Blue Zones Project (BZP) has been extraordinarily fortunate to have met and worked with many passionate chefs in our community! These volunteers have shared their time, talent, and passion for healthy cooking with nearly 700 community members and counting.
The three chefs we are featuring are: Heidi McFarely, Jon Sodini, and Gary Asmus. They have gone above and beyond and have presented classes at The Senior Center, Providence Southgate, Wheatland Village, the WW Public Library, Whitman College, SonBridge Center for Healthy Living, and more! They have prepared everything from tofu to kale and taught us how to make these healthy items taste delicious!
McFarely has her own business, Red Reina, where she shares her gift of cooking by making it fun and affordable. She opened a restaurant in Walla Walla in 2011 making lunches six days a week and catering countless events. She eventually closed the restaurant to focus on catering. In 2018 she took her passion for food in a new direction and became the Food Program Director at a charter school for 6 – 8 graders. She sourced food from local producers and the students helped in the kitchen and took cooking classes.
When BZP combined our cooking classes with the Produce RX pilot with Providence St. Mary’s (a program where doctors prescribed eating vegetables to patients with chronic health disease) the cooking classes took off. The patients from Produce RX started coming to BZP cooking classes to learn how to cook the vegetables they were prescribed. Word spread about how amazing McFarley’s monthly classes were and went from 10 participants to sometimes 60. Her love and knowledge of healthy food was infectious and reignited her passion for teaching cooking. The classes have rekindled her business and she is teaching more and more healthy cooking classes with Blue Zones Project and other organizations. Currently, BZP is working on connecting her with Providence St. Mary’s Southgate team to continue her monthly classes that have been so popular.
Jon Sodini was the Culinary Director at Bon Appetit for Whitman College but recently moved to California with his family to pursue more culinary crusades. He helped revolutionize eating for the students and staff at Whitman by putting plant-based options first on the menu and sourcing as much produce and meat as he could from local farms. The dining hall, called Cleveland Commons Café, is also open to the public and is the most affordable plant-forward restaurant in the valley. He worked with BZP to have Cleveland Commons become a Blue Zones Project Approved Restaurant. But the team learned so much more from Sodini than we could share with him.
He honed his cooking skills and earned his Associates Degree in Culinary Arts from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR and participated in an intensive program at Le Cordon Bleu in France.
Sodini charmed participants at his cooking classes at Whitman and at College Place Farmers Markets taking produce right from the stands at the market and making delicious dishes. He will be missed in the valley, but his legacy continues at the café.
Gary Asmus is a semi-retired chef who continues to be a personal chef and caterer when it doesn’t interfere with his new passion of woodworking. A graduate from the California Culinary Academy, Asmus worked everywhere from being the Executive Chef at Evergreen Hospital to being a chef for the famous Wolfgang Puck. Asmus’ passion for cooking is infectious and he teaches so many tricks of the trade including how to efficiently cut a pepper, what knives are best to use, and how to grill tofu to please any barbecue fan.
Asmus generously donated his time for some Produce RX classes, farmers markets, and at the WW Public Library. He is known for big cooking, so everyone gets more than just a sample at his classes! He also serves on the board for the Blue Mountain Humane Society and cooks homemade meals for his well-loved dogs at home. If only we all could be his pet!