At the core of Flora ex Machina, there is a desire to educate, expand, uncomplicate, and unite our audience as we share our knowledge of the health and wellness world. It has been a longtime vision of mine to share the voices, musings, and expertise of those who have inspired me and have shaped my own path to expansion. We’re welcoming a new series to our online journal, The Muses – a compilation of interviews with creatives, healers, practitioners, and allover amazing and inspiring people who I turn to for advice, inspiration and knowledge. To kick off our newest addition is Rachael Harper, who years ago began Flora with me back when it was a blog where two co-workers were able to express and share our creativity with the world. Years later, Rachael is still bringing her honed creative culinary genius to the world.
Alle Weil: Rachael! There is no one who could begin this series other than you! You were an integral part of Flora’s birth and development. Can you briefly tell us more about yourself and your offerings?
Rachael Harper: I’m originally from Northern CA where I spent much of my youth exploring the mountains and developing a love for and fascination with native plants and their uses- for both culinary and medicinal uses. My mother and I would hike the foothills of the Sierras identifying and foraging for native plants.
My family is Italian, so cooking and learning recipes handed down from my great-grandmother, who I was lucky enough to know for a portion of my childhood, had a huge impact on my interests and how I spent many days – growing our food and cooking with my mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother. When I began looking at universities and trying to choose my area of study, I landed on Nutrition since the belief that “food is medicine” had been a cornerstone of my lifestyle and upbringing. About half way through my studies I began working in restaurant kitchens and found a lot of joy in the hard work and camaraderie therein.
I decided to leave school and focus my attention on cooking professionally. After studying at the Matthew Kenney school for vegan cooking, I became an instructor for the academy for a few years before transitioning to working at upscale restaurants where I worked every kitchen station, learned pastry and viennoiserie, as well as also helping to open a couple restaurants in Los Angeles.
Currently I live in Brooklyn, New York where I work as a private chef and content creator. My work is a fusion of ten years of my study and application of cooking high-end cuisine, pastry, herbalism, and a range of therapeutic diets.
AW: Flora ex Machina, as you of course know, has many meanings, one of which is derived from deus ex machina – that sudden pivotal moment that helps to resolve the seemingly unsolvable difficulty. Did you have a particular “ah ha” moment in your life that either led you to the path you are on or helped you overcome a difficult time in your life?
RH: I wouldn’t say that there was a specific “ah-ha” moment that led me to the path I’m currently on.
If anything, I feel that my path is still evolving and that journey has been a slow push against the expected path I thought I should take. It stems from a deep understanding of what I know my purpose and passions to be. We are all taught that “the path to success” is paved by the succession of attending college, graduating, and finding that job that will provide assured security and purpose. I decidedly did not take this path and this can cause moments of doubts and insecurity.
In that sense, in choosing to forge my own path and finding joy in my work, I have many small “ah-ha’s”, each one reinforcing my certainty in the direction I’m going.
AW: Wellness is a term that has ballooned to mean so many different things. In a world of endless variations, what does wellness mean to you and how do you stay well?
RH: Wellness is a constant battle for me. I’m really good at taking care of other people. It’s where I find purpose and happiness. Taking care of myself often becomes the last thing on the long list of my day.
In that respect, wellness means simply checking in and taking an honest inventory of what my body is telling me I need. Usually that means going to a yoga class after work. For me this is a double duty wellness step, keeping my body healthy since my work can be physically draining, as well as helping to focus and clear my thoughts at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s just stopping to drink water, sit, and take some deep breaths.
I also listen to healing frequencies and Kundalini mantras either while working or riding the subway– this really helps me feel calm and focused throughout the day.
AW: While dietary and wellness needs/desires differ for everyone, I do find that providing examples of daily practices can help to inspire people to create good and healthy habits. Do you have a wellness routine that you follow every day, week, or month?
RH: I always end the day with a steam shower with essential oil, it’s usually balsam fir (for me the ultimate calming scent). It is a practice that makes me feel at ease, pampered, and ready to wind down to sleep.
At least a couple times a week I also wake up early and drink a big glass of water, light a candle, meditate and do my breathing exercises for about half an hour before starting my day.
When I don’t have my morning or evening practices I find it harder to stay focused and take care of myself during the rest of the day.
AW: Are there any supplements, therapies, practices, or skin/food products that you incorporate often or can’t live without?
RH: I like to keep a few tinctured herbs with me everywhere I go. Avena Botanicals makes a blended tincture with ashwaganda, fresh milky oat tops and holy basil, called Daily Balance. This, and the Rose Petal Elixir are my two helpers that I add to my water everyday to help me feel calm and present everywhere I go.
Another favorite product to keep in my bag is the Flora ex Machina Mist Immortelle. Because it’s antibacterial and tonifying, it’s really my all-in-one product. After walking around the city, cooking in a hot kitchen, and riding the train I want to bathe in it. It also smells absolutely magical.
AW: Best kept or underrated wellness secret?
RH: Get enough sleep and hydrate. It’s the answer to almost everything.
AW: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their journey into natural wellness and seeking guidance on where to start?
RH: Try not to get overwhelmed by all of the differing opinions and options that are available to you. I find that keeping things simple is always the best option. I believe that a solid understanding of one or two healing modalities that you can confidently implement into your life is more beneficial than a general smattering of multiple practices.
Start with one thing and dive into it. Live it. Become well versed and comfortable in that practice and then start expanding your horizons.
AW: Lastly, is there a phrase, mantra, or words of wisdom you’d like to share that is resonating with you at the moment?
RH: A Morgan Harper Nichols quote– “How liberating it is to pursue wholeness over perfection”
Rachael is a private chef and baker, food stylist, and content creator with a focus on therapeutic diets and herbalism.
Growing up in Northern California, she learned to appreciate from a young age the importance of using local and organically grown foods— and how our health and the health of the planet are interconnected to the food cycle and farming practices. After a brief stint in college studying nutrition, she pivoted to the hands-on world of cooking.
In Los Angeles she attended the Matthew Kenney Academy where she quickly transitioned to working as an academy instructor, as well as developing and filming both raw and cooked vegan cooking courses in California and Maine. She’s also honed her skills in restaurant kitchens as a line cook, baker, sous chef, and pastry chef at restaurants such as Gjusta in Venice Beach, Tartine Bakery in DTLA, Wolf in West Hollywood, and Botanica in Silver Lake.
Rachael now works as a private chef in NYC and Brooklyn with a focus on combining her love for the best seasonal, local foods and healing modalities with the expertise and inspiration garnered from working in the high-end restaurant industry.