Yvonne Maffei is a self-taught chef, food & travel writer, cookbook author, e-commerce entrepreneur, public speaker, food industry consultant, niche consumer marketing expert, and the founder of the first blog on halal food & cooking, MyHalalKitchen.com.
She gives cooking classes, presentations on the meaning of halal, and educates about conscious cooking and healthy eating. She consults food brands, schools, and hospitals on how to understand and source for halal ingredients and methods in cooking for food and cosmetic products.
Her book titles include Clean Your Kitchen Green (2010), Summer Ramadan Cooking (2013), and My Halal Kitchen: Global Recipes, Cooking Tips, Lifestyle Inspiration (2016).
She has been an invited guest at the White House under the Obama Administration, a special counselor to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, a guest speaker at such prestigious events as the recent World Halal Summit in Istanbul, Turkey (2018), and a consultant to Aramark Corporation for the first-ever all-halal university dining facility at New York University in Manhattan.
She divides her time between the USA and Turkey and is working on a healing cookbook about holistic cooking and lifestyle, as well as conducting research on the superfoods of the Turkish Aegean & Mediterranean region.
Maruf: Hey, Assalamu alaikum! This is your host, Maruf. Welcome to the show Muslims On Fire.Today, I have a sister, Yvonne Maffei. She’s joining us from Halal kitchen. Assalamu alaikum, welcome to the show.
Yvonne: Walaikumassalam! Thank you so much for having me.
Maruf: It’s a pleasure. We’ve been trying to do this for a while. Now how they liked having it now.
Yvonne: I’m sorry. I wasn’t caught up with a few things. But Alhamdulillah, we are able to do this in Ramadan.
Maruf: Yeah, that’s a blessed time. But this one is a bit strange, isn’t it?
Yvonne: Yeah, it is but I think it’s good quieter.
Maruf: That’s right. So yeah, let’s do this. Let’s start this usually we start always from the very beginning. Tell us what you remember, what you think makes you who you are, but also you are actually going back to your childhood memories.
Yvonne: So, interesting because childhood tells us everything about ourselves I think and when we tap into those things that we really loved as a child. I think those are still same things. We love adults, but we don’t always do them and when I was a kid, I’m an only child so I was pretty independent, but I had a big family.
So lots of love lots of fantastic food from my Italian side and my dad’s side and on my mom’s side is Puerto Rican, so I was really spoiled with great food, but my parents were really interested in all cultures. As they had ultimate respect for people from all over the world and I grew up in a small town in Ohio.
But it had a lot of immigrants from Greece and Italy and Poland and Slovakia and Hungary. We knew people from all over the world and everybody was in the same boat, you know building a life and their families and you just sort of tasted everybody’s different food and international festivals and things like that.
So I grew up in a great environment of a small town America, but with a big world feel and so I was dying to travel the world as a kid. I couldn’t wait to escape the small town and see the world and also didn’t know where I was from and my dad was born in Italy and my mom had really strong roots in Puerto Rico.
And I thought it was really important to understand myself by going to those places and exploring you know my roots and so I started traveling really young around 18 right out of college right out of high school and went abroad.
Yeah, my parents were so supportive of that and I was very lucky that they pushed me out the door and taught me not to be afraid but to be smart and I studied in Spain while I was in college, so I was able to be fluent in Spanish and I kind of see Europe and that was interesting that’s what led me to Islam.
Because I went to Morocco as a side trip in college and that was my first experience with Muslims and never had heard about Islam and it was just a very exotic but interesting place for me to be there and my first encounter with Ramadan as well was there and we’re off so it’s funny were talking about it right now.
Maruf: So if you track back a little bit. So you said you grew up in a small town. Let me ask you this, you speak Spanish and English as well. Do you speak Italian, Porto Rico as well?
Yvonne: It’s funny cause you mention that. You would think so, but Italian is just something that not as many people spoke. And so that was harder for me to learn.
My grandparents spoke Ficillion dialect and mixed in with English so it wasn’t harder and my mom side speaking Porto Rican Spanish.
It was really hard to understand. They speak really really fast. So when I went to Spain and then on to Mexico the following year, I really learned, you know how to speak the language and understand it and that helped me with my Italian actually because Italian is very similar and it just made me feel closer to my roots because that once you learn language, you can understand how the culture crops was.
Maruf: Well, that’s why I was asking because I like we even shift in the way of the shift to speak. It affects you to write sometimes. And it’s fascinating.
Yvonne: Yeah, it is. And it really expands your brain muscles quite a bit.
Maruf: That’s right. So what are things you mentioned that you wanted to get out of this city, you wanted to see the world. Were there any other subjects you’re really particularly interested in? What at the school?
Yvonne: Yeah. I mean I wanted to be really good in science and math, but they just like I don’t know if it was just harder for me. I didn’t have a lot of attention span in school. I couldn’t wait to get out and it was a really good student, very diligent, but I didn’t have the patience for the sciences and I was really much more interested in geography and business.
I was met because you know, we’re kind of being alongside my dad quite a bit and he had a business mind and so he was always encouraging you to think out of the box and think for yourself or do big things like it was an advocate for education, of course, but you know, he made me want to be excited to like break out of the classroom and do something.
And so I was antsy quite a bit as a kid and I wanted to you know that day that I could like
cool from college and everything and then finally just go and see what I can do with the information I had, the skills and create something, it was he emphasized a lot of creation and my mom she’s like an artist to me should really just got a brilliant mind and she always made our home extremely beautiful on a low budget.
So I grew up in a world of like, dreamers and I wouldn’t say they weren’t professional artists by any means but they just created a world. That was really beautiful. And aesthetically my mom especially and so I don’t know.
I think I kind of went out and world with like what can I do that is interesting and beautiful and uses my brain and as a kid, I would sit in my room and I would write books and I always wanted to like have a job where I caught you at home.
Maruf: You said you read books or you write books?
Yvonne: I used to write. As a kid, I used to make books. I used to write a lot and I used to think like, wouldn’t it be cool to like having a job where I don’t have to leave home to make a living, but I can leave whenever I want and I don’t know. It’s really funny. It’s like I set my mind up to have a job as a freelance writer or you know, something more independent and entrepreneurial. I just knew that I couldn’t be, I couldn’t do the 9 to 5 and sit in a desk even though I
And out of college I did every job and I was 9 to 5 at a desk, but I was really itching to do something that I could wear. I could write and I could and it could involve food because I knew food really well from my family and for my travels and I really had an appreciation for it and my dad gave me my first camera and he’s to say take pictures of everything especially food, that was way before than food photography.
It’s really funny when these opportunity came
like blogs, Instagram, it was something that I had been doing as a kid. But you know the apps were there, the opportunities were there. So when they came I just knew what they were instinctively and I had to grab into this.
Yeah. I was ready. I knew that it was my ticket to be a food writer and being able to travel and write about interesting places and food because I was sort of set up in my mind already if that makes sense.
Maruf: Yeah, it does. So let’s go back to the story of now, so you went out to travel, you mention to other parts of the world and more code is when you discover Islam, so I want to understand that. So you’re like you’re ready. We’re discovering you see like, how was the world like was it as you expected or disappointed or you are like wow, this is better than I expected? How was it?
Yvonne: I can honestly tell you that I was scared. I was really young. You know, I was in my 20s. I was studying with other kids that I didn’t know. I was alone in foreign countries and back then you didn’t have WhatsApp for you know, your family free, you had phone cards you had your credit card, you could use like a collected, you know call number, but it was so expensive to call your family and you know, everything was by mail.
I was really lonely and those trips were very difficult for me because I missed home. But I knew that I had this amazing opportunity to see Europe and I didn’t have a lot of money and I studied really really hard because I wanted to master the language. So, they were really tough experiences for me, but they gave me a lot of warden to appreciate my opportunities back home.
They pushed me to my limits to be more independent and to figure things out because you know back then you didn’t have a Google Maps and all the head paper maps to figure out where the city center was, you know how to get on the trains and just just fascinating like when I think back about it, I think, was I brave or stupid, you know.
Maruf: Or somewhere between you never know.
Yvonne: I never had any trouble but you know, I give credit to my parents because I know they were scared but they didn’t show it to me. They showed me that they had confidence in me that I should have confidence in myself.
And those were really really important qualities that I brought back to college and said, you know, I’m going to do something with the skills that I’ve gotten because back then I thought maybe I would do international business because the language and the cultural experience, but I didn’t want to do just business. I wanted to have more freedom. You know, I didn’t want to just, it didn’t want to work for a corporation and you know that.
Maruf: So, I guess if you don’t mind me asking what were you studying?
Yvonne: I was a Spanish and international. Sorry. Undergrad, I was Spanish and Latin American Studies major and then I went to grad school at the same University Ohio University in Athens Ohio, beautiful place. I studied International Development. I want to do anything International. So I focused on journalism and business and education because I knew that I could teach, I knew that I could write and I knew I wanted to do business.
So I kind of pared it down to those three focuses and I gotta go. Let me see what happens when I graduate and what I could do with those. So, it turned out great. I ran out of college. I ran out of Masters.
I went to California, my best friend and I followed each other. We took a road trip one way. She went up to Palo Alto and I stayed in the East Bay and I worked, I found a job in Downtown San Francisco and it was in the 90s when it was really easy to find a job.
You could get in the car and just go because there were plenty of jobs and I found a 9 to 5 job in a cubicle and I took classes at night and on the weekends in journalism in travel writing and also teaching English as a foreign language or second language because My idea was that I wanted to you know write and I wanted to kind of like try to write for a freelance, three months for magazines like cutting a store, National Geographic.
It was it was a passion. It was like a huh side hustle like, knew that I wanted to but I needed to prove myself because back then you didn’t have the blogs websites were just starting so magazines that I queried it said. Oh, we have a website.
Could you write an article? So what I did was I started to go to all of San Francisco, all the restaurants I could go to, I would grab a friend and lunch, hey, do you want to try a Philippine restaurant?
Do you want to try it Turkish restaurant because I was using it for my work and then I just traveled up and down the California, Coast, Washington, Vancouver. I just used every weekend, you know, they say that side hustle thing. Now they talk about it so much, but that’s really what I was doing.
I was using my nine-to-five to pay my bills and whatever extra I had was just to take classes and to you know, see if I could get my name in print so that I could eventually maybe write for a magazine.So back then, it was really hard to freelance really really hard.
Maruf: I understand that. So I mean practice writing, traveling.
Yvonne: Those are the top three. Yeah.
Maruf: Okay. So what’s this? This is what you were doing. Was it before Morocco after?
Yvonne: After Morocco. And still I wasn’t Muslim yet. Morocco just opened my eyes, too. Like I’ve never met Muslims before and I didn’t even know what Islam was. I mean when the boat we took from Spain to Morocco and as the boat was coming into the harbor of Tangier, I heard the Adhan and later I realized that was the jummah prayer. And it was Ramadan.
And that first of them was like, really interesting and exotic to me and then I was really curious about it. So I started to see all the shoes outside of the Masjid.
And I think I just really thought that I was in a Buddhist country. I didn’t have any clue like, what is this religion? What are they doing? But it’s so peaceful and the morning, I heard the fajar Adhan and I remember telling my roommate I said, did you hear that?
I think the most beautiful thing, you know when Alyssa is like enters your heart. It really enters your heart. I felt it like invisible light or something like just completely entering my heart tonight from that point.
I said, I don’t know what this is, but I really want to understand these people and this religion a little bit more like it’s just so beautiful. And so when I went back to college, I had like I said, I was International Development. So there were a lot of international students in my courses and I just started opening up to them a lot more.
And a lot of them actually thought that I was Lebanese or Moroccan or something because if I think Italian stuff was and Latinos have a similar look and I would say no I’m not but tell me about you guys.
Look, where are you from? What do you think? What is the religion thing? What is this Islam thing? You guys are so interesting and the women are you know, I love their hijabs, their are so beautiful and they started inviting me to their homes, to the Masjid and I got to try different food like Malaysian and Marathi Palestinian and they talk to me about everything from politics, to food, to religion.
And I just love that they were family people. They were very focused on their education. They didn’t seem to have any distractions of typical American college life, you know, which to me you felt very uneasy and chaotic to be honest. I was looking for peace. It really really was.
Maruf: Let me ask you a question before. I think, the first thing is you said there was something they were after, at this families with different than the normal. So what was that if you talk about Americans?
Yvonne: Yeah. Well, it wasn’t normal to American. It was just that in a college town with college kids, you know, most people are in there by themselves. Most of us college kids were not with our families and you’re not encouraged to get married for sure while you’re always so, you know, those people opposed to them were there with.
They were husband and wife couples and their kids and I was like, that is amazing that you can study and have your family. It was something completely foreign to me. Yeah. I just love that they were so family-oriented and that they cooked real food and home instead of like takeout and pizza, you know, it just seemed more wholesome to me and I really loved that.
Maruf: I see, interesting. I think I mean one question I want to ask. So you said when you come to Morocco, before that even just if you step back like were you a religious person in any way?
Yvonne: That’s a good question. I didn’t mention that. Yeah. So I grew up Catholic and I went to Catholic school and I would say that I grew up really pretty religious. My mom was very serious about the faith and she always took me to church and my dad was more and he would go on like Major holiday, but he really wasn’t about following any particular religion at the time.
And so I was in church every Friday, which is interesting because it was every friday for school, walk home saying the Hail Mary, you know in our home and everything and but as I grew up, I kind of felt like religion became less of an important thing in society as a whole I started to see that.
Well, not everybody is Catholic that everybody is practicing and even in the Catholic Church. It just seemed like less and less people kind of cured or I don’t know. I just felt a Detachment and I went to Spain primarily because I wanted to be in a catholic country and I wanted to see like, maybe they’re more religious there and I’ll learn more about my religion there.
So that was my aside from learning a language of course, but I was really happy to be so close to a big Cathedral and I really thought that I was going to like become more religious by going, but that didn’t happen.
Maruf: You come back in your space right now. You are doing this your corporate job and this side will take. Tell us how it develops.
Yvonne: How my Halal Kitchen develops?
Maruf: Yeah. I mean you have before you get to hit you I got there must be some steps, right? So you’re doing this. Now you’re doing the food and we tried explaining how it is developed. Is this become a full-time time or longer way or?
Yvonne: Yeah, so I guess these are the steps towards my Halal Kitchen start a bit ahead. I had a fantastic year in California, you know sport exploring all the food and everything and it really set the stage for what I wanted to do as a career, but I didn’t know how and I ended up coming back to Ohio to be closer to my family.
But I kept in touch with all my Muslim friends and I think going back home I had to refocus and said, you know, this is time to like to get more serious about what because it was still it was really bothering me that I really liked this religion, but I hadn’t.
I had studied a little bit but I needed to do more. So I did like a quick comparison of the Bible and the Quran and but I had known quite a bit about Islam through friends at the time and then I did some introspection.
I went through some really difficult times personally and it just made me really want to grab onto Islam as like my safety blanket like the piece I was looking for because my personal life is really chaotic at the time.
And so, I took the Shahada. I became some with a friend of mine who was Muslim and I didn’t tell anybody in my family, but my mom kind of figured it out because she knew I had Muslim friends and and I just my whole demeanor changed. You know, I was a lot calmer.
My family became like even more of a top priority for me, being close to them. And that’s that was all because of his them and then I just I told my mom asked me, you know, you can tell me if you change something like she kind of suspect and she always know and she was so great about it because she saw positive change and she really wanted me to have a good family life and so on.
And so I told her and then I had a teaching job at the time. I was teaching at a school, teaching Spanish and told my boss. You know, I can pray. I started wearing the hijab and he was fine with that. He had been a Headmaster in a school in Egypt. So he understood, they were great.
But what happened is about a couple weeks later. I’m teaching a class of kids of seventh grade kids and 9/11 happened right in the middle, you know the morning hour and I had just told my family that I was most like I just told them maybe like a week before something and so you can imagine.
Maruf: How was your father’s reaction before that?
Yvonne: Oh, I skipped over that. He was not happy at all. And to this day he’s not happy but I think he’s come to just you know, he still wishes that I’ll be Christian and you know back but it’s been a struggle ever since me he wasn’t too religious himself.
But yeah and he became a little bit more religious as the years went on I think because maybe he felt like he did something wrong to not keep me as a Christian and and my mom had the opposite reaction.
She was just so different and respectful but you know, everybody deals that I think it’s interesting because it kind of shows like, everyone’s own personal issue with their own faith or whatever like it brought out a lot of things and our family and it was a really difficult time but I ended up getting married and moving to Chicago and teaching an Islamic school there.
So that’s where I got the idea for my Halal Kitchen came because here I was and I started to teach in Islamic school where was mostly pakistani kids and some Arab kids and you know, I have left like my life behind. I have left my dreams of traveling and food behind.
I have entered a community of people whose culture, I don’t really know too well, and it was really uncomfortable. I was sad and depressed a lot because I felt a little bit like I was in a different country. I kind of felt like I was out of my world and so I began in order to turn it around.
I just started sort of sharing my culture with the kids. You know, like I’m Italian or I’m Puerto Rican but I was raised in the US. So I had these you know three backgrounds that I was trying to express through educating them about the world and people and it was interesting because they wanted to eat Italian food, or they wanted to try it out and I was so shocked and like you kids are being raised in the US.
I don’t understand this. But what I didn’t understand was that their parents were first generation and they were cooking, you know their families food at home. And because everything was Halal.
They were discouraged or you know, not eating out. This is way before Halal restaurants ever really were popular that I remember and so they wanted nurgers, they wanted lasagna, they wanted spaghetti and meatballs. And so I was so incredibly shocked.
I thought oh my God, you know this is how I can like talk to them about food and we can make everything Halal. And so I started assigning food projects to them where they had like different countries, they had to research and then I said, you know as part of your project you have to create a recipe.
I don’t care if that country is not Muslim. You have to Halal if I that recipe in that country and to this day, I mean, this was me 10, 15 years more than 15. About 15 years ago.
Now those kids still to this day message me about those projects and say I maybe know recipe from Chennai and this holiday remember that and you know, or someone did a Polish recipe that had pork and they did it with beef or you know, it was sounded so simple.
But it opened up this entire world of like possibility and I saw how excited the kids were and then all the questions were coming about Halal and this and that and we had this beautiful whole cultural exchange of you know, everybody respecting different cultures and just learning how to embrace things in a halal way without saying oh, they’re not listen, their food is not Halal that it was a positive spin on everything.
And so after a couple of years of teaching there, I was kind of burned out because teaching is pretty intense and I started to take a break, I needed a break and when I took the the break I had picked up a book about food writing just and I ought to say randomly, but nothing is ever random in this world.
And it was a but basically like a Bible of food writing was like how to be a food writer in this day and age and ironically one of my students had just talk to me about reading a Blog. She said she was thinking to Arabic class with her and she said well, I want you to comment on the blog and I said, well, what is that and I couldn’t figure it out. So she came over to my house.
She showed me how to work a blog and then I looked at her and I said, oh my God, I can write on this thing and I can like do anything I can write anything. She said, yeah, you can and from then on out.
I was like, I’m going to start my own writing, my own blog and it was like, I knew all the possibilities of you know food writing but the old ways and this was a new way where you could publish yourself, you know.
Maruf: Instead of thoughts, were expanding for sure every student’s world, food world, but actually, world is bigger than that, right?
Yvonne: Exactly, I told them. I was taking my classroom to the online platform to the world and you know, it’s true. I think everybody’s mother is the first one to comment. So the first post I ever made I think was about yogurt or something in my mom’s a great job, honey.
And I didn’t know that people would even care about Halal. I just knew that it was a subject that I was in, I was straddling to worlds, you know, I was in between the non-Muslims in the Muslims and they were Muslims who didn’t know how to make food that was non-traditionally Halal.
And I could teach them and then other people who didn’t know what Halal was. I could teach them. So it was like I can win both ways and everybody learns and everybody can be more tolerant as remember.
This was post 9/11 and it was a scary time and you know, I had been called to speak to churches and Mosque Gatherings of non-muslims who would come to to learn about Islam.
But I could only speak to so much when it came to politics and a higher level of Islamic scholarly knowledge that it was dangerous for me because I can’t speak to those topics and I knew when I needed to stop and I also don’t feel comfortable there and so for me food was like that thing that said can we all just like relax a little bit and realize like we need to eat.
And then we come to the table, we can calm down and my paternal grandmother was was that person who taught me that everybody would get very, you know, when our think families are lots of chaos and when everybody would get kind of upset or something is going on or someone’s crabby what she would say, okay, everybody sit down and eat.
And it worked. Every student start eating everybody’s like relaxed and hey, you know, can I have some water? Oh sure. Do you want the salad? Oh Mom. This is great. It’s so delicious. So I knew this was that thing that could kind of cool connect neutralize the politics of the day.
I didn’t want to talk politics, you know, every time I went back home to my family the 9/11 stuff was still very electrified and I didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to enjoy with them and then that was another issue like well, we don’t know what you eat you eat Halal, but what is that?
So this is my way of showing them like yeah. This is what Halal is and isn’t and left and I’m making Sicilian food. I am making Puerto Rican food to show you. I have not to show you. I mean, it’s authentic like I’m not giving away my culture just because I’m Muslim.
We don’t have to do that when I don’t want to do that, right? You know, I just had all the energy and passion. I really wanted everybody to get along. I wanted people to be happy and I wanted them to not hate us for being Muslim and like it came from a lot of emotion. I would say. You know, a lot of deep emotion.
Maruf: So, that’s interesting origin story for Halal Kitchen. So we take it from there like this. So we’re talking about 9/11. You’re not mad right?
Yvonne: It was 2008 when I started. It was the height of the recession. Yeah, and I knew that you know, this was not a hobby for me. This was my chance to do something in the food world. I was obsessed with all things kitchen and culinary.
I mean I had been free forever, but I knew I needed to make it work and I was in the perfect City for that Chicago was absolutely fantastic for Middle Eastern markets. Halal this and that so I started exploring, going to butchers, talking to them, seeing the products that were in the store and then reaching out to food companies that were in Chicago and they didn’t know what to do with me.
They were nice enough to invite me too. Their headquarters talk with their owners, go to their slaughter houses, but they didn’t know what to do with me. They did. They just saw me as a writer, but I had you know, bigger ideas and I said, you know, you have you have Halal chicken.
I have the ability to make recipes that people love with your product. So let’s find a way to work together. So I had to wear many hats. You know, I had to do advertising sales marketing. I had to write the content, the recipes, do the website, do all the photography.
I mean, I literally worked 16 to 20 hour days sometimes for the first year or two. I was on my couch typing for days and days and days at a time. Like I’ve thrown out my bags, so many things happened, but it was really the hustle and grind without knowing what hustle and grind was. I was just doing it.
Maruf: So yeah, you were working as a writer of food companies around Chicago, right?
Yvonne: I was copywriting for my own website, but I was using their products. I was promoting their stuff on my platform. And that was the way they wanted it. You know, most of the time they didn’t want it on their site always they said here, you have the
site that people go to.
So they were great to work with. I mean, I had fantastic relationships developed with these and it was the time when everybody was trying to figure this food blog thing out and how a man could all work together.
So it’s very lucky that they were open-minded at the time to just take a chance with me and I didn’t want to disappoint and I knew their products were things that I liked, I cared about, they were good people, they did Halal alright. You know there were a lot of events as well. You have to make sure that it’s not a problematic product that it’s healthy.
I have a lot of standards for Halal. So it’s not just any Halal company. There’s some things I don’t like, you know some products that I would never put in my mouth.
Maruf: But even though they are branded as Halal, is that what you’re saying?
Yvonne: Yes, of course, even though they’re branded as Halal. I still had to do my research about what made them Halal, what are their ingredients? I’m a purist when it comes to food. I’m very very strict about things being healthy, which means being natural and good for you.
I don’t like fake stuff. I don’t like synthetics and I’ve been like that since the beginning and that’s what I suck too. And I’m happy I did that because you know being authentic to that created, you know what it is today and in the end the audience understands who I am pretty much in that sense and they’re there.
Because they want to learn more about that or they agree with that or you know, so it’s created a great community and that’s the type of you know style guess you could say.
Maruf: So I mean, where is Halal Kitchen, today? Is it something you see that like, I mean, I’m just looking at the trajectory when you start taking positions so food, right and also writing so I would like to know about the journey to a lot of places by then. It’s like you also take a tour like you know, well, it’s Islam.
And actually I mean let me change the whole I mean sometimes it’s things changed, especially when you embrace this new lifestyle attached mix evenly mixed impacts, you know on how yet we’re trying to cope with that and help My Halal kitchen was the color of it.
So one of the things I’ve been experiencing experiments, in your personal level because it is that when you look at life right, so I see like there are three types of people. I mean everybody, we know the people are different. I got something for me that would have some people the first is people who are either who don’t care or who are probably not figure out what their purpose in life as for his way.
Okay, they are super majority. Probably they are people looking to just try and try to draw so some are trying to seek but maybe they haven’t found out yet right a ticking bomb.
Right. So the next next one is that then we have find out their purpose, right? But they have not so we kind of let me give you, for example, do you remember you mentioned the moment, you said your thing was writing in third, but you work in the corporate world, right?
Because at that moment you already knew what you really want to do right to some of the way you knew you’re in the right place in the corporate. So you’re trying to make it to dition, right? Let’s put it this way. So yeah My Halal Kitchen. So this is the ultimate goal, I guess right. It doesn’t Category 3 or people find your purpose and follow your passion.
And the last thing which is maybe not least is that to make that thing as a source of living, source of income you can fully dedicate your life. So I see you as one of those people in that category. Would you agree with that?
Yvonne: Yeah. I think I would say yes by now. I mean, I don’t think my purpose is fully developed or realized. Sometimes I ask myself. What is the purpose? Like, am I doing the things that give purpose?
I’m always asking myself that question and I’m constantly looking to refine and tweak and really understand my purpose and you know, like how can I fulfill it better if I understand that it’s too, not just About hold all but like opening up people to understand and appreciate real stuff, real food nature respect consciousness.
Like, you know, I’m always asking myself. Am I doing enough of that good job and because of still more work to do, there’s so much work and I realized that when I was in Turkey recently, I really questioned myself that a lot when I was there.
Maruf: That’s very interesting. Yeah. It’s a little bit more about your recent journey to Turkey and what you were up to and what is next for My Halal Kitchen?
Yvonne: Yes. Oh, so another dream of mine was always to go International and especially into Turkey and Dubai and I was able to visit Dubai for food conference and check out the food scene, the business seeing there. That was really great and interesting but turkey is the place that stole my heart.
Maruf: Get so many varieties.
Yvonne: Yeah, I didn’t realize but in my vision board as a college student, I had turkey on my vision board.And before I knew anything about us or I was just intrigued by Turkey from a very young age. I didn’t know what and so I got there.
So I moved there on my third trip. My third trip was an actual move. But the reason I did it was because I went through another very difficult life change. My life is constantly, feels like it challenges me and I feel like I’m constantly starting over. I feel like I’m constantly making lemonade out of lemons and then I just like asked a lot. You know what please just guide me.
So I really don’t know what’s next and I was feeling really burnt out and the business seen in Chicago. I was tired and I was feeling like, you know, sometimes a place has an end to it. Like you’ve utilized everything that you could like.
I feel like my time in Chicago was done that I had like, it had given me so much and I respect it. It gave me a lot but I also had some challenging experiences there, but I was ready to move on and when I went Turkey, I told myself, you know, I’ll just go for a few months and see if I like it.
I mean after my second trip. I spoke in a world full of summit conferences and then I went South after being in Istanbul. I went South I fell in love with it because I thought it was like an Italian town and it reminded me of Italy with all the fruits and the training and I thought well, this is like Muslim place, but for a little bit like Italy.
And something I could kind of relate to and so I came home and I started packing up my apartment, got rid of my car and I went to Turkey and I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t tell too many people. I just was like I said, I had a really challenging personal experience in life, and I needed a break from everything.
And so I went. I just wanted quiet, you know, I want a quiet and I wanted to cook but I wanted to experience the fresh and fresh food. I was so tired of packaged food. I said if I see one more sticker on a fruit, I think I’m going to lose my mind. I really hate stickers up fruit or if I say more like boxes of food. This is not real food.
You know, I don’t know like something inside of me was just breaking. I thought I’m the over here advocating for real food and that had a, I’m not like I wasn’t living it to the way that I really wanted. And so going to Turkey was like my release and I live. I got an apartment close to their like up two boxes from the local market.
And I started to go to the fish market to get fresh fish and I felt alive again. I felt alive again. I felt like this is what food should be, this is what I want a life to be myself at least for a little while to kind of regroup and yes, no processed food. Everything was local and everything is seasonal and then I realized how difficult it was. It’s very difficult to make a recipe with pomegranates when they’re not in season.
You know Costco Magazine asked me to do a recipe and they wanted me to do it with pomegranate seeds and there were no pomegranates in the entire town. Not one and so because when they come on the tree their abundance, you can find as many as you want, but when they’re out of season.
And isn’t that the way, it was when we were kids isn’t that the way our grandparents ate and so here I realized, you know, I have to get a grip on the reality of what everybody faces in the US and then Western countries, not so much Europe, but that it’s not as easy as we would like it to be to eat seasonally to eat local, to eat organically.
You are an extremely privileged person if you get to do that, so it adjusted my reality, you know, like I’ve been fortunate to be able to do that. So the best that I could do was to show people. Okay. This is what eggs should look egg. Yolks should look like this yellow. I wanted to create a standard so that maybe back in the States people can demand more, demand better.
But also to realize the complexity of eating locally and eating seasonally, it’s not easy, but it’s not easy to cook like that. It’s not easy to cook from scratch everyday. So I needed a reality check as well. I think that was good for me to have a lot more empathy for people who can’t do that. I mean in Chicago, I mean I was cooking all the time because I could.
I don’t have kids so I wasn’t a busy mom like trying to juggle. So I really needed a reality check to kind of come more in line with you know, the challenges that people have cooking so that I could you know relate to them more but also at the same time I wanted everybody to see how beautiful something real is, right, the nature of foods, and that’s the stuff that really engaged people with this long being for the real Cherry, you know the beautiful non waxed lemon, you know things like that the simplest things.
But I think people really want that. They want that back and maybe now with the pandemic, you know, people are cooking more at home and they’re more in touch with their food. Then you touch and you cut and you chop and you cook. You were in an intimate relationship with that food and you appreciate a lot you smell things, you taste differently.
So I feel like at this point, you know, like I’m a lot closer with my audience because all of that.
Maruf: I mean that’s I mean, of course our life is always moving on we are so busy on the stories, but I mean that’s just been said so far. It’s been a beautiful story. I really enjoyed it. Is there any question I should have asked but I didn’t ask, you want to ask by yourself?
Yvonne: That’s a good question. Oh you when you wanted to know what was next, right?
Maruf: Yeah. Go ahead.
Yvonne: So, I’ve some interesting things. Io I gained a lot of insight in Turkey on Regional Turkish food, from the Aegean side, which most people talk about Mediterranean but the AGM is the beautiful lesser-known area. I mean it is known with tourists, but for food-wise.
Maruf: What is the city you mention?
Yvonne: I was in Fethiye. So I still have cooking class going on as soon as the tourism picks back up. I teach cooking classes there. So I take students to the local market. They come back home and we do edgy and style plant based.
Maruf: This was physical classes. You took the people physical, not online, right?
Yvonne: But I am gonna start virtual classes because that’s become a demand. So something brand-new I will be doing. My next cookbook is going to be working with a Doctor, she’s holistic on social media. We are working on a book together about healing foods and foods that boost your immunity and we started this project way before I went to Turkey before this endemic.
So we are working on this book that’s going to have information for people like medical information about foods that boost your immunity and reduce inflammation and they’re just healing foods and then I will be doing all the recipes for the book.
So I’m really excited about that because I feel like that’s that’s exactly where I am right now in life is you know, not just the Halal but that the pure, the healthy foods that are nutrient dense things from around the world, you know little secrets tease, you know things that people can do, can utilize in their cooking and you know drink like a nice herbal tea to relax themselves, but has lots of antioxidants.
Those are the things that we’re going to include in the book. I think we’ll just be like the next step forward for me is going beyond the Halal. Okay, you know wholesome and pure and getting back to the basics, getting back to the Earth. It’s so important.
Maruf: That sounds exciting. I wish you all the best. Tell us where the listeners can find you, follow you on social media.
Yvonne: So everything is on at myhalalkitchen.com my website and Instagram and Facebook. And then yeah, if anybody’s interested in my cooking classes, I post there but I also have an Instagram called Cook and Fethiye so that’s about my cooking classes.
If anybody wants to get to Turkey once the errors restrictions are lifted. We hope that we’ll be soon but not too soon for health purposes. So, you know, we do have to be optimistic, right?
Maruf: Sounds good. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. May Allah give you success in your life and to your Halal Kitchen.
YvonneYou have a wonderful podcast and thank you so much for having me. I’m so honored.
Maruf: It’s a pleasure. Assalamu alaikum!