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Graduates of Bauman College, at 1007 University Ave. in Berkeley, have become food and health specialists who are making a valuable contribution to the East Bay community. Photo: Ken Gutmaker
Graduates of Bauman College, at 1007 University Ave. in Berkeley, have become food and health specialists who are making a valuable contribution to the East Bay community. Photo: Ken Gutmaker

On Berkeley’s University Avenue, between Ninth and 10th streets, there is a small oasis of calm amid the honking cars and dollar stores. Tucked between the two imposing Premier Cru buildings is the Berkeley campus of Bauman College, a holistic nutrition and culinary school. It has sat quietly in this space since 2011 when it made the move from a small building on Grayson Street.

Both the college’s natural chef and nutrition consultant programs are certificate programs, and graduates are able to work as chefs and health educators in restaurants, hospitals or as consultants for small businesses. Other graduates go on to work as private nutrition consultants or private chefs.

Chances are good there’s a Bauman grad working nearby; they’ve spread across the Bay Area into myriad fields.

The industrious Dr. Ed Bauman founded the first Bauman campus in Cotati, in 1989, and it originally focused exclusively on nutrition education. It wasn’t until 1996 that Bauman College expanded to Santa Cruz and Berkeley— and later to Boulder, Colorado, as well. At that time, the school added a culinary program.

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Natalia Bryantsev: teaches nutrition clases to hospital staff. Photo: Eating Best in Health

Many alumni have stuck very close to home, teaching classes on campus, while others, like Natalia Bryantsev, work in a secondary Bauman program at the Alameda Health System, called Bauman Wellness. There, she teaches nutrition classes to hospital staff.

“They’re just regular people who really need help in finding out better ways of living, particularly how to eat, how to de-stress at work, and how to take better care of themselves,” she said. “We are giving them very basic education, like how to create meals, how to combine different ingredients in their meals to make them nutritionally complete, and how to organize their schedule so they can fit pieces of self-care into each day.”

In these classes, Bryantsev also makes use of her other specialty — yoga. She believes that yoga is an important tool for making dietary decisions.

“By practicing yoga through body and breath awareness, connection to present state of being and self-study, a person can discover which new choices may be more desirable or appropriate to implement and which are giving better results,” she said. “Yoga and nutrition work together, especially when just nutrition by itself may not work. Between the two, [a person’s] whole lifestyle is optimized.”

Bauman Wellness grew out of the internship program required of all Bauman College students. Many of the students intern in the community, offering free classes to local businesses.

“We’re definitely penetrating the mainstream and the mainstream is saying, ‘This is good. This is really something that we need and that we want,’” said Ed Bauman.

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Bauman College was designed by Berkeley architects Kahn Design Associates, whose staff also took classes at the college shortly after it opened in 2011. Photo: KDA Designs

One of the first businesses to pilot the program was Berkeley’s own Kahn Design Associates, the architecture firm that designed the new Bauman campus. Ann Slobod, the business and marketing director, found these classes to be beneficial to the staff.

“People came away from it feeling like it was really good information, it was succinct, it wasn’t belabored,” she said. “I think it really turned some people on to healthful eating, some of whom were interested in nutrition, and some of whom had never really thought about what they eat.”

Kahn Design wasn’t just interested in improving employee health. The firm also wanted to demonstrate its commitment to health to the wider community.

“We do restaurant design. We care about food and care about the quality of what we eat. We care about the environment and do sustainability-focused design and consulting. And it’s all tied together,” said Slobod.

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Connie Moreno: the Bauman College graduate now works as a health educator at the West Berkeley Family Clinic. Photo: courtesy Bauman College

Even after the program was over, staff at Kahn Design remained engaged with health.

“It had a lasting effect,” explained Slobod. “A handful of people started doing something called Lunch Bunch, where we took turns cooking a couple times a week for each other to really try to eat better.” In addition, the firm started a runner’s group for people who have never jogged before. “It just kind of started the ball rolling in terms of the company having more of an active role in people’s well-being, physical well-being.”

Connie Moreno moved just down the street to the West Berkeley Family Clinic at LifeLong Medical Care. There, she works as a health educator alongside a team of doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurses to provide low- and no-cost healthcare to patients of all income levels.

As a health educator, Moreno provides additional education for patients struggling with diet-related disorders. “Maybe they got their lab results back and they have high cholesterol. Or the last time they were in, their blood pressure was slightly elevated,” she said. “I also see patients one-on-one for visits. For example, if someone gets diagnosed with diabetes, that really warrants a longer visit.”

Unlike Bryantsev, Moreno has needed to modify the lessons she learned at Bauman College to help her patients. Bauman College’s curriculum is tied to a model called “Eating for Health.” Designed around a bullseye-shaped diagram, Eating for Health calls for a balanced, mostly plant-based, diet. Items like mineral broth, seaweeds, nutritional yeast and spices are incorporated with vegetables, fruits, unrefined starches, meats and smaller amounts of fats and oils. (See the picture below for more details.)

Bauman College’s curriculum is tied to a model called Eating for Health designed around this bullseye-shaped diagram. Image: Bauman College
Bauman College’s curriculum is tied to a model called Eating for Health designed around this bullseye-shaped diagram. Image: Bauman College

“The emphasis is on seasonal, organic, unprocessed local food. So that’s just naturally healthy,” explained Bauman. He’s clear to point out that the Eating for Health model doesn’t specify for specific diets like veganism or Paleo. “We’re not telling people what to do, we’re giving people information to make good choices,” he said.

Adds Bauman College’s executive director Karen Rotstein: “The way our students use the Eating for Health model is to determine a person’s diet direction. It’s like a palette that they can choose from to make a diet individualized for a particular person.” This specific tailoring teaches Bauman students to pursue therapeutic cooking and nutrition. Rotstein explains that she wants all of the students to be “able to work together with other practitioners or doctors to help people who have pre-diagnosed illnesses or need a special diet.”

Still, many of Moreno’s patients can’t afford to follow even a tailored Eating for Health model. So she starts with the basics.

“Often we’re starting with very, very small baby steps. For example, a lot the folks that I run into at the clinic aren’t drinking water. So we’ll start with something really basic, like ‘Let’s start drinking water every day,’” she said. “It’s sort of like a harm-reduction approach to nutrition. It’s not the ideal diet. I work with them from where they’re at.”

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Alison Negrin: since she graduated from Bauman 11 years ago the chef and nutrition consultant has been working to improve food and systems in local hospitals. Photo: Chef Alison Negrin
Alison Negrin: since she graduated from Bauman 11 years ago the chef and nutrition consultant has been working to improve food and systems in local hospitals. Photo: Chef Alison Negrin

Likewise, chef and nutrition consultant Alison Negrin needed to shift her thinking after she graduated from Bauman. For 11 years, Negrin worked as the executive chef for the John Muir Health System.

“When you’re doing patient menus, it can be very limiting,” she said. “You have to be more creative. Even though you’re not able to use these wonderful ingredients, you try to make it good for the patients who can’t have all those things.”

Negrin also helped to improve the balance of the meals offered to the hospital staff. “We increased whole grains in the menu and added more greens.” She also made the menu “more seasonally connected as far as produce and fruit” and decreased the amount of meat being served.

To bring these changes full circle, Negrin helped to improve the methods the hospital used for sourcing their ingredients. Here, she was able to use experience she had built up during her previous life as a restaurant chef at restaurants like Chez Panisse and Bridges. Yet sourcing for an institutional hospital kitchen is a much bigger animal than for a small, expensive restaurant.

“Obviously hospitals can’t do the same thing [as these restaurants] because they have to keep the cost down,” she said. “But the fact that hospitals do purchase such large volumes meant that maybe we could actually influence some of these large food vendors to bring in things that are more sustainable.”

Negrin and her coworkers eventually joined up with other area hospitals including USCF, Sanford, Kaiser, and St. Josephs to form the Bay Area Hospital Leadership Team.

“We worked together to leverage our purchasing power to get [better foods] into US Foods and Sysco. For example, we were able to bring down the price of cage-free eggs so that we could afford them,” she said.

Moreno was also able to use some of her expertise to find a way to get better food to her patients.

“One of the things I really struggled with when I first started working at West Berkeley was the fact that a lot of our patients can’t afford to buy the healthiest food out there,” she said. “They can’t afford organic, they can’t afford high quality meats, and those are the kinds of things that Bauman really encourages folks to eat.”

So Moreno and a coworker started a twice-weekly vegetable giveaway using donations from local farmers’ markets, at which they feed up to 60 families. “People really look forward to the giveaways and rely on that food.”

In addition, Moreno worked to build culinary literacy among her patients by starting a series of cooking classes with nonprofit Cooking Matters. The volunteer-run group teaches her patients methods for cooking healthier meals and donates all of the ingredients necessary. “We had to get creative about increasing access to healthy food since we’re promoting it.”

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Mindy Berla is putting her nutrition degree to good use at a gym she runs with her husband in Jack London Square in Oakland. Photo: Brooklyn Academy Roots

Other alumni have entered into smaller practices. Mindy Berla is using her nutrition degree at the gym that she owns with her husband in Jack London Square.

“I’m a personal trainer and I have been interested in nutrition and health for a long time,” she said. “In my work, I kept meeting women in the gym who had come across a lot of rapid weight gain and they were really confused by it. It ended up being from food sensitivities.” Learning more about food sensitivities is what drew her to Bauman College. Right now, the gym, Brooklyn Academy Roots, offers nutritional counseling alongside Berla’s yoga, pilates, and personal training classes.

Berla has given her own spin on the Bauman model, which she calls the “Art of Eating for Energy.”

“I believe that every person has their own specific dietary needs and nutrient needs. These needs are based on what they’re doing on a daily basis, what kind of energy they need, and what foods make them feel the best,” she explained. “I see food as a spectrum of colors and that you want to eat [a variety of] colors. Food should be, and can be, a way to participate in an art form and a spiritual connectivity to the earth. Plus, food really is energy; it’s what allows us to have energy or to not have energy throughout the day.”

While some of this philosophy was formed long before she got her nutrition certificate, Berla was inspired by Bauman’s emphasis on teaching digestion.

“I think that the digestive system is one of the most undervalued systems in our bodies. It’s not really talked about because it’s kind of an embarrassing topic,” she said. “What stuck with me the most is that overview of how the whole digestive system, it’s not just the stomach, is responding to food and how the body is getting information about how that food is affecting the body.”

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Merritt Jones says her Bauman degree has given her a leg up in her study of medicine. Photo: Albany Acupuncture Center

Merritt Jones also enrolled at Bauman to learn more about diet and digestion — but her reason was personal.

“I got into nutrition because I was wildly ill and no western doctor could fix me,” she said. “I was working for a woman who suggested that my diet might be playing a part. She pointed me in the direction of a few good books and I started to sort of open up to the idea. Finally, I started researching schools because I wanted to know more. Then I came upon Bauman.”

Jones enrolled in 2010, and immediately put her growing knowledge to work.

“I started to heal myself, finding more information through my teachers there than I ever did with any Western doctor. I was better by the time I graduated.”

Jones started working in private practice as well as for a supplement company called Energetic Nutrition soon after graduating. But it wasn’t long before she was drawn back to school. Today, she is studying Chinese medicine at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley. She likes the way that Chinese medicine explores health through an individualized approach that addresses the root of illnesses.

“For example, I had a patient with IBS. In Western medicine, even from a holistic nutrition perspective, there are multiple ways to treat IBS, but when you’re diagnosing it, it’s just IBS,” she said. “But from an Eastern perspective, there are seven different pathways that could lead somebody to the diagnosis of IBS, and it’s our job to tease out what their constitution is and what their core imbalances are. Then we guide them back to health that way.”

Still, she maintains that her Bauman degree has given her a leg up in her study of medicine.

“The school that I’m in now, it definitely teaches holistic nutrition but it’s not to the extent that we learned at Bauman,” she said. “Bauman was a great foundation. With any medical practice, Eastern, Western, or whatever pathway you choose to use, nutrition is the foundation. Any good practitioner will tell you that. Working with food is the first step.”

Cristy Kovacs and Maririose Piciucco
Cristy Kovacs and Maririose Piciucco: xxx. Photo: Muffin Revolution

Chefs Marirose Piciucco and Christy Kovacs have taken a bit of a different path, opening their own grain-free muffin company called Muffin Revolution. But they weren’t originally sure that they wanted to go into food production. The pair was originally interested in teaching cooking classes. Piciucco was particularly interested in getting children into the kitchen.

“The more involved kids get into cooking, the more they’re going to own the foods they eat and eat better foods,” she said. “So we started a business teaching cooking classes to kids.” At the same time as they were opening their business, Piciucco and Kovacs worked out at the Berkeley Iron Works climbing gym, and they were struggling to feed themselves healthy snacks.

That’s when they decided to make muffins. Their healthy, whole grain muffins became popular around the gym, and the two eventually started selling them to other climbers. Over time, they generated enough business to stop teaching and focus entirely on their bakery. Along the way, they eliminated gluten and grain from the muffins, and have now developed a fully paleo-friendly line of the baked goods, which they produce at Berkeley Kitchens, the commercial kitchen incubator in West Berkeley. Piciucco and Kovacs have found the most inspiration from their customers. “Interacting with customers is a really big part of our business,” said Piciucco. “We’re not just selling muffins, we’re selling the idea of a nutritious meal—that every meal ought to be nutritious.”

All of the alumni agree that their Bauman education has given them many tools with which to improve their communities.

“I really love doing this work because it transforms people. It’s seen on their bodies and in their faces, the eyes brighten up, the skin too. So it’s just fascinating that you can really see the change in people when they start applying it. It’s wonderful,” said Bryantsev.

Moreno believes the best way to spread health is to keep things simple.

“It’s kind of an art to try to find ways to take what you learn at Bauman and make it digestible for people, and not make it super overwhelming or intimidating,” she said. “You can totally eat healthy with really basic foods. Some of the cheapest food out there is so healthy for you, and we sometimes overlook that kind of stuff. You can do a lot with just food.”

Bakers, cooks, and cakemakers thrive at Berkeley Kitchens (04.03.14)
Bauman College celebrates new Berkeley campus (06.24.11)

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Kate Williams has been writing about food since 2009. After spending two years developing recipes for cookbooks at America’s Test Kitchen, she moved to Berkeley and began work as a freelance writer and...