Nicolas Zahasky, the Retreat Chef

Nicolas Zahasky: his story

An Iowa native, Nicolas Zahasky’s grandmother played a significant role in his journey towards becoming a Retreat Chef. She taught him everything he knows and inspired him to pursue studies in the culinary field. During high school in West Texas, he would watch Chefs of the World on Saturday mornings after football games. The process of taking food in its raw state and transforming it into something wonderful and tasty fascinated him. Curiosity eventually became his education. Over time, cooking would become an intuitive art and his creative outlet. He would see it as a palette, with a variety of beautiful colors and textures.

Nicolas Zahasky, the Retreat Chef

The healing power of food

After college, Nicolas worked in a number of restaurants, learning the ropes. However, the Midwest called him back home, so he returned, after having lived in Las Vegas for five years. At that time, he operated a small bed-and-breakfast, and worked in the college-university food services. During his tenure there, his third child was born. Unfortunately, both his wife and their baby had health issues, arising from the traumatic labor. There was a silver lining in this trial. Fixing his wife’s and child’s diet by cooking food differently eventually healed his own health. Nicolas didn’t know that his own health issues were due to head trauma from playing high school football.

Healing himself through nutrition and doing nutrition training fueled a desire to follow a different path with his culinary degree so that he could educate people. Three years ago, he went to a conference, which led him to meet Thaddeus Owens, the owner of Primal Hacker. Now he travels the world, preparing indigenous, ancestral, and natural foods around bio-hacking at retreats. In fact, he was supposed to travel now, but plans are on hold because of the current pandemic.

Nicolas’ philosophy while preparing for a retreat

Preparation and research have always been part of Nicolas’ key strategy. Growing up in a Scandinavian community in the Midwest gave him an advantage for the Live Beyond Global retreat in Iceland. However, he still needed to know the crops that were grown there, especially any seasonal ones. As such, he created several menus as if he were making art because he wanted to see them conceptually on a plate.

“I start with a picture, from the back to the beginning,” he explained. “Seeing the dish helps me to make the menu, prep lists, shopping lists, etc. It takes time, but it gets me into a flow state. On a retreat, the menu changes every day.”

Nicolas Zahasky, the Retreat Chef

Nicolas is so good at what he does, that he turned a vegan into a meat eater on the Iceland retreat. “They didn’t eat meat because, where they lived, they couldn’t source a very good, sustainable, or well-treated animal,” he said. “When I told them that it was an organic animal that came from a farm down the road, and these are their practices, they said they would eat the meat. I call them ‘flexi-tarians’,” he added, with a grin.

He went on to elaborate that we are now the modern-day hunter-gatherers, but we have to be cognizant of everything. “Most people go to the grocery store out of ease,” he said, “ but if we have to forage for our own food, that’s a whole different ball game. It’s like on a spiritual level where you connect with the food.”

Teaching at retreats

Depending on how the retreat is set up, Nicolas teaches breathwork and movement classes. Moving forward for retreats, such as The Point Retreats, he’ll be in the kitchen 50% of the time, and then with the guests the rest of the time, teaching classes on foraging, fermentation, bone broth, and breathwork. He wants the guests to be able to adapt everything they learn to their daily life when the retreat is over.

And the biggest takeaway he wants retreat attendees to have? “That you won’t absorb it all,” he said. “So, take notes, and follow up with the teachers and retreat host on their offers.”

Intuitive eating

So how does one move from mindless eating to intuitive eating? Nicolas explained that most diets are constructed so that people are counting calories, macro-nutrients, and so on. Doing that doesn’t allow them to intuitively know how they feel. He suggests trying a mono-diet, that is, eating one thing for a long time, and then adding items to it. Some people might balk at that idea. However, that’s what parents do with their baby. Gradually introducing other foods to a mono-diet teaches parents about what their baby likes, their bowel movements, and even their demeanor. However, adults don’t do that. We throw all the darts at the dart board, instead of one at a time. Or, some people chase every new diet trend.

Nicolas Zahasky, the Retreat Chef and Sean Sherman

Changes in the retreat industry

That’s a big reason why Nicolas is keen on taking people on a culinary journey at retreat. Four years’ experience in the retreat industry has opened his eyes to the fact that they don’t highlight the cuisine or the chef. As such, he’s aiming to get the methodology of the cuisine and the person behind it across by creating a space for that to happen. He did that last year at the Fire and Ice retreat, where the cuisine was an ancestral, carnivore-based diet, with no carbohydrates because the retreat was held in February in Northern Hemisphere Minnesota. Nicolas started preparing the food in advance by fermenting them, so when he got to the retreat, he could highlight a James Beard-award winning chef, Sean Sherman, and give the guests a journey by intertwining his culinary path with Sherman’s.

Nicolas Zahasky, the Retreat Chef

How he wants people to see food

Nicolas spoke passionately about wanting food to have a mind, soul, and a voice so that people would ask him questions. That’s what his grandmother did. When he was with her in the kitchen, he would ask her, “Where did this sourdough culture come from?” She would say it was a hundred-year-old family culture and she kept it alive. “So every piece of pancake on that plate was love and an education,” he said.

Upcoming Projects

What’s Nicolas up to now? He’s working with his brother on an online platform that will be educational so that people can access some of the food he creates. On retreats, he would like to educate people on the indigenous foods in the places they visit. That would also give him more appreciation for the host retreats, and help him to make a connection with the land and its soul and heartbeat. He’s gearing up to see what happens after the current global lock-down. He even provided a tip, now that yeast is sold out. “You can make your own cultures with flour and water,” he said. “Work with what you have. Be like MacGyver. The world hasn’t been tested like this since WWII, but we are resilient and smart.”

Nicolas Zahasky, the Retreat Chef

His personal wellness hack

Nicolas’ biggest personal wellness hack is breathwork. He’s Hypopressive-certified and working on the Wim Hof certification, now that he has completed the fundamentals course. He also uses the work co-founded by human performance specialist Brian Mackenzie. It involves figuring out your heart rate variability with CO2 tolerance just to know where you are on a stress level, and how to wrap your day’s activities around that by using it as a gauge. “Also not being finite in my structured day so I can be more intuitive,” he added.

Nicolas Zahasky’s food for thought

“Use this time to build your knowledge and get out of any kind of pattern that causes anxiety and fear,” he said.

You can connect with Nicolas Zahasky on Instagram and find him at The Point Retreats.

You can also listen isten to our interview with Nicolas Zahasky on Soundcloud