Jessica Monty describes herself as “a maker of things, a chef of nourishment, and a lover of old school methods.” As the executive chef at WSL Surf Ranch, she’s fed many a famished, frothing, health-conscious pro surfer. She’s been cooking professionally for fifteen years, and sees it as being part of a holistic process — “I'm a chef, a mother, and a homemaker, but my primary role at the Surf Ranch is to create an experience.” She lives in Topanga Canyon with her partner and two kids. She gets in the water often. I caught up with her the day before she was headed off on a month-long surf trip with her family.
How did you get into cooking?
I grew up in a family of cooks, and I left home at 16 so I’ve been cooking for myself for a long time. My father was sick when I was young so health and nutrition was always in my consciousness — finding a better way of doing this, a healthier version of doing that. I became a yoga teacher in 2003 and then decided I wanted to help people, so I studied nutrition and became a holistic health counselor — I did nutritional counseling and consulting. That is what led me to become a chef, because I found that if I was going to get people healthy, I had to start with their household. So I started teaching people to cook. Then I went through a life-altering experience and was just pretty depleted and I didn’t want to counsel, I just wanted to cook. So I decided to go to culinary school. I was one of the older, more seasoned students there and I really threw myself into it and then decided to just be exclusively a private chef.
Do you cook mostly healthy stuff?
I cook healthy food, but I strive to find balance. I think that you can eat healthy and still enjoy it and make it taste good. I cook all kinds of modalities and I’m trained in all kinds of things, but I typically cook just California cuisine. It’s rustic. It’s very casual and seasonal.
At the Surf Ranch you’ve got top athletes coming through. What have you learned? What do they have with regards to diet and good health that you can share?
I think it’s about tuning in to yourself and to what you really want and need. You might think you want French fries, but with practice you realize, ‘Oh man, I just need some starch, some fat, some sodium.’ So maybe an avocado toast with salt on it might be a better choice. I think it’s really about paying attention to your body and exercising that muscle of awareness. And just keep looking for it, looking at it, and understanding, Why am I having this addiction? Why am I needing this? What is it?
Tell me about your Surf Ranch experience.
It’s a dream come true! I feel so lucky to be working in an environment with like-minded people who are just so stoked to be at the Surf Ranch. And then I get to next-level their experience by giving them delicious, healthy food, and power them through the rest of their heats. I got to work there in the beginning when we didn’t have a food program — I was going up there and private cheffing for guests. Now it’s evolved into this extensive food program that’s about creating an entire experience.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you in your work? What part of it has been different to what you might have been expecting?
I was very clear on what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t want to do, and what I’m good at, and the kinds of people I wanted to work for and with. I wanted to do work that I’m passionate about, and find a good balance where I can work hard on the things that I love but still have time to play and surf and spend time with my kids. So it’s been incredible that I essentially manifested it. And it’s magic that I got this job where I can exercise all of my skills and passions. You can create space in your life for it to come in, and then you just ask for it. I feel so lucky because I really am in the right place with the right people.