Drizzle Kitchen chef and owner Kendra Peterson laughs now as she remembers using her Mount Prospect family as culinary "test dummies" when she was growing up.
After becoming a vegetarian at a young age in what she describes as a meat-and-potatoes family, Peterson brought foods like tofu and soy cheese into the house, along with many, many vegetables her father and sisters otherwise would not have tried.
"Bless my family, they ate some weird, weird stuff," she laughs.
There were failures over the years -- mention of a Thanksgiving "lentil loaf" instead of a turkey still draws fits of laughter from Peterson's dad and two older sisters -- but looking back, she says, the experimentation led her to where she is today.
Now 34, Peterson's Chicago-based private chef service centers around a philosophy of helping clients learn to cook and eat nutritionally dense, minimally processed whole foods. Recipes are often tailored to help clients heal ailments and combat health challenges and behavioral disorders.
Clients include former Cubs all-star pitcher Kerry Wood, actor and Evanston native John Cusack and others "interested in a more wholistic-themed approach to food," she said. Working largely out of her clients' kitchens or her own Chicago home, Peterson hopes to open a commercial space within the next year to hold classes and seminars.
"My sister's friend was my first client," Peterson said. "She said, 'You cook a lot, you make food for all of our parties, can you just make us some meals?' I started to realize people would pay for this and I loved doing this."
It took Peterson years of developing relationships with clients she cooked for on a part-time basis until she could afford to focus on her business full-time.
At home in her kitchen this summer, Peterson makes a smoothie of blueberries, frozen bananas, spinach and hemp milk -- a recipe she often prepares for children as a way of sneaking added nutrients into their diets.
"Doctors can tell you what you should and shouldn't eat, but if you don't know how to read labels," you don't get the full picture, she said. "People can make some things that happen to be safe for everyone to eat. And you can literally change people's lives with food."
Peterson said she enjoys educating people and is happy when she gets someone to make a positive change. "My goal is to always keep pushing them to get to make better choices," she said.
As for herself, Peterson adheres to a gluten-free diet but makes sure to balance healthy choices with some opportunities for indulgence. "I go out to dinner three or four times a week. I want to experience the culinary aspects of the city," she said. "But the rest of the day I make healthy choices. I try to eat clean, low-process. Back to basics, back to real food.
"I think that is the simplest message to people. If you really just break it down, eat a wide variety ... but eat things that make you feel good."