While you may have traveled to the same destination as your friends, family or social circle, it is our individual experiences that shape us, inspire us and leave an impression that cannot be replicated through someone else’s eyes. It’s an impact that lasts longer than any photograph or social media post every could.
For former actress Vikki Krinsky, who starred in shows such as Wild Card and Edgemont, travel meant change. Distraught with the pressures of staying thin in Hollywood, Krinksy booked a one-way ticket to Europe, where she ultimately shaped her newfound career as a successful private chef in Los Angeles for several well-known actors and Hollywood personalities. When you hear how she got her start (hint: a fated meeting on a train to Paris), you’re going to want to book your next vacation, stat.
Ahead, Krinsky shares her her career journey, go-to travel spots, and a recipe makeover (she’s a host on Recipe Rehab) for one of her favorite ethnic dishes from a previous vacation. How will your next trip inspire you?
Tell us a little bit about your time as an actress. How did the pressures to stay thin inspire you to make a career change?
“The truth is, I loved acting. I loved being a part of an ensemble and developing a character that wasn’t me. I loved expressing myself and creating something for girls around the world to relate to. The fan mail was like nothing I had ever experienced before. At a very young age I learned how people connect to actors, so I was grateful to have been given that powerful platform.”
“However, with my success came pressure. The pressure to look a certain way and maintain a certain weight started to affect the way I felt daily. It made me irritable and lowered my self-confidence. As a natural leader, I felt as though I was losing my footing and what mattered most.”
When did you decide to quit and make the decision to book a one-way ticket to Europe?
“I moved to Los Angeles when I was 19 while on hiatus from the second season of the Lifetime show Zoe Busiek’s Wild Card. I flew down to audition for a Disney gymnastics movie called Stick It. I tested for a couple of shows and didn’t land any roles. Basically, I was told to ‘lose five pounds and look into vaneers’ by several ‘important’ people such as agents, managers and producers. After hitting an all-time-low, I decided to take a break from acting. I was completely discouraged by my negative body image and the pressure to be thin. I thought it was a good time to explore, live the life of a backpacker and take off to Europe!”
“Alongside sweat pants and T-shirts, I brought my nutritional books, and off I went. Paris was first on my list. There I was on the train, second day in, coincidentally sitting next to a chef from a very upscale hotel restaurant. He noticed my book, and we started chatting. Next thing I know, I was in his kitchen learning how to make the famous Tarte Tatin. I loved every minute of that experience. He was kind enough to connect me to chefs all over Europe—Amsterdam, Milan, Switzerland and London. After a little over five months of backpacking and lightly ‘staging’ in a few kitchens, I came back to Los Angeles with a new zest for food, health and cooking!”
So, you never formally went to culinary school?
“I didn’t! Happily self-taught.”
What were some of the most valuable techniques/lessons you learned during this period in your life?
“Outside of basic knife skills and chopping techniques, I learned it was extremely important to maintain a clean and tidy work area. This has been a huge lesson as a private chef. Working in celebrity homes, it’s crucial to clean as I go. Keeping everything neat and organized has helped secure my place as a reputable private chef. I also learned that ‘scraps’ should be saved for stock, sauces and dressings. Nothing goes to waste.”
When did the health-kick passion come into the mix?
“Playing competitive sports my whole life has driven me to be as fit and healthy as possible. However, it became a slight obsession after being told, several times, to lose weight. I didn’t like how I started to view food. It was unhealthy and made me unhappy. I knew at a young age I needed to turn this mentality around, and that’s when I started studying and researching nutrition and sports medicine. I recognized people wanted delicious fine-dining meals, and my passion became creating those with a nutritional twist.”
What are a couple of your most memorable dining experiences?
Blue Hill in Tarrytown, New York: “From the moment you enter the farm to the moment you leave you feel as though you’ve entered a magical dream! All of your senses are stimulated, and the primary focus on ‘farm-to-table’ is expressed throughout the entire experience.”
Lapérouse in Paris, France: “Incredibly elegant and romantic. This was the first restaurant I witnessed a decadent soufflé finished off with a pour of hot chocolate ganache — by an ever-so-handsome and professional waiter. I recognized here that service was just as important as the meal itself.”
If someone wanted to go on an epicurean/foodie vacation of their dreams, what places would you steer them to and why?
“Aside from the obvious — Italy, France and Spain — my top three places to travel solely for their food would be:
Chicago: “The Windy City has an amazing array of terrific street food and fine dining, providing a great balance.”
New York: “I eat everything while I’m there! From street pupusas to dirty-water-dogs (hot dogs) on the bustling corners of Manhattan. I leave my evenings free for anything from Barbuto or ABC Kitchen to fine dining restaurants like Le Bernardin or Eleven Madison Park.”
Israel: “Spectacular ingredients and extremely talented chefs. Israeli cuisine continues to adapt elements of various styles of cuisine. Mediterranean ingredients, as well as Sephardic and Ashkenazi styles of Jewish cooking, influence it, so it’s very flavorful and healthy.”
What tips can you offer for staying in shape while traveling, without having to give up experiencing all the amazing local cuisine?
“Keeping hydrated is incredibly important while traveling. Time change and imbalanced blood sugar levels can make you feel hungry when you’re actually dehydrated. It’s important to be sure to nibble on small amounts of high-protein, low-sugar snacks, like unsalted nuts or 85% or higher dark chocolate, every two to three hours. Also, taking advantage of active means of transportation—like riding a bicycle or walking as much as possible—is a great way to explore while burning a few extra calories.”
Recipe makeover challenge: One of the best ethnic dishes that you had on your travels.
“I had an incredible traditional tamale while in Mexico, so I decided to create a healthy ‘Krinskified’ version! Remember, portion control is your friend.”
MUFFIN TIN TAMALES
“There’s nothing like the flavors of a traditional, warm gooey, tamale, made with fresh ingredients, bursting with flavor, and all-ready to eat in a healthy portion-size cup!
Cook time: 40-minutes
Prep time: 15-minutes
4 teaspoons coconut oil
1 1/2 cups masa (Note: Masa or masa harina (or corn flour) is a very finely ground cornmeal.)
2 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken stock
½ teaspoon baking powder (aluminum free)
pinch of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pound extra lean ground turkey
1 medium yellow onion, small dice (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, fine chop
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano 1 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
½ cup low-sodium fat free chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup low fat mozzarella cheese
½ cup plain fat free Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle.
- Place coconut oil, masa, chicken stock, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and mix well with a spatula until combined and soft. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside.
- Heat the coconut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, salt and pepper, and break the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Stir occasionally until browned and cooked through, about four minutes. Remove the turkey with a slotted spoon to a medium bowl and set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about four-minutes.
Add the vinegar and stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in the paprika, oregano, cumin, and cayenne, and stir until incorporated. Cook for about two-minutes.
- Add the turkey, tomatoes, chicken broth, salt, and pepper to the pan—stir to combine. Cook for another three-minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about five-to-seven-minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat. Taste, and add a touch more salt, pepper, and cayenne if you see fit!
- Using the muffin tin base, spray four-inch foil cups really well with olive oil spray. Take about a teaspoon of masa and spread a thin layer evenly in the cups and up the sides, being careful it’s not too thick. Add two teaspoons of the turkey mixture to the middle of the muffin tin cup. Cover the entire pan with tinfoil and bake for 20-minutes.
- Carefully remove the tamales from the oven and sprinkle with cheese. Place back in the oven uncovered for 10-minutes. Gently run a knife around the edges and carefully flip tin cups upside down. Top with a dollop of fat-free Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro!
Nutritional information (per serving):
Fat calories: 100
Total fat grams: 11
Sat fat grams: 7
Cholesterol mg: 65
Sodium mg: 970
Total carbohydrates g: 39
Fiber g: 4
Sugars g: 4
Protein g: 35