While many kids grew up with a meal rotation of the same few dinners, my siblings and I were very fortunate to order off the menu from Red Rock Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia – my father’s first culinary establishment! People packed in like sardines, night after night, just to eat my dad’s amazing food—an eclectic mix of international flavors, influenced by his Eastern European roots and ultimately the melting pot of Australia. My memories of those days are strong and vivid. If I close my eyes, I could easily be standing next to him in the kitchen; incredible aromas, pots clanking…
My dad was often yelling for me to “get out of the kitchen” for fear of me getting hurt. Hot foods, flames, pots and pans flying, as well knives chopping and slicing at every turn. I was defiant and insisted on being by his side. It was exciting and dramatic and I loved it. I wasn’t leaving. Little did I realize how much culinary expertise I was learning and absorbing.
The best part, for me, was being able to see and learn the behind-the-scenes secrets of a great chef. My dad created all of his own recipes. Never used a book in his life; cooked from the heart and the soul; made everything from scratch; eye-balled everything and rarely measured anything. That’s how I learned to cook, from the gut. I watched him spend days reducing bones and aromatics into rich and complex stocks and sauces. I was often his taste tester and that was the best job a little girl could ask for.
Life as a chef was far from easy. My dad would never accept anything less than perfection and he aspired to please every customer. Ironically, chefs typically don’t eat well on the job—there’s simply no time. My dad would often sit down to dinner at midnight when he got home. Not great for digestion or sleep. I often wondered how he was able to work so hard and how it must have been affecting his health on the inside.
In 2000, I moved to New York City for what I thought would be a short time.
About a year and a half after I moved, my father had a massive heart attack. Although he recovered from that first attack, he was hit with another one about four years later. And then, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember sitting with intense feelings of sadness, fear and helplessness upon receiving this news. Two and a half years later, he was hit with final heart attack and I was told to come home…it was time to say goodbye. It was excruciating to deal with such news from afar, especially because I had always carried the burden of worry that his years of smoking and general lifestyle choices would eventually catch up with him. At 67, he was finally taken from my family, far too young.
My fathers health struggles, that first emerged nearly 14 years ago, led me along a path of self-exploration and education. My long and intense journey with my father, earned me an understanding of the powerful interconnections between diet and lifestyle and one’s wellness.
Armed with six years of studies in psychology and social work from Australia, I would further my education in New York, pursuing studies in holistic health and wellness for the next six years. I received my Personal Training Certification, became a Holistic Health and Wellness Coach and then received my certification as a Detoxification Specialist. Each step deepened my knowledge of how the mind, body and soul—really, every aspect of our lives—work together to create a vibrant, healthy body.
What began as a personal quest built into so much more. “Thrive with Kirsti Pesso” was born out of my deep desire to support others in practicing preventive health through diet and lifestyle choices; I want to empower people to take their health into their own hands before it takes a terrible turn.
My father is the force that led me on a path to helping others live a life of vibrant, thriving health. Indeed, I lost him too early, but because of everything he taught me, because of the challenging nature of our relationship, and as a result of his health issues, I am where and who I am today. For the opportunities and for challenge and growth, I will be forever grateful.
The kitchen is my absolute happy place.
A place that is filled with a lifetime of special memories; a place to which I go when I need to escape for a time and find joy. To have the opportunity to connect with myself; share love; to nurture family and friends; and to teach others how to heal and nourish with food, truly is a gift, one that my father gave to me and our family. A gift I get to keep forever.
I hope you’ll come along for the Thrive ride, so you can live a life of balance, health and vitality! I know my dad is looking down today with a full heart and huge smile, knowing that he still gets to spend time with his girl, every day, in the kitchen and knowing that this little girl is helping others every single day!