Kemi Nekvapil’s initial reaction on hearing about the raw food movement in the early 2000s was less than positive.
“It made me think of weak, sad people walking around eating limp carrot sticks,” the Melbourne-based wellness advocate admits. Yet after swapping a few meals for raw salads, she quickly discovered the opposite was true, and started forging a career in raw cuisine that has made her a leader in the field of wellbeing. Since first appearing on the pages of Peppermint back in 2013, Kemi has relaxed her food philosophy and shifted her focus to spreading her message through coaching – helping women to nourish themselves completely and realise their full potential, both in work and life.
“My level of wellbeing and energy was more than anything I’d ever experienced as an adult, and I wanted to share that with others,” Kemi says, reflecting on Raw Kitchen, the raw food resource and workshop business she started in 2010. One of the reasons for its success – apart from her obvious charisma – was her focus on encouraging positive habits rather than urging people to eliminate ‘bad’ foods.
“I was never about cutting out cake, coffee and chocolate; I was always about getting people to just ‘add more raw’ and notice the difference. I especially wanted to share this with other women, because women don’t always experience food as a joyful experience,” she says, referring to the pressure many women feel to conform to physical stereotypes and, more recently, to the restrictions people place on themselves when they adopt particular eating regimes.
Women are told that as we get older it all goes downhill, but on my 38th birthday I felt more beautiful, centred and grounded than I’d ever felt
The 42-year-old describes herself as a “Kemi-tarian” and a “proponent of food journeys”, meaning that her eating habits evolve in line with her lifestyle and needs at any particular time rather than fitting neatly into a diet category. “I eat lots of fresh fruit and veg – we have 30 fruit trees in our garden – lots of greens and I think I got the first tub of Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice-cream to have landed in Australia recently! I’m not drinking alcohol at the moment because I’m training for a 100-kilometre race, but I might not drink it after the race either. I eat sugar but not fish. In winter I want soup and warm foods, not salad. When I eat out, I love Asian food; I think it’s my African heritage because I love rice. I trained as a baker, so I love baked goods and when I eat them I enjoy every bite, but it’s not something I do every day.”
Kemi’s creed of doing what feels right for her extends beyond meal times – it’s her attitude towards life as a whole and explains why her career has taken its various turns. Born in England, she trained as a baker, then went through drama school and spent several years as a successful actor. But despite her acting accolades, the call of the kitchen was stronger, and she returned to the food industry – working as a chef in Thailand, where she met her Australian husband. Stints as a chef in London’s first organic restaurant and as a yoga instructor preceded her move to Australia in 2003 and her subsequent forays into raw eating, growing her own food and creating a nourishing life – for herself and others.
“Women are told that as we get older it all goes downhill, but on my 38th birthday I felt more beautiful, centred and grounded than I’d ever felt,” Kemi says, explaining that it was this feeling that spurred her to develop her current business, Raw Beauty Queen, in 2013, which provides coaching programs and retreats teaching women how to transform their lives.
“Women in the western world have so many opportunities, and I get so upset and angry that the average woman spends 33 years on a diet when that will and effort could go to something so much more important. Women need to create a form of beauty that we own and we nourish. The one that’s sold and told to us makes us feel ugly, and that ugliness makes a lot of money. [When coaching women] you start with food and it quickly goes to all other areas of their lives.”
Read the full story in Issue 31 of Peppermint – on shelves until the end of November. Kemi is curating the vegan Earth-to-Table dinner – which is proudly supported by Peppermint – on Friday 21 Oct at this year’s Wanderlust Sunshine Coast (running from 20-23 October 2016).