The preparation of food is an art and a science. So who better to have a dual career as an artist and a chef than someone with degrees in both fine arts and nutrition science? And who better to find his handiwork featured in The New York Times than a talented Bastyr alumnus who brings a Bastyrian sensibility to all things?
Charles Rosenberg grew up in a New York family who would have felt right at home in the Bastyr community. “My parents were folks who were into the health food scene in the ’70s,” he says. “They both enjoyed cooking and the ritual of sharing it. We were a family who sat together at mealtimes.”
While the pleasures of food preparation came naturally to Rosenberg, his first love was art. In 1988, he earned a fine arts degree in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. After graduating, he divided his time between working on his art and punching the clock at Angelica’s Herb Store in New York City—“one of the best places in the country to buy medicinal herbs.”
“I honestly can’t recall when I first heard about Bastyr,” Rosenberg confesses, “but it was sometime during this period that I attended a presentation by Dr. Ron Hobbs, Bastyr’s admissions representative who was doing an East Coast recruiting tour.”
By this time Rosenberg had become a bit disillusioned with the art world, and he was determined to do something more socially viable with his life. He had been volunteering in the preparation of macrobiotic meals for people living with HIV/AIDS, and he had found this work to be soul-satisfying. Nutrition seemed like a perfect niche for him, but “it was clear to me that a conventional nutrition program wouldn’t meet my needs,” he says. “So when I learned about Bastyr’s graduate program in nutrition, I was sold.”
Without knowing a soul in Seattle, Rosenberg packed up his art supplies and moved west. He plunged enthusiastically into his nutrition studies, but when he came face-to-face with biochemistry, his future at Bastyr went from bright to bleak. “I told the biochem instructor that I just wasn’t cut out for this and that I’d better quit while I was ahead,” he says. But his professor, Kent Littleton, ND, wouldn’t take no for an answer. “He believed in me. He believed we all had the capacity to learn it. So I persevered.”
In 1997 Rosenberg received his master’s in nutrition, and soon after he became the nutritionist at the downtown Seattle Athletic Club. With his artwork momentarily on the back burner, his creative spirit found an outlet through writing. “I began writing about food and nutrition for a couple of publications like Nutrition Science News, and I wrote restaurant reviews for The Stranger.” So how did he review meat dishes when he’s primarily a vegetarian? “I would taste it, but I’d bring friends with me to eat the rest!”
When 2000 hit, Rosenberg began thinking about his art again. “So I took a year off to focus on my artwork. I completely devoted my time to it.” Like someone with split personalities, the artist-nutritionist admits he sometimes has difficulty blending his two personas. “I’ve learned that I can’t devote myself fully to both art and nutrition at the same time. I work best when I’m immersed in one or the other.” His devotion paid off when a couple of Seattle-area alternative art spaces showcased his work in paper collage.
Rosenberg always knew he would someday leave Seattle. “But I was too used to the West Coast lifestyle to return to New York,” he says. “And, besides, I craved sunshine!” And sunshine he got. Thanks to friends singing the praises of Los Angeles, he moved down the coast in 2001 and began a new life in Southern California.
Once again, he returned to food and nutrition, and while he was slowly building up his nutritional counseling business, he also was working as a freelance food writer. “For nearly two years, I wrote for Distinction, a Southern California lifestyle magazine,” he says. “It featured a special gourmet food every other month, which I would write about.” Now he writes periodically for the Web site “LA.com,” doing occasional restaurant reviews for them. “I do it more for fun than to make a living,” he says.
What the 39-year-old does do to earn a living is work as a certified nutritionist, personal chef and sometime caterer. It was that last vocation that landed him in the pages of the March 30, 2003, New York Times. “What started out as my advising some friends on a couple of dishes for their party turned into my catering it,” says Rosenberg. In a stroke of luck that many chefs would give their right arm plus a pound of white truffles for, a New York Times reporter covered the event and wrote it up for the Sunday social section of the newspaper. While the result wasn’t instant celebrity, Rosenberg did get interviewed on a local LA cable TV show and pick up a few more clients.
Whether he’s preparing a week’s worth of healthy meals as a personal chef or advising health-conscious clients on proper nutrition and diet, Rosenberg incorporates the Bastyr philosophy of holism. “My approach to nutritional counseling—treating the whole person, recognizing the emotional/behavioral aspects of eating—originated at Bastyr,” he says. “People are eating foods further and further removed from their natural state. I encourage my clients to buy direct from farmers whenever possible. Food is the element of self-care that each of us has almost the greatest control over. I want to be at the ground level of things people do that impact their health.”
His devotion to a holistic lifestyle has resulted in another enterprise: teaming up with fellow Bastyr nutrition alumna Susan Gins, along with a yoga instructor, to offer “Healthy Eating for Renewal” retreats at a resort in Laguna Beach. “We provide a weekend of detoxifying foods, cooking classes, one-on-one counseling and yoga classes. It’s a great combination.”
Now that his nutrition career is firmly established, Rosenberg is picking up his art supplies again. “I’m feeling a need to devote more energy to my art, to approaching it in a disciplined way,” he says. His current art projects are very tactile; he’s incorporating fabric into his abstract geometric designs. “The process is similar to cooking for me in that it’s very meditative. It takes sensitivity to the materials that you’re pulling together. When it comes right down to it,” he adds, defining his approach to cooking and art and, coincidentally, that of a healthy lifestyle, “it’s all about harmony and balance.”