Meet Lee Tilghman aka Lee from America. Although she moved to California only two years ago, we immediately recognized Lee as a quintessentially Californian chef (and master food stylist) from her rainbow Instagram feed. With a passion for cooking and emphasis on health and wellness, Lee has created a formidable community through her blog and helped thousands of people learn how to care for their minds and bodies by sharing the intimate details of her own journey. We knew we wanted to find a way to work with her, so we tapped her as the chef for an upcoming dinner we’re hosting with Darling. Take a minute to learn a little more about this incredible, accomplished woman.
Lee’s aunt, in addition to her dad, inspired her love of cooking.
My aunt is a full-time chef and restaurateur and three-time cookbook author in Boston. She was part of the slow food movement, and she also has been into vegetarian cooking for like 30 plus years. She was bringing creamed kale to the Thanksgiving dinner table in 1995, when kale was not even a thing. She foraged it or something because people weren’t growing it; it was just what they used in the deli cases at the supermarket. She’s been a mentor to me as a woman in the business and someone that has taken her passion for sustainable, local food and made it into a career. She’s stayed so true to her ethos, and she’s taught me a lot about seasonal and plant-based cooking.
Not everyone in her family shares the philosophy when it comes to food.
My dad was really about hyper-quality ingredients, so he had a spice guy and a goat cheese guy and a meat guy and a pasta guy, and it drove my mom crazy. She was like, “Why can you just go to the supermarket? It’s one stop!”
Now she’s a passionate foodie, but she struggled with an eating disorder for years.
In high school my friends and I all decided to go on a diet because we were all reading fashion magazines, and I felt like it was cool to be really skinny. So we all went on this diet, and everyone else stopped after a week, but I was like, “I’m going to keep going!” So I went kind of crazy.
I don’t think I realized what I was doing to my body, but I definitely was just trying to be healthy, and I took it too far. Then for about two years I struggled with an eating disorder. It was a really dark and lonely time in my life. I got to a point when I was 18 where I saw a clear vision: I could either keep going down this road or just get help. And everyone was offering it, but I just wasn’t ready to say yes until finally I was just like, “I can’t do this on my own.” So I went to a treatment center where I got educated on eating disorders and how to properly feed your body.
From then on I knew I was going to commit to a life of proper nutrition because food is joy, and I love it. I didn’t expect it to turn into my career. Now I’m trying to spread the message that we don’t have to fear food, and if we are educating ourselves on what our bodies need and want and give that to ourselves, we don’t have to have such an on-again, off-again relationship with food.
She started her career in the New York food scene.
I was working as the executive assistant/marketing/social media/events coordinator for a restaurant group in New York. I helped open up Chalk Point Kitchen, which is in SoHo. It’s like a farm to table restaurant, and I helped them grow their social media, I helped them design the menus, I helped them with the interiors. I basically helped them build it from the ground up, so I really saw what the industry is like. You have to wear all hats when you’re on the business side of things. One day I’d be helping the chef write the menu and the next day I’d be calling a plumber to fix a leak and then the next we’d be hosting a party for Vogue.
California, especially Los Angeles, had a pull Lee couldn’t deny.
I came out here a bunch when I was living in New York, and the first things that drew me out here was the food and the farmer’s markets and the restaurant and wellness scenes. I could just feel a movement happening in Los Angeles and California, and when I first came here when I was 16 with my family, I got off the plane and I was just like, “I feel like this is home. I know I see myself here in the future.” I could just feel there was so much inspiration and creativity, and I wanted to be a part of it.
The weather was also a big draw. And the produce. When I came here, I’d go the farmer’s market and be like, “Their avocados are so much better.” And then I’d go back to New York and eat these avocados that were like bruised and watery and like light green, and in California they have these bright, organic, heavy, fatty avocados. And the figs and the persimmons. It was so exciting. It was like a new world.
Los Angeles is just such a health center, like people here go hiking instead of going to bars, and people out here favor a healthier work-life balance as opposed to New York, where working longer hours is bragged about and admired. In LA it’s way chiller, and I wanted a more relaxed lifestyle.
Practicing self-care keeps her sane.
Self-care took me a really long time to figure out. I thought diet and exercise were the only important things, but now it’s about incorporating more stress relief, like taking baths, meditating, and doing yoga and calling friends and talking about issues instead of keeping them in, journaling, or doing face masks—just things that show that I love myself. Those small actions on a weekly basis really pay off. It’s made a profound difference in my well-being and decision-making skills and my overall quality of life.
She doesn’t buy into the superfoods du jour.
I try not to get looped into food trends and instead just do what’s right for my body. If everyone’s eating greens or quinoa, I might try it. I really just eat things that make me feel good, and I’m super sensitive to that. It really just depends on what works with my diet. I used to eat smoothie bowls every single day, and I was putting all these “superfoods” in them, like goji berries and cacao nibs and like all this stuff, and it was just overload for my system. There’s only so much your body can absorb. So now I try to stay clear of “superfoods.” Whenever I see that on something, I’m just like, “That’s a marketing ploy.” I think superfoods are just what work with your body, so everyone has a different list of superfoods.
Green is an essential part of her lifestyle—not just her macro bowls.
For a while I was oblivious to how my daily actions affected the environment and the world around me. Going into my 20’s and moving to California made me realize that the environment is really important to me. I really love nature and being outside. And it’s the little decisions that we make every day, like what we eat and what products we buy and whether we drive or walk somewhere, that really make the biggest impact.
Comfort is key when it comes to her style.
I’m usually on my feet most of the day, cooking and recipe testing and running around, so normally I’m in denim or some kind of legging. I like things that can easily switch from working to working out. Working from home, my style has definitely changed. It’s way more about comfort but still put together. Normally at home I’m wearing slippers. Neutrals are important. I like my foods to be brightly colored but my outfits to be neutral. Light colored things make me happy. Sometimes I’ll spice things up with a fun piece, like a satin bomber jacket.
She’s going places.
When I was working in New York, I was also starting my blog, and I knew I wanted to work for myself. I feel like I learned so much from that restaurant job, but I definitely wanted to be my own boss. I see myself having my own restaurant someday, but I’m still a little too young. I think there’s a lot more things like travel to experience, so I don’t want to get locked down with a restaurant.