Peace, Love & Bonberi: September Cover Nicole Berrie on her new book, intuitive eating, her support system and more!
This story starts the way most things do these days: with an Amazon order. I purchased Nicole Berrie’s cookbook, because I wanted to go deeper than the squares on her feed or the movements in her Reels. It’s true Body Harmony is a cookbook, but after reading the whole thing cover to cover I understood it was way more than that. It’s a manifesto. A memoir. A declaration. It brings its reader on the journey of self-discovery and intuitive eating that Nicole herself went on, that brought her to where she is today living a high-energy, high-vitality lifestyle. I want that too, I thought, as I tagged recipe after recipe, one sounding more delicious than the next. After tagging, I made a shopping list and headed to Whole Foods, determined to stock my fridge and pantry with a combination of the fruits and vegetables I already often had around, with the Asian condiments and staples prevalent in Nicole’s recipes. The next morning I started small, eating fruit on an empty stomach (one of her easy-to-remember rules). I’m normally a savory breakfast type of person so this was a departure for me, and I have to say it felt good. It was refreshing and bright and left me feeling full without the bloat I commonly get after a big plate of eggs and toast. The next morning, in an effort to listen to my body (one of her guiding philosophies), I made myself the heartier Mama Love smoothie because I felt hungry. It combined almond butter and banana with spinach and spirulina, flavors I would have never thought to mix together. It kept me full until lunch. Later on I tackled her Pink Hummus, made with beets and chickpeas and the juice from an orange. The garlic and spices and lemon juice made it tangy, sweet and savory all at once—plus it felt good to make my own hummus instead of buying one in a plastic container from the store. Less waste makes me happy, as does delicious dips.
Over the weekend I plan to make a few other recipes from her book, along with setting up my juicer that’s been sitting in its box for months. I’m not vegan or gluten-free, nor do I plan to be, but incorporating some of Nicole’s philosophies about intuitive eating, food combining, and plant-forward cooking just feels right for me right now. My body could use some more energy and I’m also craving some new habits to add to my already health-conscious—but by no means perfectly healthy—life. For the first time I’m just going with what feels good and listening to my core. And I guess that’s all she wants from us anyway.
CP: Tell me a little bit about the origin story of your brand, Bonberi.
NB: I grew up in a family that celebrated food. My mom is Korean and my dad is an American Russian-Jew so everything revolved around food and I developed a love and joy around it. But that took a bit of a detour when I was in my pre-teens and adolescence. I kind of disconnected with that joy and instead it became this confusion and fear around food, like what it could do to me, how I could restrict it, control it, all those things, and I carried that with me through my teens and 20’s. When I began working in magazines I was really propelled by this go-go-go attitude of New York City, and that life only compounded my fear around food. Plus it was reinforced by my peers, by the world around me, because it was normal to have an issue with food but not to really name it. We were going on these yo-yo cleanses and fad diets. We were peddling these cleanses to women nationwide but we didn’t even have a hold on what made us feel good, so it was kind of like the blind leading the blind. That lifestyle really took a toll on me emotionally, spiritually, and I just hit a wall where I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was really drained and I knew there was a better way, so I became interested in alternative healing and other holistic ways of eating, like veganism. I started digging deep. While I was working I would scour online vegan blogs, and find hole-in-the-wall healers, acupuncturists, colon therapists, all these things. I started to uncover this whole underworld of healers that were not mainstream at all.
CP: Around what year was this?
NB: Around 2008, maybe? This is pre-Goop, pre-wellness with a capital “W”. It was weird. And I didn’t like it because it was weird, I liked it because those people did not care what the outside looked like, they just cared about healing in every modality. The more that I learned and absorbed, the more I started to shift. It took a while, but then I felt confident enough to want to share my findings and expose them in an editorial way. I thought, why isn’t there a place online that’s beautiful like Style.com, which existed back then, but introducing the world of wellness? There were all these crunchy, weird blogs but there wasn’t a beautiful online magazine with beautiful photography, editing, and a point of view. So I decided to launch an online magazine with a friend, and the tagline was “A curated guide to food, mind, and wellbeing,” and we interviewed all different people from all walks of life. Yes healers, but also artists, chefs, models, fashion designers. We asked them about what they wore, what they put on their face, what were they eating to feel good, what was their meditation practice, what were their self care rituals.
CP: And you had these connections because you worked in magazines at the time?
NB: Yes and no. We cold-emailed a lot of people, really well-known accomplished people, and to my surprise a lot of them said yes. So we got to go into Michelin Star kitchens, I mean, Jean-Georges [Vongerichten], we didn’t know him, and he was just like “sure!”. He met us at Jean-Georges uptown and made an asparagus dish and it was the most generous thing for him to do with his time. Obviously as we grew and built our roster, we started to earn this cult status, because other than Goop, we earned an authority voice in wellness because we were one of the first. The website grew and when Instagram launched we started to share a little bit of our articles on there. On the side I started testing recipes, veganizing things, and the recipes were really popular. People would really gravitate towards them, particularly on Instagram with all the comments and the likes, and I realized that the interest was shifting towards recipes. Then I had my first child, Jude, and my friend that I launched the business with launched her own business so we took a beat. When he was a year old I wanted to pick it back up and relaunch it on my own as a recipe blog. We did interviews here and there, but I was really just into content creating and recipes. It just developed into this cult place for people to come for informative, delicious, but also healing, recipes.
In 2018 a big real estate company was reviving Bleecker Street, this was pre-Covid when retail was sort of on its way out. It turns out the head of marketing was a huge Bonberi fan and they asked me, “What would you do if you made a pop-up?” For me it was that I always wanted an opportunity for my followers to taste the recipes. I mean, sure, they were making them on their own but it would be really cool for someone to just walk in, grab a bowl of mine, and go. And also to have a curated selection of brands that we feature on the website so it’s almost like a real-life Bonberi IRL. So the concept for Bonberi Mart was born. I grew up in and out of the city and I always loved the corner delis where you can go in and get a pack of cigarettes, a toothbrush and a gatorade—but Bonberi Mart was how I translated that into what my lifestyle is now.
I had just had my daughter Sea who was about 3 weeks old when we started. I figured out how to get my food safety license, I researched where to find commercial kitchens, I posted on chatboards to find line cooks. I was cooking for the first 8 months with line cooks, driving to Brooklyn, cooking until 11pm, driving back, pumping, literally pumping in the car crying. My husband was bringing the bowls back and forth from the kitchen to the store. It was such an intense time. But the great thing is that when we opened in September of 2018 I had this built-in audience, this built-in community that was ready. I didn’t have to market it, we just opened our doors and people flooded in from everywhere. They came from all parts of the world like Germany, Australia, the Upper East Side—we were downtown and it was so hard to come from the Upper East Side (laughing). But they came! It was only meant to be six months, and then we extended another six months, and then another six months, another six months until it was a year and a half and we were like, “Ok, this is like a real thing”. Now we have a location in the West Village, and a second location in SoHo. We opened this store in July 2020 deep in the pandemic, because we were considered an essential business. There was nothing more essential in my mind than healthy, nourishing food.
But deep down I’m a writer through and through. That’s what my dream was when I was little, that was my dream in college. I studied journalism and I wrote for my college paper. I remember on weekends being hungover getting the New York Times Style Section and sitting at random coffee shops, highlighting each article. I had a document saved called Words, which my college boyfriend would make fun of me about, but it was just filled with words I loved. Cathy Horn was my idol. I used that passion and skill with Bonberi, but as the media started to whittle down my writing has been relegated to writing captions on Instagram. I still always dreamt of having a long form project, reviving that part of me that I really love. I had a proposal for a cookbook for four years that I had shopped around. I was told “no” many many times—that I needed 150K followers to even be considered, that my book had to have the word “diet” in it for it to sell on Amazon. And I’m like, “But did you hear what my book is about?! It’s the opposite of that!” So I held onto it. About two years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to her editor, and I dusted off that same proposal.
CP: And it still felt relevant?
NB: Yeah, to me it felt evergreen. My message in Body Harmony is how to tap into freeing yourself from compulsion, from the constant feeling that you need to be led and told what to do when it comes to nourishing yourself. We all have the divine knowledge to nourish ourselves and that to me is a message that hasn’t been circulating at all. And it’s tricky with the term “wellness” now, with wellness being what it’s become. Certain diets, methods, and regimens are now marketed as “wellness” so it gets even more confusing. It’s so tricky to navigate this world, to empower ourselves so that we actually know how to nourish ourselves. My book Body Harmony really walks you through, holds your hand, through that process tapping back into your intuition with over 100 recipes to fuel you and help you get on your way.
CP: So let’s talk about wellness then. If you could take that word and strip it from everything it’s come to mean these past five years, what would you say the definition is?
NB: Wellness to me is how to feel good—and that is extremely individual and extremely personal. It’s not easy to market individualized wellness. What works for me may not work for you and what works for me in August will not work for me in January. It shifts, it ebbs and flows, so really wellness to me is tuning out the external noise and tapping into your intuition to follow what physically, spiritually and emotionally feels good for you. That to me is wellness.
CP: I love that. So I want to go back earlier in your story where you talked about the beginning of opening the popup, and you had just had your daughter and you were cooking until 11pm and pumping in the car and all that. To what do you attribute getting through that time?
NB: I always say that becoming a mother has made me more prolific than I ever have been. It’s created this fearlessness in me. Prior to becoming a mom I was always a little timid and self-conscious, and didn’t really believe in myself that much. But becoming a mother the first time with my son, whether it was going through labor or whether it was those first few months or that first year—for me that first year was the biggest mind F of my life.
CP: I agree completely! For me even up until my daughter was 2.5 I was like, “What is happening?!”
NB: (laughing) Yeah, that’s accurate for me, too. I just wasn’t prepared at all. So it really peeled away so many layers, and what you can get through those first two years you become so much stronger and so much more sure of yourself. So I attribute being able to accomplish that with, first of all, a really good support system. Whether it’s our nanny, my mom is very hands on, my husband is very hands on, these are people that helped me create Bonberi. Beyond that though, I really do do everything for my kids, I’m creating this for them. It gives me a purpose and it feels really good. I grew up thinking I would be more of a stay-at-home mom person and I’m so not that now. I definitely battle with the guilt, but I really am proud of the example I’m setting for my kids. My mom was a stay-at-home mom so I didn’t have that blueprint—my dad worked but my mom was there all the time. There’s guilt around the fact that I’m a different mother, but neither is better.
CP: Has there been a moment with your kids recently where something happened and you felt like this is all paying off? That the example you’re setting for them, all this hard work you’re putting in, the time away from them, was there a moment where you thought, “This is why I do this”?
NB: Just the other day on our way to camp, we stopped at the store to pick up snacks and food and as we were leaving my son Jude said, “Do other mommies have stores where they can go in and get stuff?” I said, “Some do, but not everyone, so you’re really lucky that you can come in and pick any snack you want anytime.” That was pretty funny. And we were walking down the street earlier in the summer and we passed a bookstore that had my book in the window. Usually I’ll point it out or at Barnes & Noble I’ll be like, “Look!” but they don’t care, they just want to go to the kids section. But I didn’t say anything this time and we kept walking. Then Sea yelled, “Look it’s mommy’s book!” and to myself I was like, “That’s cool.”
CP: That’s amazing and must’ve felt so good! As far as your food philosophy goes and being a mom to two young kids, how do you balance that with the hectic, busy lives you lead and the fact that kids are hard to nourish sometimes?
NB: I always say my kids are my biggest teacher because pre-motherhood I thought I was going to recreate the Garden of Eden for my kids and they would be the perfect specimens. And then they were born (laughs), and it was an entirely different situation. My son actually suffers from multiple allergies which had me shift a lot and was really humbling. I saw this great meme on Instagram that said, “Yes I have my raw milk dealer on speed dial, and yes sometimes I can’t deal and I give my kids Chick-fil-A, and yes I’m against big pharma but also…” it just captured the reality of it all. I think becoming a mom just makes you so much more chill with everything, at least that was the case for me.
That said, I’ve created good foundations and routines with the kids that help us take the guesswork out of things. We have our go-to meals that are always on rotation, that the kids love and that are also nutrient dense. I separate things into fun, routine and non-negotiables, so for me a non-negotiable is having a juice or a smoothie in the morning. Obviously not 365 days, but most days we do. We’ve created a fun routine around it, my kids make it with me, it’s sweet and delicious with lots of apples and fruits and lemon. Once I know they’ve had that, if we steer off later it’s ok. Some meals we have pasta, but it’s good quality brown rice spaghetti pasta. I’m not a big hider-of-veggies in meals, but I know sometimes we have to do it to not fight that battle every day. So I’ll blend greens into my sauce. I always like to put one green thing on the plate for them. My son is obsessed with avocado sandwiches, they’re really avocado toasts with two pieces of bread, and he’s been having that for lunch for years.
CP: My daughter just ate an entire avocado for breakfast this morning, just cut up with JF Universal Salt and done.
NB: Right, it’s so good! I think my first year of motherhood I put so much pressure on myself, I was making these elaborate Instagram-worthy dishes, but I wasn’t posting them, they were just for him. It was so much work, and I think it’s fine to do that, but I realized that if they want to eat the same thing 8 days a week, and they like it, then just go with it. I think whatever is most convenient—as my life has gotten busier I just stick to those tried-and-true meals and then I sprinkle in something new here and there and see how it goes. Nobody is doing it perfectly, everyone has the same struggles and I just think this too shall pass, everything is a phase. You forget that when you’re in it, but then you get past it.
CP: And what about you? What’s your go-to meal for you and your husband? When you’re fried and burnt out and you can’t think of cooking one more thing.
NB: Pasta! (laughing)
CP: I feel like that’s everybody’s answer (laughing).
NB: Exactly. Or ordering in. Tonight I’m going to order pizza. A lot of time when you’re cooking and you’re surrounded by the food world you just want to order in. I’ve also been really into making these tostadas where I take a corn tortilla and put them in the toaster oven and I add guac, some sauteed zucchini, and hot sauce. I like crunchy things so lately some tostada situation or easy tacos.
CP: That’s a really good idea. So where are you going to order pizza from?
NB: There’s this vegan and gluten-free place in the West Village called Wild, so I’ll usually do that. But I have a whole Bonberi way of eating the pizza, where I broil it at home making sure it’s really crispy, and then I add a whole box of arugula on it with some sprouts. That’s my go-to.
CP: We have four minutes left on my non-upgraded version of Zoom (laughs) so I have one last question for you. We’re coming up on back-to-school, do you have any tips regarding food, snacks or lunch?
NB: Definitely always have a stocked fridge when it comes to produce. Kids love the little Persian cucumbers, they’re sweeter, they’re more fun; big carrots, not baby carrots, store them sliced up in ice water to keep them nice and crunchy; definitely leafy greens so you can just pop them in a smoothie. I make pre-made smoothie bags for my freezer. I fill a Stasher bag with a very ripe banana, greens, and mango, put it in the freezer, then just pull it out and add coconut water. And if you’re making lunches I would say don’t over stress it. Always include the healthy thing, but also include one treat to make them feel good about it.
Steal Nicole’s morning juice trick for a no-fail way to get veggies into your kids’ bellies.
4-5 leaves of lacinato kale
4-6 stalks celery
1 head of romaine
1/2 lemon (if you like it really tart, do a whole)
1 Fuji apple
2 green apples
Optional: 1 knob of ginger
1 handful of cilantro
1 bulb and stalk of fennel
Using a centrifugal juicer (if you have a masticating juicer , same quantities apply, you just might have to cut vegetables smaller), press all the ingrediants through the feed chute Enjoy juice immediately.
Body Harmony is available at bookstores and online book resources now
Photo: Yumi Matsuo | yumimatsuostudio.com
Hair & Makeup: Buffy Hernandez | buffysaintmarie.com
Cover Story: Cris Pearlstein | crispearlstein.com
Produced by: Donna Duarte Ladd
Clothing credits: Hellessy New York | hellessy.com
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