I believe food is the ultimate key to health, and prevention is the best kind of medicine.
By nourishing your body with a plant-rich, nutrient dense, whole foods diet, you’re well on your way to a happy, healthy life!
Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here. I’m José, a photographer, food stylist, chef, health enthusiast and creator of Swoon Food – a site dedicated to inspiring healthy eating and living.
Like many people, my path hasn’t been straight forward. I started my career as a medical research scientist, and even though I realised it wasn’t for me before I’d even finished studying, I thought it was too late to change and stubbornly persevered.
After completing my degree I went on to do a masters of forensic scientist. This was a lot of fun but as I was deciding on my second year thesis subjects, I realised in order to be a qualified forensic scientist I’d have to continue on to a PhD.
At that point I’d been at university for 5 years and decided another 3 wasn’t for me. I was desperate to travel and see the world so I spent a year working to save up enough money, then jumped on a plane to Thailand with my best friend.
After 2 weeks sunning ourselves in Asia, we then spent 3 months travelling Europe, staying in quaint little pensions and not so quaint hostels. We had out first taste of gelato and made it our mission to find the best in all of Italy (it was in Florence btw). We discovered $2 casks of wine and the best way to drink it in the Spanish heat is a tinto de verano (red wine + soda water + ice). We discovered chestnut milk does NOT taste like normal milk, nor does it go well on coco pops. We tasted one the best desserts ever in Rome (a fragrant, syrupy walnut cake) and became Scandinavian chocolate connoisseurs. We also stopped at every beach along the way and got the best tan of our lives!
Eventually we came back to reality and reluctantly left the warmth to settle in London. I worked in several locum positions until I was offered a position at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington researching a cure for diabetes. This should have been my dream job, yet I couldn’t help feeling something was missing.
At every opportunity I’d make the most of London’s vibrant food scene. Be it trawling Borough markets on the weekends, trying out every little authentic middle eastern restaurant in the Cheap Eats Guide, discovering elusive Asian eateries and bars in Old street, or going to extravagant fine dining restaurants when my parents visited. My Dad still talks about the experience we had at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon to this day! And when I wasn’t eating out, I’d be cooking up a storm in my tiny flat kitchen and taking my creations round to whoever was hosting drinks that weekend.
It wasn’t until I went to Miami for a work conference that I had an epiphany I was in the wrong career. On the last evening we had a big dinner function at a famous creole crab shack. For the first time I tried crab claws, corn bread and key lime pie and just couldn’t get over how amazing all the food was! When I looked up from my plate I couldn’t believe everyone around me was still talking work, when all I wanted to talk about was the ridiculously good molten chocolate pudding my boss had passed on to me.
Not long after that fortuitous dinner I left my research position to retrain as a chef at Leith’s School of Food & Wine in London. Later specialising in patisserie at Westminster Kingsway College. I worked in number of London kitchens including an artisan German cake kitchen, one of Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin starred establishments, and as a cake decorator in Belgravia. On my return to New Zealand I was the head pastry chef at Soul Bar & Bistro for 2 years until I left to pursue my own ventures.
I now consult on various culinary projects, including dessert menu and recipe creation, provide food styling and photographic work, and create all the content for Swoon Food.
Why plant based, whole foods
When I started this blog I had just started eating gluten and dairy free seriously, after half heartedly entertaining the idea for the past decade.
I’ve had a dairy intolerance my whole life. As a 1 year old I was constantly sick, allergic and asthmatic, and after allergy testing my parents were told to stop feeding me ice cream every night. But I’m not sure how long the dairy ban lasted as I definitely remember being able to eat all the dairy and ice cream I wanted as a kid.
As a 5 year old I can remember coming home from school every day with a terrible headache that often developed into a migraine, and wanting to go straight to bed. Despite some basic food intolerance tests (which involved eating dairy milk chocolate, cheese and marmite every morning for a week – I thought all my Christmases had come at once!), Dr’s couldn’t figure out the cause. Because the headaches appeared to start in my neck I was sent to numerous physio’s and later chiropractors, but nothing seemed to work.
The headaches continued into my 20’s, until I eventually found a holistic naturopath who, after hearing all the other things I had going on like digestive issues and peeling nails, told me I needed to stop eating dairy, gluten and sugar ASAP. I didn’t listen to her at first because I didn’t believe food was the cause, plus I loved sweets and chocolates way too much. But I did cut back on dairy and gluten and did start to notice the headaches reducing. Around this time I also started working as a pastry chef so eating completely dairy, gluten and sugar free wasn’t a very realistic option.
By the time I left my pastry chef work I was so allergic to wheat flour that I merely had to touch it and I would come up in hives. So I made a huge effort to cut dairy, gluten and sugar (see below), and began to finally see some changes. This is also what inspired me to start this blog to share my new dairy and gluten free recipe creations.
Despite these efforts my headaches didn’t completely go so I started looking at other inflammatory foods that could be contributing. I already wasn’t eating any red meat, so I gradually started reducing the remaining animal products (chicken, eggs and fish) and processed foods.
If you’re avoiding dairy, gluten, sugar, meat, chicken and fish what do you eat? Well you’re pretty much left with plants in their whole, unprocessed form. So plant based, whole foods are now the basis of my diet. I’m not perfect and do occasionally have days where my diet is more processed than whole food, but like anything it’s a balance. If you can eat healthy 80% of the time then you’re definitely still on the winning side.
Why sugar free
After leaving my pastry chef role I realised I was a serious sugar addict. This was no doubt one of the main driving forces behind my love for all things sweet, as well as my bold career change. I knew it wasn’t healthy or sustainable long term – at least not without some serious consequences of which I was beginning to get a taste.
I decided it was time to get serious about my health once and for all. So with the guidance of my naturopath I put myself through a complete sugar detox. Almost immediately I saw changes. Brain fog, dizziness, tingling in my fingers, migraines and digestive issues all started to clear up, and the positive changes continued to multiply the longer I continued. I went 8 weeks completely sugar free and during that time I ate no sugar, carbs or alcohol, and felt so amazing I didn’t want to stop! The only reason I did relax my sugar free diet was because we went on our honeymoon and I couldn’t bear to miss out on all the delicious Vietnamese food.
I was so inspired by how a simple diet change can impact your health in such a hugely positive way that I want to help share this message with as many people as I can. I’m continually researching this topic and the more I learn, the more I’m inspired. If the idea of cutting sugar speaks to you, you can read more about it and the concept of doing a sugar cleanse here.
My other passions
When I’m not creating or photographing food you’ll likely find me in a raw food cafe, practicing yoga, or walking with my husband Nick and our extremely large Alaskan Malamute Chewbacca (pictured left) and our highly spirited (naughty) pup Sadie, an Airedale Terrier.