Dawn Viola, the owner of This Honest Food, a holistic teaching kitchen and kitchen retail store, was welcomed to the community at a ceremonial ribbon cutting officiated by the South Lake Chamber of Commerce and attended by Clermont Mayor Gail Ash and members of the community.
Dawn is a nutrition expert, culinary instructor and certified executive chef with a master’s degree in health and nutrition education. After a successful career in marketing, she switched her focus to food when she was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. She launched This Honest Food online in 2016 as a way to help those with food allergies, diabetes, heart disease, and other autoimmune diseases get back on the path to better health through healthy cooking. Chef Dawn has appeared on Food Network, Martha Stewart, Cooking with Emeril, and has won multiple gold and silver medals for her professional cooking.
I met with Dawn to find out a little about the new member of the South Lake Business Community
TABLET: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Dawn: I grew up in Coventry, Rhode Island, and received my bachelor’s degree in visual design from Swain School at The University of Massachusetts. My family moved to Orlando in 1990, and I followed after graduation in ’91. I have worked as an art and creative director in the advertising industry for 18 years in both Florida and Rhode Island.
TABLET: Was there a specific moment when you realized that you had an interest in healthy cooking?
Dawn: About twelve years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, which I’ve had my entire life, but doctors were never able to pinpoint. I’m allergic to legumes, which includes soy and soy products, peanuts, beans of every kind, additives like guar and carob bean gums, bean sprouts, jicama, tamarind, and anything that falls into the legume category. In addition, I’m allergic to a few tree nuts and have sensitivities to gluten, melon, and a few nightshades.
I had to suddenly cook everything from scratch, and thought if I have to cook that way for the rest of my life, I should learn how to do it the right way. I enrolled in culinary school to learn as much as I could about food, cooking, and nutrition and realized how simple cooking can be once someone showed you how. I knew at that moment, I wanted to teach culinary. I was researching and learning as much as I could about my food allergies and trying to understand how conventional medicine had failed me for 30+ years. I was lucky I stumbled onto functional medicine and holistic nutrition. I enrolled in graduate school soon after and earned a master’s degree in health and nutrition education.
TABLET: When did you decide to become a nutritionist?
Dawn: Functional medicine and holistic nutrition was the missing link for me. Each follows a “root-cause resolution” approach to health. Rather than masking symptoms with medication, which is what conventional medical doctors tried on me for years without success. Functional medicine and holistic nutrition look at the root of the problem. They access why the problem happens in the first place and addresses that cause to bring the body back to good health. They also practice a food-as-medicine approach as part of the healing processing.
The moment I was able to make the connection between my own health problems and food and discovered the functional and holistic approach to healing, I knew I wanted to teach and help others. I never wanted anyone to feel the way I did when I was diagnosed with food allergies. In order to help people in the best way, I felt I needed to obtain a master’s in nutrition. Since culinary school, I’ve been on a mission to help others in similar situations, with a vision to create a space where the community could come in for cooking lessons and wellness seminars, along with a retail area where they could purchase the tools to help them cook healthy meals at home.
It took me about 10 years, but I was finally able to create that space this year — This Honest Food.
TABLET: Tell me about This Honest Food. I’ve heard you have appeared on TV shows, competed against other chefs, received awards–you’re a Clermont celebrity. Can you tell me a little about your experiences?
Dawn: I’m extremely competitive, competing against myself and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to compete with other chefs. I began participating in cooking competitions while in culinary school through the American Culinary Federation. Thanks to some incredible mentors within that organization, I began winning silver and gold medals as a professional after graduation. Most recently, I appeared on Food Network, competing on their newest show, Cooks vs. Cons – it’s a bit like a mash-up of “To Tell the Truth” and “Chopped.” Two professional chefs compete alongside two home cooks, but only the producers of the show know who is who. I won the $10K grand prize, which helped me to open my teaching kitchen and store this year.
I’ve appeared on Food Network one other time, about ten years ago, when I won the Food Network Challenge during the Pie Championships held in Celebration. I had the best apple pie in America that year. I’ve also appeared on Fox News, The Daily Buzz, Martha Stewart Radio, NPR. My recipes have been published in various magazines and newspapers. Every appearance though has been and continues to be, an opportunity to bring awareness to making better food choices and cooking from scratch, with the hope of helping someone out there listening.
TABLET: Why did you pick Clermont to launch your business?
Dawn: We’ve lived in Clermont for about seven years, and I wanted to have my business where I live so that I can support and give back to my community.
TABLET: Tell me about the classes you will be offering
Dawn: We offer a variety of classes – everything from wellness seminars like “How to Keto,” “How to Eat Organic on a Budget,” and “Food as Medicine,” to cooking classes and demos like “DIY Coconut and Nut Milks,” “Beginners Guide to Fermentation,” and family nights like “Fresh Pasta Making” and “Build a Better Taco Night.”
TABLET: Any future plans to expand or any other projects in the works?
Dawn: I’m in the process of converting my master’s thesis into a cookbook, which will contain many of the recipes we cook during classes in the teaching kitchen. My thesis is also the basis on which my entire company was formed – real food, from scratch, simply prepared, organic whenever possible, all with a “food as medicine” approach to healing or maintaining good health.
TABLET: Do you have any additional information that you’d like to share with the SOUTH LAKE TABLET readers?
DAWN: We’re located in the Clermont Landing Plaza, next to Kay Jewelers in the building across from Epic Theater, 2419 S. Highway 27, Suite 200. We’ll be open Wednesday – Saturday, 11 am – 7 pm and Sundays 11 am – 5 pm.
Visit our website at www.ThisHonestFood to sign up for cooking classes and for 10% off in the retail store with the purchase of any class. The community can also sign up for classes inside the store as well. Everything in the store has been sourced with healthy cooking in mind, so there is very little plastic or silicon. We’re also independently and family owned and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive community support we’ve received. We’re excited to cook with everyone.
Registration is now open for This Honest Food’s Culinary Summer Boot Camps.
Three different camps will run during selected dates in July:
Ages 9 – 11 July 30 – Aug. 2
Ages 12 – 14 July 16- 19
Ages 15 – 18. July 23 – 26
Camps run Monday – Thursday from 9 am-noon.