Fierce Females no.29: Zoe Arevalo King, plant-based Chef, recipe developer and surfer
••• If you’ve ever been on a Retreat, you’ll know that food is often a much-welcomed & key feature of the programme. Chef Zoe Arevalo King is a passionate chef with a flair for stunningly healthy plant-based food and incredible recipe development. She’s created food on Retreats for the likes of Sea Folly Australia and Mad To Live Retreats, travelling the world surfing and sharing her delicious food around the world. A recipe developer whose work can be found on the shelves of Planet Organic, we sat down with the insatiable chef on her return from a cooking and surf trip to Costa Rica.
Zoe thanks for sitting down with us for Fierce Females. we are big fans of your work! tell us about the wonderful world of food you work in…what do you do?
Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m a chef with a veg-centric food business, specialising in events and retreats for fashion, sports and wellness brands. I also consult for other food brands (including Planet Organic), helping with their recipe development.
Where did your passion for food start? Where did you grow up?
I think originally it stems from my childhood. My parents had restaurants (my dad was a chef) and I grew up on a mini-farm. We grew our own produce and kept animals. My best friend growing up was my pig and I used to write stories about how he would escape. All the neighbours would be out searching for him and we’d almost always find him in the pub garden at the other end of the village. Essentially I grew up knowing the basics of cooking, and the importance of where your food comes from. I think it’s natural to rebel against what you’re born into, before revisiting it later in life. My first career was in fashion, and it wasn’t until I had my son that I understood the importance of food as nourishment and medicine, due to playing around with his diet to try and help some health issues. That’s when I did a full circle back to food and took it seriously as a career.
I do find that being creative means that you can turn your hand to a variety of different things.
You used to live in Margate right? Such a creative hub!
Yes, Margate is super creative. Shoreditch-by-sea, as it’s named locally, due to the influx of hipsters who’ve moved down. My son and I spent a few happy years in Whitstable (also a very cool foodie spot where some pals of mine have opened what I think is the best bakery in the UK @grainandhearth) and then Margate. Margate knows how to have a good time – there are some very cool gig venues, amazing restaurants run by chefs who have migrated out of London, and of course the art scene with the Turner contemporary being based there. We actually lived around the corner from the Libertines’ hotel and I can’t deny it influenced my decision to take that particular apartment! Summers were very fun spent building fires and cooking dinner on the beach which was literally a stone’s throw away – the Kentish coast is stunning.
You create such beautiful, healthy recipes. Where do you get a lot of your inspiration from?
Thank you! I get inspiration from many places. My favourite chefs, travel, fashion, music, and sometimes the most random of places. One of my favourite and most popular retreat breakfast recipes was inspired by a Jo Malone candle that I had burning constantly whilst writing my first cookbook. On the last retreat I cooked for in Costa Rica, I created a trippy psychedelic coloured cheesecake as I was listening to a lot of psych-rock at the time, and finding all of this insanely coloured tropical produce that was blowing my mind. You haven’t tasted passion fruit until you’ve had one in Costa Rica!
I think you get inspiration from your environment, which is why travel is amazing for foodies. My son is also super inspiring, he loves cooking and is always coming up with insane flavours and recipe ideas that work, most of the time.
You’ve cooked on a lot of amazing retreats, like for Seafolly Australia, Mad To Live Retreats… what drew you to this?
I think because my food has a health element to it, retreats were a natural progression. I’ve always tried to say yes to opportunities in business, and then figure it out along the way. The Sea Folly / Mad To Live Retreat was the first one we were asked to do, maybe four or five years ago now? It remains one of my favourites – I was super happy with the food we put out and I loved the group of women there. The kitchens were also a dream to work in, which I realise now after many retreats that we got really lucky. Once we had that retreat under our belt, the rest followed. It was a baptism of fire though, I remember me and my assistant driving down from London to Devon up these steep narrow roads, with a tiny car packed to the rafters full of food and equipment for three days on not a great deal of sleep. Good memories.
What do you love about creating meals for Retreats?
Retreats are so much fun. They enable me to get super creative with the menus, and I really enjoy the planning and logistics side of things as it’s a real challenge. Whether they are local, or in another country, you have to plan the menus around the produce you can source at that time of year, in that particular place. It’s not as glamorous as you might imagine though. Physically and mentally it’s intense, as you’re cooking back to back meals, and snacks, with no breaks, and no repeat food prep or meals, as you would have in say a restaurant. For a five day retreat, I remember planning around 70 different dishes/recipes! Also, there’s a lot that can and will go wrong when you’re cooking in a totally new place (the stories I could tell…) but as you’re constantly client-facing, you have to try and figure it out without breaking a sweat. Constantly putting out fires, which I kind of love.
How is food such an important part of the Retreat experience?
I would say it’s a big part of what makes a retreat memorable. People want to feel nourished and energised on a retreat. Guests may be nervous about eating only plant-based for a number of days, so the aim is to try and surprise and delight. I always feel so happy when guests tell me that they’ve had physical ailments disappear, or they have more energy, or even if they’ve just tried something new at the end of a retreat. I also think how food is eaten is also very important. On retreats, everyone is sat around a big table, passing platters around, sharing and talking, eating slowly and savouring the experience. Food brings people together and that is so apparent and heightened on retreats. I always feel like I come away with new friends after each one, which is amazing as you start the experience as strangers.
It looks like lifestyle is super important to you too, you surf right? you look super adventurous!
I do try and surf, yes! I learned whilst cooking at a surf school in the Algarve last year. I spent a dreamy 7 weeks with The Surf Experience, surfing on my days off. My favourite day was coming back from a surf road trip with another girl that worked there, still wet and only in our bikinis from the last sunset surf, before breaking down in the middle of nowhere in the darkness. I think we managed to somehow sweet talk a mechanic (in our non-existent Portuguese) into towing the car back to civilisation. Wild times. I now only plan trips around good surf spots!
Apart from that, I try and fit in yoga, a lot of dancing at gigs as I love music, and I’m trying to get back in to my first love, rugby, once I have some shoulder issues fixed.
Where have some of your work adventures taken you?
Most recently, Costa Rica. Monaco, the south of France, Portugal, Spain, Devon, Cornwall.
I understand you do a lot of recipe development for Planet Organic, what is your role there and what does it entail?
I was asked to come in at the beginning of this year in a consultancy role, to work on the recipe development for their new food to-go range. This means sitting down with their executive chef and the buyers, brainstorming and researching new ideas. Spending time talking to customers in different stores and getting feedback about what they’d like, and then designing recipes around that. Then we start playing around in the kitchen and seeing which recipes work. Retail is such a larger operation than what I’m used to, so really there’s a lot of learning about what works at that scale, as tonnes of food get shipped out of their central kitchen to stores across London every day. The biggest challenge, and sometimes limitation is that every ingredient, down to the spices, has to be organic. It’s been an incredible experience.
Any tips as to how to work-in excellent nutrition into our own meal plans?
I do think that nutrition is a very personal thing – what works for one person may not necessarily work for the next. That said, I think that as long as you’re getting an array of colour in terms of fruit and veg, and looking at what’s in season where you live, you can’t go wrong. Diversity (not eating the same 5 fruits and veg every day) is also really important for gut health and the immune system too. There are a lot of ways you can do this – try saving a produce calendar on your phone and incorporating some of the seasonal ingredients into a smoothie or salad. Cooking should be fun, and there are no rules, so play!
What’s coming up next for you? any retreats, fun, and projects this summer?
My next cookbook is out in early June, which is a collaboration with a dear friend and talented fellow chef and food photographer @theculinarybee. It’s called Together, and is full of recipes (and cocktails) for celebrating with friends, using British summer produce. Aside from that, we’ve got a lot of outdoor bookings this summer which will be fun. There may be another Costa Rica work trip on the cards too. I’m also launching a new project which is product and design-based, to do with food. I can’t tell you more yet, but keep your eyes peeled…
Where’s your dream surf destination?
Nosara in Costa Rica, and I’d love to check out Pavones, the world’s longest left, further down the coast. It’s a real trek to get there which means it will most definitely be worth it!
Zoe Arvolo King’s Miso overnight oats with blackberry & bay compote
Blackberry & bay compote
350g frozen blackberries
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons vanilla powder / extract
Gently heat the blackberries from frozen in a pan with the bay leaves and vanilla, for 30 minutes until you have a syrupy compote. Remove the bay leaves and store the compote in a jar.
Miso overnight oats
125g rolled oats
1 teaspoon of vanilla powder / extract
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Half a teaspoon of cardamom powder
Half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg
Half an inch of peeled fresh ginger, grated finely
2 teaspoons of organic miso
250ml of oat or nut milk
2 tablespoons of coconut sugar / maple
Vanilla coconut yoghurt
Toasted coconut flakes
Blitzed pistachio nuts
In a bowl, add the miso, spices, coconut sugar and ginger and whisk with a few tablespoons of the milk, gradually adding more until it’s incorporated. Add in the oats and leave the bowl covered in a bowl overnight, or just for an hour or two if you really can’t wait.
Top with the coconut yoghurt, compote, coconut flakes and pistachios.