipes using Kimberly’s principles, blogged, and released a top-selling cookbook app, found in the App Store and Google Play, called Yvonne’s Vegan Kitchen. It is filled with 170 recipes and at its peak, it was ranked #7 in the top paid food apps in the App Store. (It was previously called My Eclectic Kitchen)
Whole Foods noticed and invited me to teach classes regularly. I taught classes at several Los Angeles County locations. I loved the sense of community and educating others about the benefits of a vegan plant-based diet and lifestyle. I also enjoyed teaching simple yet delicious vegan, gluten-free, soy-free recipes.
My change in eating habits lead me to watch all the food and vegan documentaries, and overnight I became an ethical vegan. Choosing a lifestyle that doesn’t harm animals and protects the planet feels right and good for my mind, body, and soul. It’s a win all around.
I then worked as a personal chef, joined Instagram, married my best friend, Peyman. He joined me in my early years as a vegan and was so supportive. We were great, tried having a family. It didn’t work out; we grew apart, had different goals, irreconcilable differences, and we decided to amicably split. We were together for 14 years.
I continued with my food journey. My sister, Riva, joined a South Bay Facebook group and noticed a cafe owner asking if anyone knew a vegan gluten-free baker. Riva connected us, and I was asked if I had gluten-free bread to sell. I said no, but did have crackers I created for Peyman that were gluten-free. I then said I had a great vegan cheese to sell along with them—a perfect compliment to the crackers. The cafe took them in and they sold out quickly. The cafe owner asked if I could make other products, and I did. Those all sold well. It was a perfect testing ground to sell my products.
I shared my experiences on Instagram, and other businesses started reaching out, and that’s how it all began. It just snowballed from there. I’d say 90% of our retail partners reached out to us.
The cake business started when I was demo-ing our products at Grassroots in South Pasadena, as I highlighted the fact that we sweetened mostly with dates, maple syrup, and coconut sugar. One of the women sampling asked if we made cakes. Her gluten-free baker had just moved away. I told her we could, and from there the cake business was born and it exploded!
Similar things kept happening and my business continued to grow.
I ran into Jessica Alba many times at Tavern. She’d have breakfast there, and before my shift, I’d always run into her. I never said anything, I just kept running into her. Then when I was a season ticket holder for the LA Clippers, she’d sit right in front of me. We took a photo, I wrote a novel of an Instagram post in true Yvonne fashion, about always running into her, and she started following me and was very supportive of my small business.
I was then asked later to provide sweets for her Honest Beauty launch party, since my brand was in-line with her transparent beauty line. I did, and that was the beginning of my dessert catering business.
I turned my passion that had once been a hobby for a very long time into a real business in 2018. It’s been so much fun, and a great challenge that is very rewarding.
Yvonne’s Vegan Kitchen is now many businesses rolled into one:
- a direct to consumer business
*e-Commerce: YvonnesVeganKitchen.com where we sell donuts, cookies, standard cakes, VeganCheese, crackers, gift baskets, care packages/bundles, subscriptions, gift cards
*Custom Cakes - wedding and custom decorated cakes.
*Catering - custom desserts and dessert tables
- A wholesale business. We partner with retailers that sell our products in stores, cafes, restaurants, and via their online platforms.
- A cookbook App and eBook
- A brand partner. Sometimes I create content for brands that I love.
There are lots of stories weaved into this timeline that I will share another time.
I see my experience and past as a blessing. It’s been a great journey. I am so thankful for the experiences in my life, and for all the people who have crossed my path and made this life and building Yvonne’s Vegan Kitchen an amazing experience so far.
Today, I love what I do for work, and am very passionate about our mission. Thankful that my team and I can make delicious food more accessible to the public with the mission of protecting our planet, the animals, and our health & well-being.
Thank you to everyone who has supported YVK. I love connecting with people through food. All the love and joy we witness when our clients celebrate with our products is so satisfying, it fills my heart.
My mom at first was concerned about me leaving a stable finance job and venturing into the unknown food world, but she’s watched me persevere, grow my business, and is my biggest cheerleader. She tells me she believes I can do anything. I tell her my vision often and I’m thankful she prays for me everyday.
As for my dad, I miss him very much. I’m not angry anymore. It seems, in hindsight, that he knew all along. He saw what sparked my interest and made me happy. He probably always knew I’d pursue something that I was passionate about, that brought me joy and purpose. And that is always ok, no matter what anyone thinks. I’ve come to realize that if something feels right and good in my heart and soul, to trust my intuition—it must be right, and that’s all that really matters.
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