A Professional Ballerina On Food And How It Shaped Her Second Career

A Professional Ballerina On Food

And How It Shaped Her Second Career

It’s no secret that ballerinas and food have an unusual and uniquely complicated relationship. While they rely on nutrients to keep their bodies going during long dance sessions, practice and shows, food can also be their biggest enemy in terms of taking the stage in skin tight, revealing costumes synonymous with the art form.

Photo: Broadway World

2010’s movie Black Swan brought to light the many serious issues professional ballerinas are faced with – including those to do with their oftentimes tempestuous relationship with eating. SWAAY talked to professional ballerina Natasha MacAller formerly of NYC’s Joffrey ballet and the cast of Phantom of the Opera about life after ballet and how food came to define her second career.

“Ballet is the only art form that has a sell-by date,” she says.

Given ballet’s competitive nature, Natasha admits – “I was very fortunate to make it into a company that I could pay my bills and make a living out of it. But alas, ballet is a live art form that you can simply cannot sustain for your entire life. “When the time came and I finished my career with the Joffrey Ballet with The Phantom of the Opera,” in what was “an incredible experience” – she had a choice to make. 

For Natasha, there were two avenues that appealed to her after her 30-year ballet career came to close – she would either become a physical therapist, or a chef.

“I was greatly relieved that my brain still worked after – you know, ballet, ballet, ballet”

Having reviewed the prospects of what would be ten years of study in physical therapy, she set her sights on culinary school, for which she now owes her career as sought-after pastry chef and author.   

“I was always fascinated with cooking and food, as is every ballerina I think,” Natasha fondly recalls, “I’ve loved my second career in food – I love the creative aspect.”

Having focused her efforts on pastry, where women are most commonly found in a restaurant kitchen, Natasha still noticed the disparity in gender balances in the industry. “I was fortunate to work in some amazing restaurants after culinary school,” she says, “but it is still a man’s world.”

“I’ve had some good and some not so good experiences being a little blonde in a kitchen full of big guys,” she says.

“Women do tend to lean more toward pastry,” she recognizes, and I suggest that it’s perhaps because it’s more of an art form, to which she underscores – “the liquefiers and the dry ingredients have to work together in perfect symmetry.” In the other parts of the kitchen there’s more freedom to test and theory – where measurements must be precise, recipes delicate, and focus extremely attentive to receive optimum results. It is perhaps the most volatile and easily spoiled part of the kitchen.”

She is positive, however, about women’s future in the industry – “the food industry has changed enormously, as women are more frequently found leading restaurants and heading kitchens.” Leading by example, she has headed pastry stations and opened restaurants with fellow female chefs she met through an organization called Women Chefs and Restaranteurs – a global network of females in the food world. 

It’s through this organization that she has accumulated a few of her 33 contributors for her first book Vanilla Table published back in 2013. The group serves as an “active resource for culinary advancement, education, networking.” While not necessarily a huge organization, at around 800 members Natasha says she has reaped the rewards of membership. 

Her success from Vanilla Table produced the prospect of a second book, and inspiration came in the form of her book publisher, Jacqui Small, who suggested a spice book might be of use to the public. It was also a topic that would be right down Natasha’s alley, as the former dancer was very familiar with the properties of spices, spanning right back to her ballet career, when she would meticulously cook all her own food.

Coming together to make the second book possible, Natasha accumulated a team of women around her that would make putting the book together in a mere 10 months possible. Working seven days a week and researching extensively the properties of each individual spice meant her team would prove integral to the success and quick release of the book.

Photo credit: Manja Wachsmuth

“We called ourselves the spice girls or spice ladies because it was only women – designer, editor, Jacqui and the photographer.”

Natasha remonstrates about the importance now of going back to the kitchen and “starting from scratch.” She worked with many nutritional scientists and experts in the field of culinary medicine closely whie producing the book. It wasn’t merely about the food, or the spices, but the spices ability. 

“The nature of spices – they all have health-affirming nutrients in them”

“Adding a simple spice to your food not only makes it taste better but it adds nutrition and value to our daily lives,” she says chuckling. It’s something very simple that people can forget, especially perhaps millennials living in a ‘quick meal’ era – turmeric, cardamom, cumin are something lacking in the standard youth’s kitchen.

Currently in talks for her third book, we can  expect Natasha to replicate the success of her first two books. Having also opened two restaurants with a close friend, she still works intermittently creating new pastry menus for the restaurants – “I still get to be really creative in the kitchen even though I’m not there everyday.”

Amy Corcoran

Head of Content at SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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