I would LOVE to make a campaign to inspire people everywhere to stop and take a moment to reflect on how they take care of themselves. I don’t think it matters where you live, what your background is, what you do for a living, or if you’re responsible for a whole family, a pack of fur babies, a huge team at work or just yourself. Each and every one of us can benefit from taking a mindful moment to reflect on How and What we do to take care of ourselves. It can be as simple as a 5-minute meditation every morning and every night. It can be exercise or reading a book. It can be making a snack or a meal for yourself to enjoy. Or if can simply be disconnecting from your phone and the world for 10 minutes each day. It’s something that I believe every one of us can learn and benefit from, by sharing what we each did today that was an act of “self-care”, seeing what other people do for self-care and using that to give ourselves ideas. I think that the benefits would have a ripple effect. And I love the idea of simplifying it, as we do with our motivation behind Just Add Water™. Let’s see and share how easy it is to take care of ourselves in simple ways, so that we can in turn, take care of all the things and people that are important to us. I feel that when we can be kind to ourselves, we can be kind to everyone.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Serena Poon. A leading Chef to the Hollywood elite, Serena doubles as a classically-trained chef and nutritionist to her clientele. Serena is known for her Culinary Alchemy™, the curation of intuitive and functional food healing and wellness programs designed for optimal and sustainable health of the nutritional, emotional, and spiritual bodies. She is the founder of Just Add Water™, a wellness line of super nutrient foods and supplements, and Serena Loves, a lifestyle brand and blog, as well as the host for Serena Loves TV.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you so much for having me! It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to share my story with the Thrive Global community.
My story began with my heart and soul, my parents. While I was in college at UC Berkeley, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer….it was a hereditary disease, the same thing his grandfather had passed of years before. At the time, I didn’t even understand the reality of what that prognosis meant. He fought but lost a very painful battle after a year and 3 months. He was 48 years old. Two months later, my mother was diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was 45 years old at the time. So before we even had a chance to grieve my father, we were in another surreal battle to save my mother, who could hardly process the death of her soulmate, let alone her own mortality. With experimental treatment and (I truly believe), my father in heaven watching over her, my mother is still with us today. As you can imagine, this completely changed my perspective on life. All that mattered was the health and happiness of my loved ones. During my father’s battle, I began looking into holistic, herbal and natural remedies for everything from his cancer symptoms to alleviating the side effects of his treatments. I studied Nutrition at college, but this drove my passion further and I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu. I wanted to study the culinary arts to understand food and nutrition and creating ways to heal and comfort people through the power of food.
As passionate as I was about healing, providing comfort and nutritional education to others, I did not realize the damage that the entire experience took on my heart, my mind, my body. What I didn’t yet understand at the time, was that full health and true wellness is about the whole mind, body and soul. I suffered painful post-traumatic stress, anxiety, survivor’s guilt, shame and depression following my parents’ battles with cancer and it took me years to understand the toll and the stress that it took on my own health. My good intentions and drive for healing others led me to a place where I was sacrificing my wellness for the sake of helping others. I was trying to save everyone around me. After suffering my own health issues as a result of that kind of stress, multiple surgeries (which originated from a fluke accident), 2 of these surgeries which I nearly died from, and years of self-development, I’ve learned to balance my energy, to take care of myself first so that I can take care of everyone else around me. During this time, my business evolved to include more than just practicing culinary alchemy as a private chef and caterer. I became a nutritionist, wellness expert, coach and counselor to my clients. As I became aware of my influence within my own community, I realized that I could effectively teach and help so many more people by expanding my platform. By sharing my stories through the power of social media and my lifestyle brand, Serena Loves, I’ve been able to reach countless others who gained insight from my knowledge, who have learned from my experiences.
As my reach/following grew, I realized that it was time to expand, take the leap of faith, put my fears and excuses aside, and start a product line so that I could share with this online community, that same nutritional goodness which I have been sharing with my clients and personal community for many years. So, this past spring we soft launched my health and wellness line, Just Add Water™, which is a powerful, powdered blend of super nutrients and superfoods that you mix with a little bit of water and can enjoy every day, especially when you’re on the go or traveling. It provides energy without caffeine, balance for your adrenals, immune and gut support and enzymes so that you can actually absorb all the dense nutrients in it. It may sound like thousands of other products in the health food space, but it’s different simply because of the profound love and energy that is behind the recipe and its purpose, its creation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
This past December, just a few months into starting Just Add Water™, I had to have my 7th surgery. To give a little history, I had contracted MRSA many years back, straight from the operating room after my very first surgery to remove some damaged but benign tissue in my chest area. That MRSA infection is what essentially changed the direction of my first company, as I went from primarily catering and private chef work with nutrition, to a period of 6 months where I only consulted for companies and clients because I severely hemorrhaged and nearly died post-op (after my 4th surgery) and lost the ability to effectively use my left arm for that time. That period of time actually expanded my business because I was forced to think outside the box and create plans that utilized all my skills and knowledge, without being able to physically create in the kitchen. Fast forward 4 years later when we were only a few months into Just Add Water™ with a hard deadline of a partnered fulfillment the first week of December, the MRSA came back with a vengeance and I had to have another major surgery again to remove it. That last surgical experience taught me surrender, and it shifted my life again. With all my knowledge and all my prior experience with my other surgeries, I treated myself like I was my own client and had all the bases covered for optimal recovery. But, you cannot prepare for the random mishaps in life, you cannot prepare for mistakes in medication from the pharmacy and in my recovery period, I allowed myself to surrender to the process, to this path of mine that has led me to where I am today. There were no tears of frustration despite the mishaps, just pure acceptance and acknowledgement that every step of the journey had a purpose and that this was all part of my purpose in this life.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can tell you right now that if I had to do this all over again, I would go order myself every Pantone book available. It may sound like the silliest thing, but as a lay person with limited knowledge about colors and print and graphics and Adobe Illustrator, one of the most time-consuming issues we had at the very beginning were the colors of our logo for Just Add Water. We knew what we wanted visually and creatively, but we hired a graphics designer, who created the logo using her own colors that were not technically Pantone colors. This led to waaay too many hours going back and forth with printers and graphic designers about the wrong colors and color conversions from one program to another. We spent so much time and money having work and products redone over and over, not understanding why what we saw on screen did not translate to the same results on tangible items. It took months for someone to explain the issue and finally tell us to buy a Pantone book and to pick our colors from there. And we haven’t had problems since. I can laugh now, because I honestly cannot even believe it happened that way. All we needed was a book.
I think the lesson here is: Follow your gut, even in uncomfortable situations. We knew there was something off with the colors when the logo was created. We asked questions and we accepted the answers we were given because we were the lay people with no experience in graphics, color or design. But if we had followed our gut and kept asking the hard questions and pushing for acceptable answers, the issue would have been revealed and resolved quickly! To be honest, this has actually come up a few times, in less humorous circumstances and the lesson seems to always be the same: follow your gut. Even though we were new to so many aspects of the business, having never done it before, we made the mistake many times of deferring to people we hired who were experts. Sometimes, you have to just go with your gut, even if you don’t have a logical or statistical reason for your decision at first. Listen to your inner voice, that intuitive truth teller inside of you.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what sets me apart in a saturated industry is my deep passion for curating intentional healing and wellness programs through my methods of Culinary Alchemy™.
There is a magic in all of us that not only individualizes us, but also ties us all together, universally, energetically. This universal energy is something that I have learned to understand, to harness and redirect into how we use food to heal and nourish our bodies. We have emotional connections with food, they can evoke past memories, create new ones. We have a physical relationship with food, in that it can nourish, heal and give us comfort and pleasure. As a chef and a nutritionist, I’m trained with the knowledge of the physical attributes of ingredients and how to combine them to create recipes that can help support or resolve a person’s dietary needs and lifestyle goals. As a healer, I am able to marry all of these aspects together to produce programs and plans that are nurturing, sustainable and that resonates with a client’s physical, mental and spiritual needs.
Essentially, I am integrating energetic techniques with functional food nutrition, and guiding clients through how food affects their bodies on a physiological level, as well as how it affects the emotional and spiritual body. So, clients come to me for nutrition, energy work and the customized programs for their immediate and long-term goals. What an actress may need for her role on Broadway, will vary from her needs when she’s on a break from projects. At the same time, a client recovering from surgery will have a different protocol pre-op and post-op depending on the type of surgery and the type of medication and treatment their doctor wants them on. It’s all very intentional and integrative.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
There’s so many fun things happening and I’m so excited about all of it. I just started filming for my new TV show, Serena Loves TV, which features some amazing thought leaders and brands in the Health & Wellness, Beauty and Entrepreneurial space. At the same time, we’re launching my Serena Loves website, which will have loads of information about all the different aspects of Culinary Alchemy™, from education to nutrition to recipes and tips. As well as an online store which will showcase a curated product line of tools for supporting your body, mind and energetic well-being.
We are also expanding the Just Add Water™ line with some new flavors and a few more products in the pipeline for immune support, separate male and female adrenal support, and snackables.
As I mentioned briefly above, Just Add Water™ is a vegan proprietary blend of yellow peas and sprouted grain protein, superfood fruit antioxidants, powerful super greens, prebiotics, probiotics, digestive enzymes and plant adaptogens. The recipe has been carefully crafted with organic and natural products to be free of major food allergens, including dairy, gluten, wheat, rice, tree nuts and soy, and contains no genetically modified ingredients.
It’s actually something that I’ve been making for years for my private clients, particularly for when they traveled, because I wanted to help them maintain their daily nutrient intake, their energy levels and their weight. Our adrenals and our microbiome are the core of our immunity, vitality and mental agility. All too often with clients, I witnessed the effects of frequent traveling, over-booked schedules and the lack of proper daily nutritional self-care that led to exhaustion, over-stressed adrenals, immune decline and unnecessary weight fluctuations. I wanted to create a conveniently packaged superfood supplement that not only gave the body energy with the proper combination of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, but also the right prebiotic, probiotic and digestive enzymes to effectively absorb it all. And it needed to taste great so that people would actually drink it!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
As a female leader, I think it’s most important that: 1) You always keep learning and educating yourself (something my father instilled in me) 2) Be aware that the people you surround yourself with are the ones you are also learning the most from 3) Pay attention to your intuition.
So, it’s very important to listen, because there is a level of emotional intelligence that I feel is the very finely drawn, defining line between a good leader and a great leader. Being present, grounded and emotionally intelligent are key components in the foundation for great communication and understanding, which are the foundation for building a great thriving team. And your team is everything. YOU set the tone for your team. How you handle the tough situations, how you navigate through the challenges — -this is what your team will take note of and how they will mirror your actions and decisions.
There will always be lows to balance the highs. Learn to ride the lows in the same stride as you ride the highs and you will always continue to move forward. Remember that even though life doesn’t stop or standstill, you can always hit the pause button when you need time to rest, reset, and know that you can resume right where you left off when you hit play again.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I think one of the most important aspects of managing a large team is approachability. Communication is key and being a leader who is welcoming of feedback, of ideas and of opinions demonstrates the value of the investment you have in each team member. As our companies grow, it’s important not only to hire the right people who are the best at what they do, but also to empower them and give them the freedom to develop and grow while they help achieve your vision of the business. I think that kind of approachability and empathy creates a culture of loyalty and connection within a team, which translates to increased productivity, growth and reliable support when a company goes through challenges.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been blessed with quite a few amazing mentors in my life and there are two whose words are always in the back on my mind, through my successes and failures and all the moments in between. The late Garry Marshall, who was not only a client but also like a grandfather to me, gave me volumes worth of life and professional advice. But there is one thing he said to me, that I often remind myself of when I’m feeling overwhelmed, down on myself or struggling with a difficult situation. He said, “Don’t disappear. You can take a little break, but don’t ever disappear. The world needs you.”
The other is Jerry Bruckheimer, also a client, mentor and friend, who gave me the little-known background story about the failings of one of pop culture’s biggest film stars and at the end of it, he told me, “you only need to succeed once. You can fail 9, 10, 1000 times, but you only need to succeed once. And then you’re on your way.” These reminders from people I respect so much, icons and legends of our time, who made their way to success on their own. For them to believe in me, to see the light in me and to share their knowledge with me….these are gifts that I am forever grateful for.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am very active about giving back in as many ways as we can. We donate and work with a variety of charities by volunteering our time and products to fundraising events. We often donate leftovers to the local homeless shelters and volunteer our time with different charities as much as possible. With both Just Add Water™ and Serena Loves, we donate a portion of proceeds to non-profits and charities from animal shelters to cancer fundraising. In terms of my presence on social media, I am very consistent with my positive mantras and my voice about kindness, empowerment and support of one another. Unlike an activist, I lean towards neutrality, compassion and love with a different kind of voice and I am consistent about educating everyone with my knowledge of food, nutrition and wellness. I try to use whatever influence I have to continually reinforce the power and strength we have as individuals, and collectively as a super power when we support each other. And most importantly, the success I’ve achieved in the professional space as a chef and nutritionist, I am investing back into the creation of products that I know can help everyone achieve optimal health within their lifestyle goals.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- HAVE A CLEAR VISION OF WHAT YOU WANT PROFESSIONALLY Even though the path to the goal will have its challenges and the direction may shift several times on your way there, having a clear vision is like having a beacon. It will help keep you aligned and flexible to the inevitable obstacles that come up as the company grows. It may sound like a contradiction, but having a clear vision helps to keep you unattached to the small challenges that surface and you will find easier solutions and new ideas along the way.
- TAKE TIME FOR YOU Whether you meditate, read a book, take your dog out for a walk, or go for a long drive — whatever it is that grounds you and gives you time and space to yourself, do it. It is a form of self-care and self-love, and without taking care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others and we cannot take care of our dreams. Being a calm, grounded leader is setting the best example for your team and sets the tone for the energy and environment of your workplace/team.
- BE REAL WITH YOURSELF Know who you are. Get very real with yourself. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What do you truly want — without judgement from yourself or others. When you can be completely honest with yourself about what you want and Who you are, then you know exactly what you need and who you need to support you in the process of building your dream. This is not the easiest thing to do and it’s something we have to practice throughout our lives. It’s not about being critical or having self judgement. Forgive and accept yourself for who and what you are. Acknowledge that we are all a work in progress and build a team of people who have strengths in the areas you need the most support and thrive together.
- WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU WANT OUTSIDE OF THE PROFESSIONAL REALM As women, what we want in our personal lives, is just as important as what we want in our professional lives and deserves just as much planning and preparation. If you want to start a family, your role as a mother must be balanced with your role as a C-Suite entrepreneur, so it’s important to plan for what you want. Your dreams and your personal aspirations are often the biggest motivations behind what drives your career forward.
- LISTEN TO YOUR INTUITION I say this quite often, not just as a reminder to others but also as a reminder to myself. You know what the right decisions are. You know it with your gut, your instinct and that intuitive voice inside you. Sometimes the numbers may not initially reflect in your decision to go with your instinct, but it’s always better to go with what you know is the right thing to do, even if you don’t yet have the tangible evidence to support it. As women, we are gifted with an intuitive six sense and we should lean into that skill to help with our decisions.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would LOVE to take our slogan for Just Add Water™ “Simplify Your Self-Care” and make it a real campaign to inspire people everywhere to stop and take a moment to reflect on how they take care of themselves. I don’t think it matters where you live, what your background is, what you do for a living, or if you’re responsible for a whole family, a pack of fur babies, a huge team at work or just yourself. Each and every one of us can benefit from taking a mindful moment to reflect on How and What we do to take care of ourselves. It can be as simple as a 5-minute meditation every morning and every night. It can be exercise or reading a book. It can be making a snack or a meal for yourself to enjoy. Or if can simply be disconnecting from your phone and the world for 10 minutes each day. It’s something that I believe every one of us can learn and benefit from, by sharing what we each did today that was an act of “self-care”, seeing what other people do for self-care and using that to give ourselves ideas. I think that the benefits would have a ripple effect. And I love the idea of simplifying it, as we do with our motivation behind Just Add Water™. Let’s see and share how easy it is to take care of ourselves in simple ways, so that we can in turn, take care of all the things and people that are important to us. I feel that when we can be kind to ourselves, we can be kind to everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Honor your authentic voice and embrace your intuitive truth.” We always know what we truly need in any given situation…what we need for our health, our body, our minds, our hearts, our souls, our happiness, our businesses. We too often juggle the needs of others, the imposed urgency of time, the expectations of outcomes against what we intuitively know is the right and best thing to do for ourselves and for what we want to create. There should be no juggle. Honor your truth. Remember that you are an incredibly powerful force because no one else is you. Do not undersell yourself and do not underestimate your worth. This has been relevant in so many chapters of my own life, from personal relationships….#MeToo….to professional decisions about my businesses, to my own health. Too often in the past, I had pushed the limits of my health, my energy, my comfort zones to accommodate the needs of others, to abate an uncomfortable situation or to avoid acts of retribution from an unhappy person. These decisions were made without honoring my own voice and my own truth, and sometimes the results manifested themselves into physical ailments. These are hard-learned but well-earned lessons I now openly share with others.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I think I can easily fill a room with people who highly respect and admire, with whom I would love to meet, connect and vibe with. If I had to choose only one person to share a private meal with, it would be Orpah Winfrey. I have followed her journey first as a young fan girl, watching her through the lens of a TV viewer, through the chapters of my teenage and young adult years where her own growth and personal development helped to guide me through my own. Now, as an adult who has lived my own lessons, traumas, pains and enlightenment, I would love to sit down with someone I admire deeply from a spiritual place in my heart, as well as an entrepreneur and a thought leader wanting to help change the world and improve the lives of others.
Thank you so much for this!