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Nutrition for the Soul

Megan Huylo ’06, a personal chef and, more recently, reality TV contestant, has years of experience interpreting the science of her body’s nutritional signals. Though it’s taken some time, she’s also learned to respond to her intuition. 

Ever since triumphing over a childhood struggle with lymphoblastic lymphoma, Huylo has been focused on good nutrition. She tried and discarded various diets based on how they made her feel, searching for habits that created a sense of strength and vitality. 

As a student at Scranton (a Human Resource Studies major), she focused on a healthy diet. She and her friends made Sunday night dinners, broiling salmon or roasting chicken, marinating vegetables or putting together a big salad. “It was fun to cook for everyone and it’s one of my fondest memories of my time at Scranton — the community of it all, everyone gathered around the table,” she said. “I think that was when I realized how fulfilling it was to cook for other people.” 

Until quite recently, Huylo’s life was divided between the “private” obsession she indulged — writing a widely read food blog — and her “day job” as a corporate recruiter on Wall Street. As much as she enjoyed the recruiting work, Huylo found herself using every spare moment engrossed in all things dietary, her thoughts often returning to those Sunday night dinners at Scranton. In 2012 she came to a realization as she was searching for recipes online: “I just thought, ‘If this is how I’m going to spend all my down time, maybe I should pursue it as a career.’” 

A Whole New Career 

That insight has led to a successful new life as the founder of Downtown Epicure, a Manhattan-based venture through which Huylo offers a variety of services, including: personal chef; catering whole food, plant-based cuisine; customized juice and food cleanse programs; wellness and lifestyle consulting; and even a seasonal vegan ice cream delivery service.

Going from corporate recruiter to personal chef doesn’t happen overnight, even for the truly inspired. Huylo was in need of training, which she promptly pursued at the National Gourmet Institute in New York through the T. Colin Campbell Foundation/Cornell University. Being out of a day job, she was also in need of income. Although Huylo’s blog (which details everything from her travels to her recipe for kabocha squash, ginger and coconut bisque) had generated much interest, it was a long process to gain clientele. “My culinary school has a jobs board that I consult frequently,” she said. “I started building a website and trying to make sure my name came up if people Googled ‘personal chef New York City.’” 

One big challenge for Huylo has been her highly specialized cuisine, which is plant-based. “People who hire a personal chef don’t always want plant-based food,” she said. “Sometimes it’s, ‘Make me a steak.’” Fortunately, as Huylo was enhancing her web presence to get her fledgling business airborne in early 2013, she stumbled upon a casting call for a cooking reality show called “Cook Your Ass Off,” a healthy cooking competition. “That was perfect for me,” she said. 

After a series of interviews, Huylo was chosen to appear on the program, which started filming in the fall of 2013. Contestants went through a variety of challenges during the season, including, for example, making a full meal for four in 30 minutes, using just the ingredients given, or re-making an unhealthy meal into a healthy one. “It was the most challenging, stressful thing I’ve ever done,” she said. 

Huylo (spoiler alert!) did not win the grand prize, but she did make it to the finale and developed friendships with the other contestants. Best of all, being on the show helped promote Downtown Epicure. 

Client Focused 

Although she has abandoned a typical human resource track, she said she draws on her Scranton education when she makes business-related decisions and works to develop relationships with clients. “My clients often tell me that not only do I put out great food, but that I understand the business side of what I do,” she said. “We received such a diverse education at Scranton, and I believe that it’s made me into a really well-rounded individual, both personally and professionally.” 

One such client is Mika Panchal, executive director of Conscious Kitchen, New York City. “Huylo is a consummate professional through and through,” she said. “She brings the best of both worlds — proficiency for business and a creative point of view — to the table.” 

Typically, her clients have health goals they want to address, so if they have a particular food craving, Huylo uses it to help focus on what message their bodies are really trying to send to their brains. Sometimes that means a very brief rendezvous with animal proteins or white bread. Huylo is fine with that because she believes people shouldn’t become too regimented in their diets. 

“Life is all about balance,” she said, summing up her philosophy for both body and soul.

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