By { Beth Weitzman

After witnessing her parents’ battles with cancer (and coping with health issues of her own), Serena Poon turned her attention to healing through food, nutrition and energy. She honed her culinary skills at the Playboy Mansion, launched a private catering business and became a “culinary alchemist,” working with indivduals. Here, a chat with this modern-day marvel. 

Your day begins with…?

A few minutes of meditation and my gratitude list before I get out of bed. Then my warm lemon water, juices and elixirs.

Can you name three things you’re grateful for? 

First, my heart tribe, which is made up of the people I love and support, who love and support me. They are my mom and sis, and also the souls and energies with whom my heart has connected. 

Second, my path, which has led me to the place I am today. Despite the pain, both physical and emotional, I feel stronger, lighter, wiser and more aligned than I have ever felt in my life. To have the feeling of knowing that my authentic self/truth has a purpose and that it brings value to others is a humbling and gratifying/empowering truth. 

Third, our fur babies, my most precious jewels of life. They give unconditional love and trust, and most importantly, they teach us small lessons every day in life and caring (for others and for ourselves). 

What are some of your favorite things to cook? 

I really love making healthier versions of simple comfort foods—gluten-free and vegan, calorically conscious. So everything from cauliflower fried rice, to healthy Italian favorites to 50 different variations of avocado toast.

How/when did you first realize the connection between food and health?

When my parents were sick with cancer, I first began to dive into using food as medicine and food as a healing tool in combination with traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine. 

What are some of your favorite health-benefiting foods?

It’s tough to pick favorites, but I’m a big lover of green vegetables, avocados, super-fruits (berries, acai, camu camu, and baobab), and plant adaptogens (lucuma, maca, ashwagandha, holy basil, and rhodiola) which are supportive of our adrenal system. 

You began your culinary career working for Hugh Hefner and Playboy Enterprises at the Playboy Mansion. Can you tell us about that experience? What were some of the things you learned during your time there? 

I had a very unique experience working at the Playboy Mansion, beyond being privy to what happens behind the scenes. I chose to work for Mr. Hefner at the Mansion because the environment gave me so much creative freedom in the kitchen. As a junior chef, I was given the opportunity to design new guest menus every week, and create new recipes for every meal if I so chose. The kitchen at the Mansion was literally a culinary playground, with the head chefs giving us so much creative freedom to learn, understand and perfect our craft. It was also a kitchen that covered everything from meals for Mr. Hefner and his private guests, to two-person executive luncheons for Playboy Enterprises, to parties of 1,200 people with food service for six hours. I had the opportunity to do all of that, from the prep level to managing the execution of the events, so I felt that I had a very well-rounded experience working there. 

How did that exposure catapult you into starting your private catering business?

While I was working at the Playboy Mansion, I was often approached by guests of the parties and events, with requests for private catering work. As my confidence grew with my experience, I started to cater dinners and parties in addition to my hours working at the Mansion. After about a year, I chose private work full time and started my own company. With Hugh Hefner, Playboy Enterprises and the Playboy Mansion as the first employer on my resume, along with strong references from happy clients, I built my clientele list strictly by referral only. 

What made you then take the leap from private chef-ing to focus on health and healing as a career?

My initial reason for diving deep into nutrition and studying the culinary arts came with my parents’ battles with cancer. The desire to have a career in health and healing had been in my heart since that time in my life. After going to culinary school and coming out with $60,000 worth of school loans, my mind was in a space of gaining experience, applying what I had learned in school and trying to pay off those school loans. It was not until I actually started to have some of my own health issues that I circled back to why I had truly started on this journey in the first place. My drive for healing others put me in a place where I was sacrificing my own health for the sake of helping others. After suffering my own health issues as a result of that kind of stress, multiple surgeries, two which I nearly died from, and years of self-development, I’ve learned to balance my energy, to take care of myself first so that I can take care of everyone else around me. During this time, my business evolved to include more than just practicing culinary alchemy as a private chef and caterer. I became a nutritionist, wellness expert, coach and counselor to my clients. 

Doubling now as a chef and nutritionist to your clients, you’ve become known for curating customized healing and wellness programs using integrative health, holistic nutrition and culinary alchemy. Explain what is meant by culinary alchemy. How do all these elements fit together? 

Culinary Alchemy™ is essentially the intersection of guidance and education on food nutrition and how it affects our bodies on a physiological level, as well as how it affects the emotional body, along with creating the appropriate recipes and menus to support the nutritional, emotional and energetic/spiritual needs of the client. There is a magic in all of us that not only individualizes us, but also ties us all together, universally and energetically. This universal energy is something that I have learned to harness and redirect into how we use food to heal and nourish our bodies. As a chef and a nutritionist, I’m trained with the knowledge of the physical attributes of ingredients and how to combine them to create recipes that can help support or resolve a person’s dietary needs. As a healer, I am able to marry all of these aspects together to produce programs and plans that are nurturing, sustainable and that resonate with a client’s physical, mental and spiritual needs.   

In today’s fast-paced world, how can one obtain balance?

I believe that self-care is the foundation for maintaining a healthy balance of energy shared between our work, our loved ones and ourselves. At this point in my life, and particularly because of my journey, self-care is absolutely fundamental for my overall health and wellness. It truly took my most recent surgery to “surrender” to this important lesson in my journey through life.

Can you share with us your daily rituals and their effects? 

I’m very big on rituals, especially because it’s so grounding and helps to keep us aligned. It’s important to start my day and end my day with a certain pattern of habits. This is when I go through my gratitude list, my affirmations, my mantras and my intentions. My other ritual is starting my day with warm lemon water, celery juice, immunity elixirs and wheat grass. At some point in the day, every day, I’ll have a healthy green juice (my Luminous Elixir), a Just Add Water™ (of course!) and a matcha latte with nut milk. I’m also a big fan of healing crystals! I don’t ever leave home without some in my purse. I also include some form of exercise several times a week. 

You’ve said that detoxing the body on a regular basis is important. Can you explain why that is and how you recommend doing so? 

I have always been a big believer of daily detoxing. I believe in warm lemon water first thing in the morning every day, no matter where you are in the world. I’m also a big fan of a fruit-free green juice every day, or as many days of the week as you can do it, and flooding your body with alkalizing and oxygenating greens in any way that you prefer. You can have it in juice form, fresh raw form, cooked, in teas or raw/dehydrated powdered, or capsule if you can’t have it fresh. I believe in feeding your body the natural detoxifying plants and herbs (like cilantro, parsley, dandelion, milk thistle, etc.) that help your body release everyday toxins we breathe in, heavy metals, bacteria and waste, on a regular basis. Daily intake of detoxifying foods helps to keep your body functioning efficiently and effectively. It also makes it easier to do a deeper cleanse every so often. 

How important is mindfulness? Why? How do you recommended finding time?

Mindfulness is an integral part of my wellness programs and it’s just as important to fuel and feed our mental and emotional bodies as it is our physical one. Prioritizing a simple approach to practicing mindfulness makes it accessible and sustainable. 

I truly believe that setting aside at least 15 minutes to an hour to yourself every day can be highly effective on so many levels with regards to health and well-being. It can be 10 minutes in the morning before you wake up or while you’re in the shower, going over mantras or affirmations; or 20 minutes while you’re in the car, heading from one meeting to the next; or five minutes of breath work. It helps to slow things down for a moment, and sometimes that’s all you need to refocus.

What inspired your creation of Just Add Water? 

While working with clients who have to travel a lot, I realized that their biggest struggle came from the ability to keep the healthy routines they have when they’re home. Just Add Water™ was created exactly for this. I literally began combining little bits of different superfoods and plant-based ingredients together into an elixir that could easily be added to water to make a drink that I knew would be super nutrient-dense for my clients. What I call Culinary Alchemy™.  It started off in little ziplock snack baggies that I would pack up for them before long trips. I knew that it would ensure they get the right balance of some plant protein, the greenest super foods, beautifying antioxidants, supportive adaptogens for the adrenals and some probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes to take it all in. Just Add Water™ makes it easy to take care of yourself in a few minutes with a few ounces of water, any time of the day. So even though it was created initially for travel convenience, it’s really something that my clients use every day, whether they’re at home or away.

We know you work with many high-profile clients. Can you tell us about any of them? 

I’ve worked with everyone from Hugh Hefner to Diddy, Kanye West to the late Garry Marshall, Jerry Bruckheimer to our favorite fixer on Scandal. Although I can’t get into the personal details of their programs, I can tell you that what I do for them is completely tailored for their particular needs. 

Share with us a little bit about your client coaching and work with individuals. What are your programs like? 

I offer a wide variety of services to my clients. I design menus and produce events across the spectrum, from small formal dinners to large events/parties that require a full staff to execute. I also provide meal planning and prepared meals for some clients. For nearly all of my clients, I serve as their nutritionist and I curate very specific nutritional and wellness programs designed for optimal health within their lifestyle choices and scheduling demands. 

What is your mantra?

“Honor your authentic voice and embrace your intuitive truth.” We too often juggle the needs of others, the imposed urgency of time, the expectations of outcomes against what we intuitively know is the right and best thing to do for ourselves. There should be no juggle. Honor your truth. You are incredibly powerful because no one else is you.

What is your philosophy for living an optimal life?

My philosophy for living an optimal healthy lifestyle is based on integrating nutritional and physical therapy, focused mindfulness and balancing the body’s support system. 

What’s next for you? 

There are so many fun things happening and I’m so excited about all of it. I just started filming for my new TV show, Serena Loves TV, which features some amazing thought leaders and brands in the health and wellness, beauty and entrepreneurial spaces. At the same time, we’re launching my Serena Loves website, which will have loads of information about the different aspects of Culinary Alchemy™, as well as a store which will showcase some of the tools for supporting your body, mind and energetic well-being. We are also expanding Just Add Water™ into more brick-and-mortar boutiques and will be releasing new flavors and products from our product line. 

For more informatin and to reach Poon, visit serenaloves.com