Entrepreneur & Celeb Chef Alina Z On Building An Empire From Scratch

This is the fifth article in a new series we recently launched on the site called Today’s Wonder Women – designed to celebrate the inspiring, impactful, empowering and extraordinary things ordinary women are doing every day. Over the coming months we will be sharing interviews, essays, articles and guest posts about women who are creating change. If you have a story to share and want to add your voice to the Today’s Wonder Women conversation, get in touch by emailing info@girltalkhq.com.

Meet Chef Alina Z – an inspiring author, who is infusing incredible energy into the world, including the launch of her new podcast called ‘Hungry for Miracles‘ focusing on miraculous stories from everyday women. Her mission is to teach people, especially women, that eating healthily can actually taste good too, and eating well all starts with self-love.

Chef Alina Z is the creator of the #1 Best Diet (2015), an organic plant-based detox, as voted by Harper’s Bazaar magazine. She is a highly credentialed and board-certified health coach and private chef, specializing in the psychology behind eating and how to create healthy and largely plant-based cuisine. Her book, “Single & Hungry: A Realistic Guide to Food & Self-Love” made a splash earlier this year and was featured in major media, including the Los Angeles Times and People.

She also has an incredible story of overcoming adversity and even choosing adversity. Chef Alina ‘s story epitomizes the rags-to-riches-to-rags and back again story. She came from a very poor Russian family that eventually became the wealthiest family in St. Petersburg. At age 15, she chose to leave a life of luxury to set out to make it on her own in America. Her family business went bankrupt and then she had to build herself up again.

Chef Alina Z is the type of every day superhero we like to champion because of their incredible journey and how they are using their powers to change the world.

First let’s dig into your backstory and where you come from. Can you tell us about your upbringing in Russia?

When I was born, we were very poor, so poor in fact my mom couldn’t get her boots repaired because there was nothing to come home in while they were being fixed. Then, in 1988, my parents had an idea for a business – a sewing company and won an American grant to start it. They continued growing their company, and we had 47 different businesses at one point. I saw our lives change and got to travel a lot, visiting many countries in Europe and even came to USA a few times, which was rare for the early 90’s in Russia. I got to see that there is a different life outside Russia, and it is possible to live your dreams if you dare to follow them. I grew up knowing that anything is possible with a dream and work.

You came to the United States at age 15 with a dream, and have never looked back. Tell us about that process and any hurdles you faced along the way.

I wanted to create my own life and have people love me for me, not be seen as my parents’ daughter who would inherit the businesses. So I researched schools and applied to a Quaker boarding school in Maryland – Sandy Spring Friends School. I did everything myself, because my parents didn’t speak English. I did my interviews over the phone and via fax! I got accepted, bought a ticket and came to study with a dream to stay.

A year later, my mom decided to follow me and left our businesses behind to follow her own passion of painting. Of course it was hard in the beginning to adjust to American life, learn the language better and find my own voice, but at the same time it felt good, so I just kept going.

I remember once my Thesis class professor at Parsons School of Design told me I would never get an A in her class because English wasn’t my first language. I was about to give up working hard because I didn’t see the point – I would get a bad grade anyway, right? But my mom told me to not pay attention and just focus on the process of my class work. I did just that and even though the teacher gave me a C and a B for each semester, I won First place in the entire department against all thesis presentations, as judged by a panel of professors! I didn’t let that teacher hold me back from writing the thesis I was passionate about, and I saw that one opinion can sometimes hold us from believing in ourselves.

Most people hear about “rags-to-riches” stories, but yours is the opposite. Tell us about leaving behind a life of luxury to start all over again and why you chose to do this.

I felt like the prince in the movie, “Coming to America.” When you live in an opulent world, it’s fun, but there is also no freedom. It was dangerous for me to go out alone, so I had bodyguards and drivers. That’s not a life for a teenager. I wanted to be free to be myself, to go out, to make friends who didn’t know we had money. I never looked back and never regretted coming to USA. I think that when you have freedom, passion and the will to work, you can create a magical life. That’s the American Dream to me. I wanted to live it and do it on my own terms.

You are passionate about health and good nutrition. Where this this focus come from?

I used to be addicted to sugar, had IBS and acid reflux. I was always tired and needed a solution besides taking medications. I started reading books and learning about health and how to eat better. I would share it with my friends and they saw results too. I loved how it felt to teach and see people get happier and healthier, so I decided to quit my 9-5 VP of Marketing Job and turn my new found passion into a career.

Your work has become a go-to source for billionaires, celebrities and famous athletes. What has that experience been like?

Since I have lived a poor life and a rich one, I see that money and fame are just external circumstances. Inside, we are all alike – we are people with the same needs and desires. We just want to be loved and understood. Everyone that I have worked with has been very nice and kind, and very grateful for helping them feel better.

It was one of the most humbling experiences to see a celebrity in her casual clothes at home, without any make up and with a big smile on her face because I was making her healing food. I also find that when I support influencers and people who change lives, I get to be a part of their work as well. When I support them with good food, they can inspire and help more people live better lives! And I do admit that traveling on a private jet and staying at elite places in the world is a lot of fun too! Last year I got to go to Aspen, and the year before to Tulum, Mexico. I feel honored that my clients see the value in what I do and bring me with them so they can eat well while traveling.

Tell us about your podcast “hungry for miracles” and what it is all about.

This summer I needed a pick-me-up from negative thoughts and found that talking to my friends about miracles that happen in our lives made me feel better. It changed my vibration and energy. Then I thought that maybe there are people who need the same, so I decided to share those stories via a podcast to uplift those who are struggling and may not be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. My podcast is meant to inspire people and remind them that miracles happen! It is not about telling them what to do, it is about reminding them of who they are.

Diets and nutrition can be very intimidating and overwhelming for some people. Your approach is to find a plan that fits the individual, similar to the way you find an outfit that suits your body. Can you talk more about this and how you help people find their nutritional “fit”?

We dress according to the weather, our moods, tastes, current fashion and our body types. Yet, when it comes to food, many people follow a one-size-fits-all diets. I wanted to show people how using fashion as an example, you can find your own style with food. You just have to look at it the same way. For example, if it’s hot outside, you will want to eat something cooling, and if it’s cold outside, no matter how good-for-you green smoothies may be, it probably won’t be the best choice. I wrote a whole section in the book that I dedicated to food according to fashion.

What are some of the major challenges or hurdles you have faced in your career, especially given that the culinary world is still fairly male-dominated?

It is always challenging to start a new career because you need references and experience, so in the beginning I did some free projects to get my foot in the door.

The biggest challenge for me now is how to grow and inspire more people. I would like to have a TV show on a national network, like OWN (that’s my dream come true!). Producers tend not to believe that healthy food can be eAZy, tasty and fun! Starting something new that hasn’t been done before is the biggest challenge for me. But I have to keep going with it.

The book you released in 2018 “Single and Hungry” A realistic guide to Food & Self-Love” has been lauded by a number of media outlets. Why is healthy nutrition an essential part of self-love?

If you eat healthy because you hate yourself and eat to change your body our of your despise, it will be short-lived and it won’t be pleasant. And where is the fun in that? However, when you love yourself and your body, you want to enjoy life, you want to bring pleasure into your life, you want to take care of you. That’s delicious, already, isn’t it? Self-love is the only thing that will make healthy eating a life-long love-affair. And who wants to end something that beautiful?

Your journey of moving to another country as a teen and pursuing your dream career is so inspirational, and there are no doubt many others who want to follow in your footsteps. What advice would you give to those who want to take the leap, but don’t know where to start?

Just start. Do something. Even if you are scared, take action. Keep your hands and feet moving, literally. Start writing, start cooking, start walking, start meditating, whatever it is. Action is the only thing that will get you to the next level. Feel the fear, and keep going anyway. My ring tone on my phone and my life motto are from the song “Flashdance, what a feeling is believing” – Take your passion and make it happen!

Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?

My passion, love and perseverance. When you are passionate, you are ignited, when you love, you are connected and when you have perseverance, you keep that passion and love moves you. What’s more powerful than that?