Kai Bravo is chef, mother, coach, daughter, author, friend, and force of nature. She is spurred on by nature itself via the plant based diet she adheres to. We have never met but after watching her documentary, browsing her books, and spending two virtual hours with her, I can’t help but notice that I know her. She is a Marry Poppins of health gurus, pulling out this and that and adding it to her tea as we chat. A little cinnamon here, a lemon squeeze there.
At just 16 Kai had her own catering business and from there worked in upscale restaurants and on movie sets before transitioning into working as a personal chef to celebrities and professionals in California. Among them: Spielberg, Ford (first name HARRISON), and Cybill Shepherd. It comes as no surprise to learn that her personality, as well as her food, won them over. But as happens to everyone, life began to change and so did her priorities. She had a daughter now and, “Wanted to do something more, something of service." When her mom was diagnosed with cancer and she was able to extend her life a few years with health and wellness practices, she learned just how much she could help people.
In a career shift, Kai went from working for the rich and famous to those with eating disorders and struggles. Years of creating recipes and meals for people and learning to heal herself had given her the tools to help others change their lives and prepared her for the next leg of her journey: teaching and healing others.
Today Kai exudes life, health, and energy, but she underwent an intense transformation. It wasn’t until she, motivated by years of dissatisfaction and the birth of her daughter, found not just “the key” to losing weight and health, but a whole ring of keys, which she now teaches to others. They include:
Hunger and satisfaction
Feelings and thoughts
Rest and Relax
Visualize and affirm
The keys can be applied just as easily to creativity as to health. They are practices for living a whole and healthy life, and as we have discussed so much on the podcast, creativity comes out of health. Kai believes cooking can be creative and it can be not creative; it’s just about “how you approach it.” The discipline of the keys free her to be wild when she needs to be.
For Kai it’s all about the plants: “Trends in health and diet come and go. I researched many and tried plenty. Most of them had some redeeming aspects. But what emerged as the overall winner was to eat a diet full of whole, fresh, plant foods.” While she encourages this lifestyle, she isn't militant or judgemental of those that eat meat and animal foods. We talk about the importance of story over sermonizing and I think of her books: stories and nuggets of wisdom followed by guidelines, recommendations, and recipes.
Her book, Kai’s Garden: The Juicy Details includes, “Ten Reasons to Try a Coffee Enema” and “Why no Gluten?” as well as recipes and pictures to go with each: Gourmet Cleansing Asparagus Soup, Red Lentil Dhal, and Kai’s Sweet Potato Pie. In her previous book, The BLT that Saved My Life, she outlines (in menu form of course), her near death experience, and essentially, how she continues to live each day. After watching her documentary, Kai's Garden: A Wild Journey to Glowing Health, you will want to spend time at her retreats.
Kai's retreats are centered around the keys. They are for those looking to make a change, those that have made such changes in the past but haven’t been able to sustain them, or those that just need to get back in touch with what their body needs. Attendees spend time in nature, with each other, singing and playing instruments, and talking about everything from food to family to spirituality and emotions. A lot comes up when you seek to heal the body, its all encompassing, a creative act itself.
I am reminded of retreats that I have taken part in and the refreshment that comes from a weekend spent with creativity, God, or others. You leave with a renewed sense of purpose, but staying on the mountaintop is impossible, and as we discuss, not the point, after all. “It’s a beautiful place to be,” she says, “but you don’t want to live there.” You have to come down and do the work, and sometimes it’s messy: “Every creative thing has an ugly stage.”
A friend of mine has benefited herself from Kai’s processes. “Meeting Kai was life changing for me. I have completely changed the way I eat and think about food,” she says. I saw her shortly after a colonic and she was thrilled with how she felt: “She really understands the link between food and a positive mindset.” She then made me a “healthy Snickers,” a Kai specialty made with a date, nut, and cacao. DELICIOUS.
At the end of the documentary, Kai brings her practice home. She takes the retreat to her father. For me this was the crux of the movie. I was moved to see her life’s work come home in humility and love. No movie stars, no fancy kitchen or perfect mountain top setting, just a daughter wanting to help her father live a little better, feel a little younger. The transformation is undeniable, several years taken off his face.
I read a letter from Steven Spielberg and Cate Capshaw that sings her praises not just in the kitchen but in character and person. I can imagine her dancing around a California kitchen, pummeling vegetables and bending miso to her will into cheese, all while engaging the family and their friends, children, and maybe even the pet. I have no doubt that this is the spirit that these high profile clients had to have in their home. Like sitting down at an open fire after a day in what can be an icy LA atmosphere.
What I notice about Kai is that she isn’t working in a fixed system. The ideas don’t change, but she is constantly adapting to her clients and their needs. One woman needs to escape to a world without computers and work emails, so they go to Bali. Kai spent Thanksgiving week with a couple in quarantine to give them a mini retreat. She brought her process to each of her parents in their specific time and place of need. Her retreats are there for those that can come, but she is there for those that need something different, more personalized. I believe she so willingly does this because she sees herself in others. “Now I’m grateful that I had those problems and still struggle because it makes me more compassionate and better at working with people,”she says. Kai practices a life of helping herself - gardening, if you will. Pulling out the weeds of past hurt and unhealthy patterns, planting seeds of hope and health so she can turn around and do the same for others.
Learn more about Kai Bravo.
Listen to our interview with Kai.
Watch Kai’s documentary