IT’S QUITE POSSIBLE YOU’VE SEEN LISA MATSUNAGA AT WHOLE FOODS, DIGGING THROUGH THE KALE FOR JUST THE RIGHT BUNCH, CHECK- ING EACH PIECE OF FRUIT BEFORE CHOOSING WHAT SHE WANTS. “I’m big on putting care and attention into what you eat,” she says, laughing, “even if it means the produce guys get irritated with me occasionally.”
Matsunaga means business when she talks about food. A registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Wellness Kitchen Hawaii, she spends her life inspiring others to know and love food the way she does. From her Kahala kitchen, she teaches private, immersive cook- ing classes, starting each gathering with a blind-folded taste test to break the ice. “People who’ve never had a cacao nib can start to figure it out,” she says, “noticing the intense flavors and the complexity. I’m always so impressed!”
Her classes are small—no more than a handful—and each class caters to their needs and interests. Some find her when their doctor alerts them to high blood pressure or cholesterol. Others discover food allergies in their family. Many simply want to eat better. Some are visitors, wanting to learn how to best enjoy Hawai‘i’s bounty. “There’s this one group that comes once a month,” she says. They met at the gym and now show up monthly, creating their own foodie club, to laugh and nibble and discover new creations.
Matsunaga may be passionate about food, but it’s her candor and sense of balance that brings clients back again and again. “It has to taste good before it’s healthy,” she says. “Sometimes I order a big salad with a side of fries,” proving that, like the rest of us, she can’t always resist the indulgence. She believes in simplicity and the long-view. “Diets generally don’t work, but creating something that is sustainable and doable, that works!” She’s quick to point out that it’s about the ingredients, not the hours of labor. “It doesn’t all have to be from scratch,” she insists, describing a go-to dinner created from a jar of her favorite tomato sauce, a pre-pack- aged seafood mix, and zucchini noodles.
Matsunaga credits her mom for her love of food, recalling her childhood filled with delicious, healthy food and quality family time during meals. She still practices that, even when alone. “Mindful eating is important to me,” she says, “sitting down and eating without distraction.” And forget about watching TV during dinner! She and her husband dine together, sharing their days and their food at the same time.
“I’m a home grown cook,” she says, laughing, “one who likes to make good food and keep it healthy.” Originally from California, she talks about Los Angeles’s eclectic food scene with reverence, recounting home-cooked creations inspired by food trucks and tiny back- street family eateries. And of course, travel is all about food inspiration. “I brought home fresh curry paste from Chiang Mai once—purchased at the wet market for barely one dollar per kilo.” She laughs that her entire suitcase (and everything in it) smelled like curry when they got home. “Unfortunately, it was tongue-numbingly spicy and I couldn’t use it,”—probably much like her suitcase.