Nashville Native and true Southern girl, Laura Lea Bryant, has had a personal relationship with food from the very beginning. Growing up in a family that prepared home-cooked meals every night, Laura Lea grew to relate food to connection, love, and support without even realizing it. After graduating from the University of Virginia, she moved to New York City to pursue paralegal work while applying to law school. Unpassionate about her career and feeling a lack of connection to the City, she began spending almost every weekend going out for drinks and greasy food, only to wake up feeling guilty about the lifestyle she was living. Feeling off balance and a severe lack of control in her life, she began to long for that familiar feeling of connection, love, and support, leading her back to something she could control: nourishing her body. 

Doing away with the nightlife of NYC, she began spending her weekends wandering farmers’ markets and scouring bookstores for recipes found in cookbooks. With an intent to learn how to nourish her own body, she started cooking with whole foods, oils, and nuts, as well as local meats and cheeses. She began to feel passionate about her life again, and her anxiety had decreased exponentially. Unsure of how to proceed with a career in her newfound passion, she did what any modern woman would do and typed “healthy cooking schools” into Google Search. From there, she discovered that the National Gourmet Institute (NGI) was located right there in NYC. Laura Lea explains, “As soon as I walked into NGI, I saw my future, completely smitten and [my] heart overflowing. I was enrolled a few months later.”

Since graduating from NGI, she has moved back to her beloved hometown of Nashville and started her already well-recognized business, LL Balanced, where her goal is to offer healthier versions of Southern classics and introduce new ideas about food, so that “we can have our caramel cake and eat it, too.”

On her blog and in her first book, The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook, you’ll find comfort food-inspired dishes that are delicious, nutritious and best of all, easy. We picked Laura Lea’s brain to find out more about her life in Nashville, her favorite summer recipes, and what she’ll be teaching our guests at our Body + Soul event on August 17th.

The Nashville Edit: Nashville is your hometown. How have the changes impacted your

lifestyle? 

Laura Lea Bryant: The Nashville of my childhood would have been rocky soil for a Certified Holistic Chef to create a business! Now, it is just about as lush and fertile as any other modern city when it comes to supporting entrepreneurs. I adore the growing diversity—in food, in religion, in industry, in thought. Growing up here, we almost never went out to eat. There were so few options, most of which took a backseat to my mom’s incredible cooking. Now, I’m pleased to say I can’t possibly keep up with the number and variety [of restaurants].

TNE: You’re a pretty busy lady. How do you start your mornings? 

Photo by Anna Haas of Red Hare

LLB: I love my morning routine so much! I wake up around 7-7:30, and I do a quick mental gratitude list before I get out of bed. This can be as simple as the sun shining through my windows! Then I head downstairs to feed my kitty, brush my teeth and grab my Morning Elixir—a mixture of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, Ancient Nutrition Collagen and vitamin C powder. I bring that up to bed and check some emails while I sip. My kitty almost always comes to snuggle on my chest during this time, and it’s my favorite moment of the day. Once I’m finished with the elixir, I make my bed, take a shower, get dressed, and then it’s finally time for coffee! Right now, I’m mixing Chameleon Cold Brew with some half n’ half, some unsweetened almond milk and a few drops of stevia.

TNE: What is a simple, delicious breakfast option for when you’re in a hurry and on-the-go? 

LLB: If you’re rushing out the door in the mornings, I recommended something like a few hardboiled eggs with Trader Joes Everything Bagel Seasoning and a piece of fruit, or a whole wheat/gluten-free wrap with a generous smear of nut butter, a sprinkle of chia seeds and banana or berries sliced inside.

TNE: How do you go about creating a new recipe?

LLB: This question has two answers, and the first might sound strange. Sometimes, I honestly don’t know. Call it God or energy or flow or kismet, but I feel like I channel some of the recipes I create. They just pop into my brain, and I have no choice but to bring them to life! Is that obnoxious? If so, the other answer is a little more down-to-earth: I simply ask my loved-ones what they crave that isn’t healthy, and I make a healthy version!

TNE: What are your favorite summer recipes at the moment?

LLB: I just wrapped up the draft of my second cookbook, and honestly, the last recipes I had to test weren’t quite summer-seasonal! So, I’m finally getting to play around with more heat-friendly dishes. For lunch, I’ve been throwing together a big bowl of organic romaine and cucumber with hard-boiled eggs, kimchi, avocado, and a tahini-chive dressing. I’m also a big fan of homemade ice cream sandwiches: I make or buy a decently-healthy cookie (I love Simple Mills brand) and add a scoop of Nadamoo between two of them. Nadamoo is a delectable dairy-free ice cream with amazing flavors and respectable ingredients—The Rockiest Road, Snickerdoodle and Birthday Cake are my faves. I allow the sandwiches to sit at room temperature until I can gently squeeze them together, then freeze in a Ziplock!

TNE: Where are your favorite places to dine in Nashville?

LLB: There are so many more than I could list here, but a few that come to mind right away are: Moto — my boyfriend and I love to have a glass of wine, caesar salads and split a pizza or pasta, Cafe Roze — the entire menu is divine, but I usually get an iced matcha latte and a Roze Bowl, and Dozen Bakery — basically in my back yard, Dozen has the best blueberry muffins and ginger cookies I’ve ever had (yes, I indulge in white flour and sugar sometimes, and I’m not mad about it!), and lastly, True Food Kitchen — not only is it healthy, but the dishes are truly creative and delicious. I typically go for the roasted cauliflower appetizer and the Ancient Grains bowl.

TNE: Tell us about your time spent studying at the National Gourmet Institute? How did that shape you?

LLB: Every minute of those 11 months was magical. NGI is not like a traditional culinary school, which is often the alternative to traditional four-year college. NGI is small, highly specialized, and insists on a rigorous application process. As a result, everyone at NGI wants to be there. Many already run wellness-related businesses and want to improve their knowledge and skills. It’s a home for free spirits, who found themselves in similar positions to myself: Healed first and primarily through healthy food and healthy lifestyle changes. My time at NGI is still shaping me in ways to be discovered.

TNE: Where do you typically grocery shop in town?

LLB: I typically bop between Whole Foods and Trader Joes, but I’m increasingly impressed with Aldi produce and Kroger specialty “health food” items.

TNE: What spices are best to stock up on for diverse, healthy meals?

LLB: Truly, this just depends on your taste buds, so I encourage you to buy small samples and play around! Here are the spice staples in my pantry: onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, dried oregano, dried basil, red pepper flakes, fine-ground sea salt, pepper, chili powder, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric.

TNE: What do you recommend for healthy cocktail options?

LLB: I love to soak cucumber slices and mint or basil leaves in water overnight. Drain water and mix with gin or vodka with a splash of lime juice and a splash of seltzer water. You can add sweetener to taste, but I don’t use it. Otherwise, this Southern girl goes for Bourbon on the rocks!

TNE: What can we expect to learn from you at our Body + Soul Event happening on August 17th?

LLB: First and foremost, I think you’ll learn that delicious food can also be nourishing and easily incorporated into your life! I’ll be demo-ing and offering samples of one of my favorite recipes from [my second book], which is still in the making, so it will be a sensory learning experience! Otherwise, I’ll be hosting a Q&A… so, what I will share is up to our lovely attendees and their questions. My goal is to help you take control of your kitchen, which in turn helps you take control of your life!

Find out more about our Body + Soul event here