Amari and I met back in August when we both attended a special dinner with Food Network Star and award-winning chef Alton Brown at the incredible Table Fifty-Two in Chicago. The dinner was hosted by Welch’s and prepared by executive chef and co-owner Art Smith. Alton was just like he is on TV – only better. The food was beyond delicious. Talking with the grape farmers was so inspirational. And meeting Amari was an unexpected bonus! I was thrilled to meet a new (to me) Chicago dietitian – especially one with so much positive energy and ambition. I hope you enjoy learning about Amari and her career!
MELISSA: Amari, how did you become interested in a career in food and nutrition?
AMARI: Growing up, eating healthy was a part of my family values. Milk and water were the only beverages of choices at the dinner table, dessert was always fruit, and junk food was only for special occasions.
I remember receiving boxes of sugary cereal or soda pop as birthday gifts, adorned with wrapping paper and ribbons to show that this kind of food was truly for special occasions only. In high school I became intrigued with my mother’s health and fitness magazines and spent hours on end studying what it meant to be “healthy”. My passion for science led me to become a pre-med student at Loyola University of Chicago. Living on my own at college, fitness and healthy cooking became my number one hobbies. I began training for my first half marathon and trying new recipes every week. During my junior year in college, I took a volunteer service trip to an organic farm in Michigan. There I spent time experiencing the labor required to grow quality food and learning what sustainability was truly all about. I cooked and tasted countless new health foods during my time on the farm and my love for nutrition blossomed even further. When it came time to seriously consider my next step in my education, I began researching the field of nutrition. Medical school no longer seemed like the right path for me and I found myself applying to RD programs around the Midwest. After graduation, I attended University of Illinois at Chicago as part of a graduate RD coordinated program and received my Master’s in Nutrition Science. I couldn’t believe how seamlessly nutrition combined my love for food with my passion for science – it was the perfect fit. Read more about my journey to becoming an RD!
MELISSA: Thank you for sharing your story – your journey – with us! Tell me about your food/nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
AMARI: As an RD, I am known for my real food nutritional approach. I am an advocate for eating clean, whole, real foods and making time in the kitchen count. I love incorporating functional foods in my meal plans that pinpoint micro and macronutrients needed to resolve nutritional issues at hand. I am very much interested in preventative health and look for any way I can to help my clients prevent minor health issues from becoming life threatening chronic illnesses in the future. Making time to cook wholesome healthy food is a huge part of my nutrition philosophy and I love seeing my clients enjoy and benefit from my delicious recipes.
MELISSA: I can see how your love of food pairs up so well with you nutrition science passion. What inspired you to start Eat Chic Chicago?
AMARI: I started writing my food blog for fun as a hobby when I was in graduate school. I got such a thrill out of documenting my meals and blogging about nutritional concepts I was learning about in school. During my dietetic internship, I fell in love with the idea of running my own private practice. I interned with Julie Burns, RD for the Chicago Blackhawks and owner of SportFuel and Eat Like the Pros. Her out-of-the box thinking and excitement for her work was truly inspiring and encouraged me to make private practice my own reality. After obtaining my RD license, I worked for Lifetime Fitness as a Nutrition Coach for a year and for Whole Foods Market as a Healthy Eating Specialist for two years before finally operating my business, Eat Chic Chicago, full-time.
MELISSA: I understand you just recently dove in full time to your Eat Chic Chicago biz – congrats! What are you working on or focused on right now?
AMARI: Right now I am focusing on expanding my presence in the media. I have taken on projects representing local brands, filming cooking demonstrations, staying active in social media (primarily Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest), and posting recipes to my blog. I have aspirations of being on TV and writing a cookbook some day!
MELISSA: Excellent! It’s my dream to have more dietitians in the media! Tell me more about what types of food/nutrition communications you’re engaged in.
AMARI: I love all forms of media and, as a business owner, I wear all the hats. Part of what I love about my job is that no two days are alike. I offer nutrition coaching at my office, write for my blog and other online publications, offer seminars and cooking demonstrations for nutrition conventions and corporations, develop online content for my website and social media outlets, and represent health and wellness brands via broadcast and print material development.
MELISSA: What comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to food/nutrition communications?
AMARI: I never in a million years thought I would love public speaking, but when it comes to food and nutrition, it just comes naturally. I really enjoy offering seminars and cooking demonstrations to any engaged audience – the bigger the better! With my background in science, the “business” side of private practice is something that I’ve had to learn along the way. I jokingly consider myself the queen of the phrase “Google It”. When I don’t know the answer to something, I am always eager to find it and Google is generally a great place to start!
MELISSA: Please share one story/experience that either taught you a lot about food/nutrition communications or you think would help other RDs.
AMARI: Writing a blog as part of my business website has been a great way to show my clients and audience that I’m human too. I really think it puts people at ease when they can take an anonymous peak into my life and “get to know me” before reaching out for help. On my blog you’ll learn that in addition to eating healthy, I also love dining out and tasting indulgent foods!
MELISSA: It’s so powerful when your audience can see the real “you” and connect with you! What are your top 3 tips for other RDs who want to improve their communication skills?
- Just start. If you have dreams of running your own business some day, don’t wait around until you have the perfect business model and every piece of the puzzle is in place. Don’t become paralyzed with the fear of “what if…” Just start with what you have and learn along the way.
- Treat every event and media opportunity as important as the last – you never know who you’re going to meet or what connections you might make. I’ve developed some invaluable relationships with people at the most unlikely places.
- Don’t be shy and be yourself! Media communications are priceless marketing tools. Put your own unique spin on media opportunities and let your passion for nutrition speak for itself!
MELISSA: I absolutely love your tips. I always repeat the quote “Feel the fear and do it anyway” to remind myself and others that fear does not have to, and should not, hold you back!
On a more personal note, I understand you married your high school sweetheart – tell us about that.
AMARI: Last year I married my high school sweetheart. Over the years, my husband (bless his heart!) has endured all of my cooking – from instant mashed potatoes and dried-out baked chicken in college, to experimenting with meat alternatives and creating gourmet almond flour donuts, he never complains about what’s on the dinner table. I even dragged him along for my first half marathon (and several races thereafter) and today we are both active members at our local Crossfit gym. When I’m not working, I love cooking and reading about food and nutrition – there isn’t a single kitchen appliance, cookbook, or food novel that I don’t own!
A round of applause for Amari – thank you for sharing your story and your advice with us. I wish you the best and look forward to seeing you around Chicago – maybe even on TV soon!
Like what you read here? Hear what other nutrition experts have to say about careers, communication and chasing their dreams. Visit the Directory of Dietitian Interviews and be inspired!