Elyse Cohen is an innovator, a connector, a champion of the good food movement. She started her trailblazing career developing national health marketing campaigns that focused on food and nutrition, which led to building out the Let’s Move! Campaign alongside the singular & iconic Michelle Obama, and inspiring hundreds of thousands of children to live healthier lives. She now dedicates her time serving on the boards of DC Central Kitchen, The Jewish Food Experience, and the Give Healthy Campaign, and leads the food, health, & wellness business portfolio within the Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Basically, she's busy... Her leadership has touched the lives of so many. She’s created meaningful and wide scale impact, and her work behind the scenes has tangibly changed the way our country thinks about food. And that is nothing short of inspiring. It’s the kind of stunning contribution that motivates us to work to create a better world. Her career has taught her to appreciate food in a deeper and complex way, and that has impacted the way she shops, cooks and eats. In a real way, her pantry reflects her experience in life, work and relationships. Let’s take a look inside...
- "My style is simple, local, seasonal and globally inspired. Food is something that brings people and community together. There’s something special that happens when a diverse group of people are surrounded by food and meaningful conversation. The table and food often feel like a safe space that cultivates rich dialogue and brings different cultures together. It’s also something that excites me when I travel. I recently traveled to South Africa and Spain, and one of my favorite things to do when I travel is go to the local market, pick up local products, and being able to buy things while I travel that I can use to entertain. Some of the most special moments in life are in the kitchen, and eating with friends and family. I always say that I want my home and my kitchen to be a gathering place - a place that friends, family, and once strangers can stop by at any time and I’ll have something delicious to provide them with (even if it’s just a glass a wine).
- I love that food can be a universal tool for conversation and creates shared experiences. It can be a channel for bringing about challenging conversations and it’s also become a topic of political debate. Food has a dual meaning for me because it embodies so much of my personal life (cooking is no doubt, my stress reliever no matter the time of day or night), but it has also been a huge part of my career. When I started my career, food, nutrition, and wellness weren’t “buzz” words the way they are today. I’m fortunate in that my work has enabled me to have a real appreciation for something as simple as a healthful meal. I didn’t always think about where my food came from, how it was priced, the farmers that helped grow it, or how it got from the farm to my table, or a grocery shelf - and how blessed I was to even have access to it. The one thing I’ve always been sure of was my desire to help create healthier communities and people - and finding the innovative ways to make that happen. My commitment to ensuring more people have easy access to these experiences, resources, and environments continues to be a journey and I’m still learning every day.
- I get inspired in the kitchen and through the internet. I take a quick inventory of what’s around and through a few clicks I’ve got myself a recipe. Sometimes I work the other way around and see an image online that catches my attention (I love visuals). The seasons also inspire me. We’re approaching fall in DC despite what it feels like outside and I love fall vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. I’ve also been known to browse cookbooks before I go to sleep.
markets & shopping
- The farmers market is the absolute way to my heart and my favorite way to spend a weekend morning. This was a special weekend because I was able to hit the Dupont FRESHFARM Market, the U St farmer’s market, Whole Foods (for non dairy yogurt), and Trader Joe’s for some staples. I also placed a recent online order at Thrive Market. What I love about shopping for food is the experience (except for those wild Trader Joe’s line). There is something so special about walking through a market and touching, tasting, and smelling fresh foods. A lot of that comes from my appreciation for the seasons, but also allowing me to meet the people that are growing the food we eat.
- Working in food and being conscious about the challenges we face in our food system (like quality, hunger, food insecurity, and food waste), I try to do the little things I can to make an impact. Hungry Harvest is one company I use that aims to overcome many of these issues - It’s a fresh produce delivery service on a mission to fight food waste & hunger and they deliver fresh fruits and vegetables right to my door! They make use of “ugly, rejected” fruits and vegetables that may otherwise go to waste simply because of a blemish or overharvesting. They also provide access to affordable fruits & veggies through their Produce in a SNAP program and donations to local organizations. (The founder was also a former intern where I work and they were featured on Shark Tank:-) I’m all about business and innovation, especially around the issues I care deeply about - so what’s not to love?
fridge must haves
- My fridge is always stocked with avocados (if they’re already ripe), non dairy milk, dijon mustard, hummus (my favorite is achla hummus), eggs, almond butter from Trader Joe’s, fresh herbs and vegetables galore. I also always have cooked sweet potatoes (for a snack, smoothies, salads, and as a side dish when I’m entertaining), and ALWAYS frozen bananas in the freezer. I use frozen bananas to make frozen yogurt, yummy desserts, and smoothies. We’re chatting on a Sunday, which is my meal prep day so you’re getting a pretty stocked fridge. I usually make a large salad for the week with all different goodies. This week’s is arugula, Banza chickpea pasta with cucumber, peppers, fresh basil from my Mom’s garden, and tomatoes from Hungry Harvest. I eat the salad throughout the week. When my week gets busy it’s nice to know that there’s something healthy that’s already prepared. It makes my coworkers jealous (or so I like to think!
- I always have beans (black or chickpeas), cacao powder, dark chocolate, honey (sweetener of choice), olive oil (I always have several), and vinegars in my pantry. With a few simple ingredients you can always whip up a dressing to toss over roasted veggies, salads, or proteins. I could spend a lot of time in those oil and vinegar tasting stores…. There’s always a grain like quinoa or barley and oats - I can never be out of oats or we’re in trouble. I use them for oatmeal, overnight oats, baked goods, my special cacao & oat energy balls, and granola bars ( I probably eat too many).
- I love my vitamix! Simply put, it’s amazing! I can honestly say that there’s nothing it can’t do. I use it several times a day. When I was unsure about making the purchase, a chef I was working with at the White House said to me “ I promise you Elyse, you won’t regret it”, and I haven’t looked back. My shun knife, which was actually a gift (I know you’re not supposed to get knives as gifts, but luckily we’re all still friends). I realized a couple of years ago that you don’t need 10 knives, you need 1 or 2 good knives, that’s it. I also have special serving pieces from around the world that either I purchased or that friends/family have given to me as gifts. I love it because every time I use something, I think of where I’ve been or who gave it to me. And when people come over and ask about them, it’s always an opportunity for me to tell a story about where I got it from.
- My niece and I have also spent a lot of time in the kitchen together. I like to think she’s learned to love food and cooking both because of our shared experiences in the kitchen and also because she’s had such early experiences with food and gardening - she’s spent some time tasting some delicious vegetables from Michelle Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden. I’m also the lucky recipient of many of her crafting projects and since she knows how much I love to entertain, she makes me things all the time. She made me a kiddush cup when she was three and more recently, a serving tray. She recently “bought” me (something tells me it was her mom), a large mortar and pestle for National Aunt Day (we may have made up that holiday).
cookbooks & blogs
- Oh do I love a good cookbook! But, I also don’t love clutter so this a careful balance. I think of my cookbook collection in two categories: my go to cookbooks for more frequented recipes - I use these as a guide for inspiration and then more cultural and storytelling cookbooks. My two favorite go to’s are Love and Lemons, and At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen. The more cultural/storytelling cookbooks are mostly Mediterranean/Israeli inspired- Zahav and Jerusalem and Joan Nathan’s King Solomon’s Table. I see those more as a journey or story rather than cookbooks that I use regularly. I also love food blogs and that’s often what leads to a new cookbook purchase. There are too many to choose from, but some favorites are Love and Lemons, Sprouted Kitchen, Ambitious Kitchen, My New Roots, Minimalist Baker, Food52, Kitchn, and The First Mess."
To Sum it Up:
- pantry item she can't live without:
- olive oil, vinegar, dark chocolate
- items that are always in her fridge:
- leafy green, almond butter, cooked sweet potatoes, dijon mustard
- her go to inspiration cookbook:
- her most trusted kitchen tool:
- 5 adjectives that describe her pantry style:
- intentional, eclectic, organized, accessible, healthful
- her all time favorite market:
- FRESHFARM market at dupont
- women she pines for:
- Jeanine from Love and Lemons - her recipes inspire me to cook and share
- Alice Waters - she’s a legend in the farm to table movement
- Chef Anne Cooper - for her work in healthy school meals
- Elizabeth Petty from Elizabeth’s Gone Raw - her healthy journey is so inspiring to me and my personal interactions with her have been nothing short of delightful
- My niece Ella - It truly inspires me to see what happens when a child is exposed to experiences with food and cooking early on. We’ve shared so many beautiful moments together in the kitchen around food. She used to be my number one sous chef and now I’m hers.