Ellie Moynihan is a personal chef, caterer and a culinary teacher in Los Angeles, California. Today on the podcast, she shares with us how she got her start out of cooking school, her knowledge of recipes, grocery shopping tips, marinades, basic kitchen tools that everyone should have and some culinary tips she has picked up from travelling around the world. Please welcome my cousin, Ellie Moynihan.
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Mindful Eating with Ellie Moynihan
Please welcome, Ellie Moynihan.
Thanks for having me, Kev.
Ellie, where are you from?
I am from Barn City, New York, which is on Long Island. Great place to grow up. It was lovely, good times, and then I moved to California about four years ago.
What were you doing before you decided that you wanted to be a chef?
I went to college. I studied Psychology. Although that’s definitely one of my passions, I love to connect with people, it was great, I just wasn’t really feeling that. I finally went to pursue my dream of going to culinary school. I figured why not move to California and go to culinary school and fulfill both dreams at once?
Were you always into cooking as a little gal or did that just pop up one day?
Since I was a teenager, I would come home from school and watch, at the time there was no Food Network but it was PBS Cooking. I would just watch that all the time. I was constantly baking and cooking and stuff like that. I always was really interested in cooking. Then I just realized when I was about 23 after college I was like, “I’m going to go for this.” I did and I’m very happy.
You were working in New York City for a little bit too. What was your a-ha moment where you’re like, “I’m going to fully go for it and I’m going to culinary school?”
I was just working this awful entry-level position job doing administrative work for this company and had no connection. I was so not into it. It sucks the full out of me. I couldn’t handle the grind, the 9 to 5, sitting in front of a computer. My passions were just not even being used at all. I was just lost, didn’t really know what to do, felt depressed a little bit, and then I finally was like, “I think it’s time.” I’m so happy I did.
You and I went out to California around the same exact time, which was amazing because we both didn’t know too many people so that was awesome. I feel almost everybody has a little story of how you know you’re doing the right thing in life. If you could just briefly touch on that one little Tinder date you went on that pretty much changed the course of everything for you. I tell people that story all the time. They’re like, “No way. There’s no way that happened.” I was like, “Yup.”
To make a long story endless, as my dad would say, basically I was on Tinder. I didn’t know too many people in LA. I meet this really cool guy. He’s great. We have this chemistry and connection. We went out a couple of times and we ended up just becoming really great friends, nothing romantic ever came of it. We stayed in touch. Then one day, I was still in culinary school and he texted me. He’s like, “I think I got you a summer job.” I think he was working at a bicycle shop at the time. I’m like, “What? Selling bikes? You’re hilarious.” He’s like, “No. Give me a call.” I called him and he’s like, “We’re just riding one of these long bicycle rides with these guys. One guy is a chef and he is looking for someone to fill his position with this family as a private chef in Beverly Hills for the summer. I mentioned your name and he wants to meet you.” I was like, “Wait. Are you kidding me? What?” I was like, “All right.” I was so nervous. Fast forward, it ends up being the most amazing experience. I met with this guy Rafael. Long story short, I’ve been working for this family as a private chef ever since and couldn’t have been more random. I’m still friends with Kyle from Tinder but it’s just so wild. Just being in the limelight, it feels like, “I’ve made the right decision.”
That stuff really pops up. Not that it doesn’t happen to everybody but it almost just keeps happening when you’re in the right direction I feel.
When you’re aware of it, it just happens even more. It’s a confirmation I did the right thing and I made the right choice. That was definitely a noteworthy moment. Thank you so much for remembering that.
I wanted to have you on the podcast today because you have so much information of just cooking, the right tools to use in the kitchen, how to grocery shop, and how to just explore just what you want to cook every day. I always make excuses. I try to cook during the week and everything and it ends up I never have time and I just don’t do it right. I just want to really know how you cook in bulk, how you meal prep, how you do the right grocery shopping. I’m sure you have a bunch of tips and tricks you can enlighten us all with.
I am definitely guilty of it. I’m cooking all day and then the last thing I want to do is go home and make a gourmet meal for myself. Let’s be honest. That’s not reality. I would say some really great foundational tips in order to keep you on the right track if you want to eat healthier or you’re trying to stick to a certain diet plan, etc. It’s all about planning ahead and maybe dedicating half of a day or one day to shopping and maybe prepping, getting all your things together so that come Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, you don’t even have to think about it. I think just having a bunch of stuff in your fridge prepped, ready to go, just really assembling for, that’s half the battle because then you didn’t have to think about it. You can come home, eat, do your thing, and then you feel better about yourself. You save money. It’s just mindless. What I generally do is on Sunday, I’ll do a shop. Sunday or Monday depending on what my week is like.
Do you shop for the entire week? Do you try to make multiple trips? It’s different for you because you’re always in the grocery store, looking on things. For someone like me or for a lot of people that work all day and then they come back, if you live by a grocery store, is it better to knock it out all in one shot or is it better to do a couple trips? Sometimes when I knock all at one shot I buy way too much and I waste them.
One way, I love to shop. I’m also a little bit spoiled living in Southern California. There are farmers’ markets all the time. There are farmers’ markets on Wednesdays, on Saturdays, on Sundays. What I usually like to do is get all my standards like milk or whatever at the grocery store and then throughout the week when I can go to a farmer’s market, I will and I’ll pick up really nice vegetables, fruits. At farmers’ markets, you are able to see what fruits are in season, what vegetables are in season. You’re given the most fresh, beautiful ingredients. You can experiment with them. Honestly, if you have time for it because I know not everyone has time for it, it’s such a nice experience. It’s just leisurely taking your time seeing what vendors are doing. There are people who like to make their own honey with their bees. I feel I have such a better connection with the food when I prepare it, when I have a time but like everyone, you have weeks that are totally full. You don’t have as much time.
Getting back to your question, I would say if you can get it all done in one day, go for it. At certain times, if you buy too much or you know you’re going to have plans throughout the week, you only need a little bit of stuff, gauge it like that. What I like to do is do it all in one day and dedicate a day to just prepping and cooking. That can mean making a huge pot of chili or making a thing of roasted veggies, chicken and making a green veggie bowl with all components that are all ready to go. It’s just a matter of assembling throughout the week. That’s generally how I like to do it. Even making little snacks. I have this really great recipe for these protein balls. It’s just almond butter, honey, flax, oatmeal. You make that and then you have a snack for the whole week instead of reaching for chips or whatever.
What are your thoughts on eating organic produce as opposed to just anything that comes in a package or everything? I feel it definitely tastes better and it’s got a lot more nutrients in it. Not even with the produce but I notice when you buy organic meat as opposed to just the regular non-organic stuff, it tastes better. I feel it doesn’t sit in your stomach as long. It’s almost you feel better afterwards. Do you have the same experience? What are your thoughts on that?
It’s definitely feeling better when I eat. It’s a little bit more expensive usually. If you go to farmers’ markets and buy your produce, most times they’re going to be beyond organic as they say. To pass a USDA Organic, to get that stamp of approval, there are so many regulations to go through that. Most small-scale farmers, they don’t even want to compete with that, so they just pick their apples and go to freaking Santa Monica on Wednesdays and sell their thing.
They’re so pumped to give it to you too. They know exactly where it’s coming from, “You got to try this.”
They’re like, “This pairs well with this if you want to do,” and it’s just like you form a relationship. Not to get beyond myself, but it’s like you’re cutting down on greenhouse gases. The vegetables aren’t travelling as far to get to your kitchen so to speak. No one really wants to eat pesticides or chemicals. That’s not ideal. I feel people can get a little fanatic about it. When you can buy organic, it’s really great if you have that opportunity. If it’s between a non-organic apple and a Happy Meal, I think the apple is the way to go. Also moderation, let yourself experience certain things, as long as you’re pretty healthy.
People definitely take it to the extreme with everything but you don’t have to always do it. One couple of meals a week aren’t going to kill you. What you put in to your body is what you get out of it. It’s definitely worth being conscious of it. How do you branch out in trying new meals? I pretty much just stick to one thing and I just cook them over and over.
I follow a lot of blogs because it’s always good to have inspiration. Sometimes in the grocery store, since I’m there all the time, I’ll flip through magazines or just look at different meals being made. There are lots of really great recipes that can come out every month that are featuring new either vegetables or dishes, which is cool. Also cookbooks, I think that’s really underrated. I go through spaces where I just buy millions of cookbooks and they sit on my shelf for months and then it takes me a minute to dust them off, look through them. Even just reading through recipes and looking at the ingredients sometimes for me, it just gives me new ideas. You can swap out things. Make it your own. It gives you a little bit of variety and also inspiration, which is really cool.
What’s your forte? What’s your go-to if you’re trying to impress some people?
I just like to keep it simple. I love to cook with Whole Foods, really healthy but yummy go-to like a nice classic roast chicken with some freaking veg. It depends really, but I just love a big roast or some veggies or salad with some bread and butter. Just keep it simple. A nice dessert, some wine. If you’re in the mood to cook something too, I think it’s important to go after that as well.
What do you need in the kitchen to make all this happen?
You’re going to need a set of knives. You can go crazy with really nice knives but it’s really not imperative. You can literally just get a set of knives that are sharp enough to cut your things. You just need a big knife, maybe a regular knife or a chef’s knife and a paring knife for something. It’s tricky with pots and pans these days. They quote them with all these toxic, metally chemicals that have all kinds of stuff in it.
How do you know if the pan has that?
Generally, they’ll say on the pan BPA-free or all these other acronyms for just the crap on it. A way to steer clear of all that nonsense is ceramic pans are really cool. It’s all natural. They’re relatively cheap. They’re naturally nonstick and they heat evenly. It’s cool because you don’t have to use as much fat like oil. The pan is naturally nonstick so that’s really great. Totally green, no toxins. Also, cast iron skillets which have been around forever, also not expensive. It’s really cool because it literally fortifies your food with iron almost fivefold so that’s really good. A little extra iron in your system especially for women. It gets better with age. Don’t use soap, just rinse out with water and then coat it with oil and it’s great. You used that in camping all the time.
When I first moved in to my place in Montclair. My roommate is a man. He’s like, “You can use all my utensils. You can use all my cooking stuff.” He let me use his cast iron and I made this huge steak on it. I’m absolutely scrubbing it in the sink. I’m scrubbing it clean. He’s such a nice guy. He’s like, “You don’t really got to clean those like that.” I completely wiped out everything he cooked on that. You’re supposed to not clear it and just scrape it a little bit. I was scrubbing it so hard. He was just, “Thanks but you’re not supposed to clean that like that.” I learned that lesson the hard way.
What a nice guy. Some people will get really upset about that. That’s hilarious. Also just a standard pot to boil water or make soup, maybe two sizes: a big and a small. You don’t need a full set when you’re beginning to cook. Also, if you’re going to be meal prepping, you’ll want to get some Tupperware. It will be your best friend. I personally like Pyrex. They last forever. The glass can withstand high heat and cold and you can reheat it and all that good stuff.
If I’m meal prepping chicken for the week, what’s some good, simple marinades? I know marinating can be very simple. It doesn’t have to be fancy or anything, salt and pepper goes a long way.
Even if you’re super lazy, just buy your favorite salad dressing and throw it to chicken. Let it sit overnight. You could do a really simple one with shallots, some herbs, a little sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, oil, salt and pepper, and just let that sit. When you have vinegars with meat, it tends to slowly start to cook the meat. Depending on the type of marinade, you’ll want to just monitor it maybe four hours versus overnight.
If there’s a vinegar on the marinade, you don’t want to leave it overnight.
It tenderizes it but after a certain point, I would say no more than two and a half, three hours. It’s like ceviche. It starts to cook the meat. Even buttermilk, if you put chicken in buttermilk and then you’re going to bread it and fry it. Also, I am such a fan of smoothies personally. In the morning sometimes I can be not so hungry, but it’s such a great way to get a little extra boost. Throw whatever you got in there: banana, spinach, any frozen berries or almond butter, almond milk. Also, all these different powders and health food stuff. I’ve been getting into Maca powder or throw in some flax in there. That could feel a difference. It’s a Peruvian root and it’s in the Crucifer family like broccoli, kale and cauliflower. They dry it and then they grind those up. It has this muddy, earthy taste. You just need about a tablespoon and it balances your hormones. It boosts your immune system. It increases your energy. A lot of people will put that in a protein shake before they workout. It has a lot of protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, all the good stuff. When people don’t eat organic all the time, there’s a lot of crap that they can put into food especially meat that we were talking about. Pumping the meat with hormones and all this stuff. Your body is going to absorb those hormones and all that crap. Maca is the answer to all that because it just really balances out your system, thyroid, your endocrine system, stuff like that. Little food for thought there, Kev.
What do you do with that? If you’re going to do it daily, you put it in protein shakes. Can you put it in your drinks?
You can put it in your drinks. You can put it in if you’re making muffins, stuff like that. It’s just a sneaky way to add a little boost. Literally, if you’ve add it in coffee, you might feel off, over the hand a little bit in terms of feeling energized, which I know you’re into. You can get literally crazy with all the nutritious powders and potions and whatever. It’s really, really interesting. I know you’re very much into health and eating well and stuff. It’s cool. It’s fun to learn about and incorporate into cooking in your life.
What do you got going on these days? What are you cooking? Who are you cooking for?
Currently, I teach the kids cooking class a couple of times a week. We do all kinds of fun things. I work for a catering company part-time. We do all plant-based, fun really, so LA if you will, very healthy and progressive stuff like that. I also still work for the family that we’re talking about before. They live full-time on the East Coast but when they’re in LA, I work for them. I’m also starting up a YouTube cooking show. I’m really excited. I’m doing it with this girl, Elise. She’s super cool. I don’t have too many details about that.
If people wanted to hit you up for just personal catering, would you do that?
Where can people find you?
You can find me on Instagram @Lizzardly. You’ll see my name, Ellie Moynihan. It’s a lot of fun stuff in the making. I’m really excited for it to happen.
You’ve been all around. You’ve been around the world there. What are some of the things you’ve taken from Barcelona? You’ve been in Hong Kong and Japan. Do you learn a little something every time you go over there somewhere?
Yeah. The relationship that different cultures have with food is so fascinating to me. Japan for example. That was the coolest, most humbling experience. The food there, they just take so much pride. It’s such a celebration. Same with Spain. They eat really late at night but just the food, everyone comes together and just celebrate and it’s all that family. Also just different flavors and how people use different things. It’s so inspiring really.
You work in a kitchen full-blown over there for a while, right?
Yeah. I was working in Spain for a few months. Talk about learning curve, my Spanish was mediocre at best. Just cooking octopus all the time and lots of paprika and aggressive flavors. My palette totally changed. When I first got there, I was not so into it but in the end, it’s really freaking awesome. I really suggest if people haven’t travelled or they’re weary about trying new things, do yourself a favor. Try it twice and if you don’t like it, then that’s totally cool.
Thanks for coming on. Once you get that cooking show out, we’ll have you back on. I’m excited for you. A lot of big things coming your way.
Thanks, I’m so excited too.
We’ll talk to you soon.
All right, Kev. Have a good one. Thanks again.
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