I met Manuela Scalini a few years back when she ran a few workshops at Balanced Living and I loved how she transformed some of my favourite dishes with healthy raw ingredients and how she always brought her own distinctive Brazilian flair to the recipes. At the time she had just and completed her yoga training in Bali, having completed her raw food training 2 years previously at The Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Northern California. Since then I’ve been following her journey and have seen her develop something of a flair for food that is not only vibrant and alive with flavor, it also nourishes and heals. When it comes to raw food, I would consider Manuela to be one of the most creative and talented raw food chefs I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, so it’s no surprise to me that she has attracted a noteworthy following. Full of energy, enthusiasm, passion and ideas, her dishes are as beautiful and inspiring as she is and I was super excited when she said yes to being interviewed so I could find out more about what propelled her to truly start living her passion.
Manuela, what made you decide to leave the film industry to follow a new career? Was there a specific tipping point or event that you can remember?
After working in VFX and CG (computer graphics) industry for over 12 years I was feeling very worn out (or fried!). I loved the creative aspect, all the technical challenges involved, and although I always imagined ‘making it’, with my name on the credits of big feature films, would be so glamorous, it wasn’t. I didn’t feel glamorous at all. I was always tired, missed the outdoors, worked 12 hours every day, never knew when I would leave the studio at night and had chronic sinus infections because of the air-conditioning (and lack of movement). Don’t get me wrong, I still miss the teamwork, the amazing movies, the colleagues, but the lifestyle was not for me.
During my young adult years, as I built my name in film, I also fell in love with hiking, mountain biking, climbing, power yoga and being outdoors. San Francisco, where I lived, was just perfect for that. I juiced everyday, hustled to yoga classes at 8 pm, after hours behind a computer. One day I came to realise that no matter how many green juices I drank, I still found my lifestyle so toxic. To many people this may not be the case, but for me, my soul craved more, it craved a simpler life.
The trigger or the final tipping point happened 3 months after this realisation. I had a snowboarding accident where I separated my ribs and needed to go on a very alkaline diet to help my body heal. I had always eaten healthy, but now I really needed the extra boost from a longer detox. One of my closest friends had given me a raw food ‘cook book’ a couple years before, from a raw food restaurant in San Francisco called Cafe Gratitude. I had never used it, but was familiar with the restaurant and its food. I have to admit I wasn’t that into it at first, mostly because I was too lazy to make any food and in San Francisco I had easy access many vegetarian restaurants and take-outs. But when I read the introduction chapter something got my attention. I became really intrigued that it didn’t make any claims that raw food was a miracle cure for all. What it did instead was offer a practical way to help bring your body back to its optimum health, which in turn gives your body the power to function at its best. That alone would help my body heal on its own without becoming dependent on drugs.
What is it about raw food, nutrition and wellness that you love?
I instantly fell in love with raw food. I have always loved gourmet and exotic salads full of different vegetables. The creativity in raw food, the techniques, colours, fresh flavours, the life force in it! All of this instantly won me over. Food, its nutrients and wellness will either make or break my day, It’s about owning my health. As a good friend and colleague says (and I 100% agree) we do indeed become the choices we make. Whether it’s food, meditation, relationship, or any other lifestyle choice. The high vibrational aspect of raw food and clean eating has a profound effect on our wellbeing, sleep and mood. Food is energy. I also love going back to the old ways of getting back in touch with the foods you eat, making the time to prepare what you put into your body, time to NOURISH yourself, and eat mindfully. I grew up in a huge fast paced city, Sao Paulo, but we always made time to sit, eat, and knew where the food came from. We always bought local and seasonal. That way of cooking and preparing food has changed over the past 20 years, but we are now seeing a come back of the old ways.
As long as I’ve know you, you seem blissful and happy following this path, has it always been easy?
Not at all. I just saw something I posted 7 years ago, right when I quit the film industry and posted that I was making my ‘leap of faith’ and trusted that the universe would provide me with the wings I needed. Well it did. I experienced and still am experiencing truly blissful moments of an extremely vibrant life, loving my mission as a raw food chef and retreat host, pulsing with love for my daily choices.
I was blessed with finding work immediately after I quit the film world, and also was able to travel to Bali and spend 8 months in Ubud training in yoga and nutrition. That was by the far the best year of my life. I soon began to host retreats in all 4 corners of the globe and work as a freelance raw food chef. Managing finances and the work play balance came very natural to me because I was able to work doing something I loved and also enjoy life. But during this journey I also crashed many times, in many ways. Financial at times, personally and even health wise at points. After childbirth in 2013, my recovery took a bit longer. I had just moved to Barbados where I didn’t have my ‘tribe’ of like minded friends and support team around, that “village” that people talk about when raising their children. I had very severe post partum depression that went undiagnosed. It was with the help of some lifetime friends from across the world, herbs, infusions and back to a 100% raw food diet for a few months that I snapped out it and came back much stronger.
Would you agree that following your passion can add another layer of purpose to your life which makes it easier to remain motivated and fulfilled even when there are ‘bumps in the road’?
Absolutely, like I mentioned above and even in the darkest moments, I knew these were all phases I had to go through. It’s about allowing the dark to come, knowing the light will always follow. It’s about knowing that we each have a mission here, and the path chosen is always the right path, even if it at times there are struggles, it will later reveal a valuable lesson. When we are in touch with our passion and mission we are never alone because we have a connection to something much bigger then ourselves; other beings living their own story, the universe, and nature.
The Amazon Detox and Retreat that you run looks like a dream trip and experience, tell us about it.
It is by far the most amazing retreat I have ever put together. My heart beats fast just thinking about it. The vision behind this trip is to immerse yourself in earth’s most diverse, pulsing, abundant LIVING forest, while eating the best fusion of indigenous superfoods, medicinal herbs and roots combined with modern gourmet raw and cooked natural foods. It is a true sensory journey. Add to that, the synergy of the forest, the indigenous wisdom and alternative healing practices, such as meditation, breath work, yoga, all in the heart of the jungle.
During the last years retreat, we navigated up the Rio Negro (which is so acidic that there are no mosquitos, yay!), visited local communities, learned extraction of Açaí, manioc dishes and practiced yoga on our luxury boat under the full moon rising behind the flooded jungle. Next year we have decided to go deeper into the forest and stay at a boutique jungle lodge off the banks of the same Rio Negro (again, mosquito free). We also have onboard one of Brazil’s leading experts in forest food foraging and Amazon herbal medicines, who will guide us as we hike. We learn as we gather food to bring back to camp and create something truly unique to our retreat. We have also teamed up with an adventure travel company to provide us with top guides in botany, canoeing, hiking and exclusive boutique hotels in the area. This next retreat will indeed be a trip of a lifetime.
Manuela is due to re-launch her series of Barbados retreats next year, along with her Amazon retreat in the first quarter of 2017.
For more information on Manuela Scalini and forthcoming events:
Manuelas Amazonian Retreat Partners:
MY YOGA Sao Paolo