When Culinary Nutrition Expert Geeta Sakhuja attended her first cooking class in Toronto’s Liberty Village in 2017, she never imagined that just a few years later she’d be returning to that same neighbourhood to deliver a cooking lesson of her own. But that first class ignited a spark – and led her to begin cooking up a storm, take more classes, join the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program, and eventually start her own business teaching others.
A Longtime Love of Cooking
Geeta grew up in Kuwait, the daughter of expat parents who were originally from New Delhi, the capital of India. As a child, she watched her aunt grind aromatic spices by hand and became obsessed with cooking her aunt’s chicken biryani recipe (something she would later perfect in adulthood when she began teaching her own cooking classes). Her love of food expanded as she attended Sikh temples, where she explored a variety of plant-based dishes and cooked with fragrant spices and herbs like fenugreek seeds and curry leaves.
After immigrating to Canada at 18 years old by herself, Geeta studied marketing and left behind the dream of becoming a chef. She realized that the long hours and physical demands of working in a hot kitchen weren’t for her, so she pursued what she describes as the ‘safe route’. But she always knew a career in food and nutrition was in her future, even though she had yet to discover what shape that career would take.
Health Challenges and a New Direction
Like many young adults, Geeta ate a lot of processed, fast foods and cooked very little from scratch. She didn’t understand the connection between food and her health until 2013 when she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and began to focus on her wellbeing. She immediately eliminated gluten and dairy, common triggers for a multitude of health issues, and began teaching herself to cook basic recipes.
While attending her first in-person cooking class in 2017, Geeta found herself wondering how the instructor learned everything she knew – because she suddenly wanted to grasp it all, too. She was hooked and started taking more classes, reading, listening, cooking, and eventually searching for a full-fledged course that would teach her the nutrition skills and knowledge she craved.
The problem? Geeta couldn’t find any course that was gluten-free and dairy-free. When she met Meghan Telpner, Founder of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, at a Toronto-area grocery store event, she discovered that the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program was it.
“I had this inner drive to go deeper with my knowledge around health and nutrition,” Geeta says, “and no one else was teaching what I was looking for.”
Being a Culinary Nutrition Expert Student – and Beyond!
Photo: Prachi Palwe
Geeta joined the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program in 2018 while also working full-time as an account executive at a business-to-business marketing agency. Though she wasn’t 100% sure what she’d end up doing when she graduated, she knew that she was in the right place.
“I made it a goal to make the most of every moment I spent in the program,” she says. “I wanted to be present and learning and making the most of the opportunity. As I moved through the program, the vision became clearer.”
Geeta thrived in the learning environment of the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program, enjoying the thrill of recipe development, trying unfamiliar ingredients, learning new cooking skills, and building the confidence to support her personal health challenges with food by creating her own custom meal and dietary plans. She loved working with her dedicated program coach and receiving encouragement from fellow students in the private Culinary Nutrition Expert community group (something Geeta still uses regularly for wisdom and advice).
She was also impressed with the assignments and the way the program encouraged independent thinking and resourcefulness.
“The assignments pushed me to go further and deeper and think more methodically. The program transforms the way you approach things by encouraging you to ask intelligent questions and find your own answers,” Geeta explains. “In my experience, it is easy to tell someone what to think, but very hard to teach them how to think. The program delivered more than what it had promised.”
The practical skills Geeta learned in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program are ones she still uses daily, including menu planning, choosing foods and ingredients for optimal health, keeping her fridge and pantry organized, cooking food from scratch, exploring new ingredients and recipes, returning to favourite recipes from the program, and more.
“You’ll recoup what you invest just by using it in your daily life,” she says.
Starting a Side Hustle
The above photo was taken by Melissa Torio, a fellow Culinary Nutrition Expert. She has become a fan of Geeta’s classes and this was the product of attending one one of Geeta’s online classes. It is not uncommon for our graduates to become incredible cheerleaders and supporters of each other’s work.
After graduating from the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program, Geeta gravitated toward what had brought her to this field in the first place: cooking classes. She began teaching classes based on the workshop materials she developed as a student for program assignments, and also worked individually with clients by delivering one-on-one cooking lessons and personal chef services – all while still working full time in marketing.
Geeta also joined the Academy of Culinary Nutrition team of Certified Instructors in 2019, and though she enjoyed teaching some of our exclusive instructor classes, Geeta felt inspired to return to her roots of Indian cooking.
She began teaching Indian cooking classes and soon found her courses were in high demand – but she had a limited number of recipes she knew how to make. Geeta threw herself into testing and honing healthy recipes for Indian dishes like chicken biryani, oven-baked pakoras, dairy-free butter chicken, chana masala, gluten-free samosas, aloo gobi, and more. She spent time consulting on the phone with her mom (who is still in Kuwait) to capture the heart of traditional dishes and adapted as needed to fit her culinary nutrition principles.
Geeta envisioned taking her classes online eventually, but when COVID-19 hit, she accelerated her plans. Just days after attending a webinar by Meghan Telpner about teaching online, she began running virtual Indian Cooking Masterclasses.
“I’ve always been proactive. When you’re running your own business, you can’t just wait,” she says. “Sometimes you just have to take a leap and try. You have to try and you have to fail. Each time I run a class, I learn something new and I improve as I go along.”
So far, Geeta’s classes have been sold out with rave reviews from guests, including some of her fellow Culinary Nutrition Experts who signed up to learn her expertise and support her.
“Not only did I learn about new spices, spice blends and cooking techniques, I had a delightful experience with the most delicious aromas and flavours. And the leftovers were just as good, or maybe even better, a few days later,” enthuses Nancy Saul-Demers, a 2019 Culinary Nutrition Expert graduate. “For me, this class has responded to my curiosity about a whole new cuisine and sparked my interest in exploring it more.”
In the start-up phase of her business and also employed at her full-time agency job, Geeta is currently working on refining and honing her classes, developing new recipes (and perhaps even her own line of spice blends), and taking some courses to help her implement her online business goals.
It’s only been a few years since she sat in the audience at a cooking class and now Geeta is the one leading the conversation – and she has a deep sense of pride for everything she has accomplished.
“You see people in your own class wanting to learn from you, and it’s just amazing to see a fabric of my cultural heritage being carried forward through food onto others’ plates,” she says. “I also like that I can reach multiple people in different countries. It’s a global world and now I feel like I’m a part of it.”