realized that dream, Walker is now better known as Chef Nancy of The Wellness Kitchen and Resource Center.
Although long-considered the family's ambitious Martha Stewart who hosted the holiday meals and remembered all of the birthdays, Walker didn't always have the chef-dream all figured out. In fact, one notable undertaking still makes family holiday-dinner discussions.
"My first Thanksgiving, after my boyfriend and I had gone goose hunting, I decided I was going to cook a goose," Walker said behind the kind of giggles that come before the punch-line of a joke. "So there I am [mere hours before dinner], sprawled out on the living room floor with this goose, trying to pluck a billion little feathers."
Walker grew up in Huntington Beach as the third of four Walker girls. Her mother, Julia, and father, Bill, individually offered their girls some of the strengths that still guide Chef Nancy today.
"My dad taught me compassion and taking care of others," Walker said. "He was a firefighter."
It was through the loss of her father when she was only 20 years old that she learned independence and strength by witnessing her mom learn to move forward.
"Mom had another friend who lost her husband shortly thereafter," Walker said. "I saw the other friend nearly crumble up and not come out of the house while mom found friendships, got another job, and did things to keep her strength."
Her mother's lessons in strength and determination continued through the years as Julia fought multiple cancers and diabetes, and came out the other side healthier than ever. It was through witnessing this journey to wellness that Nancy realized the importance of turning her dreams of being a chef into reality by opening a bed and breakfast.
"I didn't want the common, romantic B&B," Walker said. "I wanted a place where a mother and daughter could come learn about cooking for diabetes."
Since she spent her first 30 years organizing other people's businesses and helping everyone else be successful in what they do, Chef Nancy realized that before she pursued an educational bed and breakfast, she would need some formal training as a chef. Chef Nancy pursued culinary basics at the Art Institute of Phoenix before she went on to finish her certification as a natural chef with an emphasis on therapeutic cooking from Bauman College in Berkeley.
"Bauman is an educational facility teaching holistic nutrition and culinary arts," Walker said. "[It was there, I learned about] cooking with loving intent and knowing where [your food] comes from the farmers, Mother Earth, the pickers to the packers. If you know deep in your heart at everyone touching that food has hands of love, then that's what you have to feel when you eat it."
Part of the joy Chef Nancy gets from cooking is that it's pleasing to all of the senses.
"Presentation is everything," Walker said. "Getting all of your senses involved the sight, the smell and the touch. Bauman College taught me that."
Equipped with formal chef training; an attention to detail that earned her the nickname of "his brains" by her former boss; and the location of her dreams, Chef Nancy started her bed and breakfast in the 1892 Victorian manse at the corner of the Templeton Park in 2010.
"[The manse] drew me in so much as being this place for peaceful healing," Walker said. "When you're diagnosed with something, or dealing with a health issue; it's frightening. You know deep in your heart you're going to have to make changes, but you have to step out of your comfort zone."
Chef Nancy realized that even stepping into a health-food store would be a foreign and scary environment for people facing health challenges, so opening in that building a beautifully restored home with grandma's kitchen was an important first step for The Wellness Kitchen.
"It felt like a hug," Walker said. "To have a structure also speak my words, that's what that location provided."
What started as a peaceful place where somebody going through treatment or recovery could come to relax and be fed delicious and healthful meals, The Wellness Kitchen evolved into a nonprofit organization devoted to providing the community, education, support, and resources on the value of healing through nutrition. Now located across from Twin Cities Hospital in Templeton, The Wellness Kitchen is where Chef Nancy gets the opportunity to provide people with a positive experience with their food.
"I love when somebody comes in [from farmer's market] and they ask what to do with rainbow chard, for example," Walker said. "It's not just a bunch of beautiful greens you put in a vase on table."
Unlike the old adage suggesting that a mechanic's car never runs because they're too busy fixing everyone else's, Chef Nancy still makes homecooked meals with her love, Mark Molini, even though cooking has also become her career.
"I'm usually his sous chef," Walker said. "I love all the mise-en-place, which is French for everything in its place." He's over there throwing the food and tasting it adjusting it. We love it."
With Chef Nancy's Hispanic lineage and Molini's Italian background, there is no doubt a visit to their house accompanies the enticing smell of onions and garlic simmering on the stove in homemade olive oil from their small orchard . Molini and Chef Nancy live in Templeton with their cat Phil, who provides some of the stress relief for them both.
"Have you pet the cat-head lately?" Walker and Molini will ask one another at the end of a tough day. More information on Chef Nancy and The Wellness Kitchen can be found at www.TheWKRC.org. She'll be the one in the red, chef-coat wearing a smile from ear to ear.
Written by Stephanie Austin
Printed on November 9th in Atascadero News