• Nikki D.

Working the Whole30: In the unforgiving food industry, what's a line-cook to do?

Did you hear the news?? We now have a Whole30 approved menu at Lucky Santo! It's real & alive. Come check it out.

But that's not why I wrote this almost 6,000 character blog post. I want to talk about the Whole30, in general & why I love it for our industry.

If you aren’t familiar with what a Whole30 is, click here to learn more. If you are all in already, well, excellent! For the newbies, Whole30 is a 30 day reset for your health, habits, and relationship with food. And, in my opinion, it’s 100000000% worth doing. At least once.

I get asked frequently how Lucky Santo got started, and this seems like the perfect time to tell a little bit of backstory because #iamwhole30. Drinking your coffee black may not be hard, but completing a Whole30 when you’re the chef & working the line day in & day out of a pizza/pasta restaurant IS HARD (it is Melissa, it IS!!!!).

So why did I do it? Low energy, anxiety, mood swings, terrible stomach aches, acid reflux, joint pain, carpal tunnel, weight gain, the list went on and on. I felt like I had nothing left to give. When I first read about the Whole30, it just sounded right. As someone whose whole life was wrapped-up in food, I was surprised at myself for not considering the implications of what I was eating sooner.

The Whole30 is challenging for several reasons. For me, the big two are tasting while cooking or on the line and general restaurant culture. As a chef, my job is to make sure that what arrives on our guests table is amazing. This requires something we call line checks. This is when I taste my way through ALL of the mise en place on each station to make sure everything is tasty and correct. So, what is a chef to do while knee-deep in the Whole30 and a line-check is required? Well, just like wine tasting, we don’t swallow. We spit.

Second up is the restaurant culture. This requires self-acceptance (“this is what I’m doing right now and I’m ok with that”) in the face of possible group exclusion. Those who work in a kitchen know the culture. We work long hours shoulder to shoulder, spend more time with each other than anyone else, and keep opposite schedules from most other friends and family. So basically, we become each other’s family. And in general, restaurant & bar culture family: stays up late, parties, and eats and drinks ALL THE THINGS. And that’s just a monday.

To distance yourself from that, to get to sleep early, to decide you aren’t going to eat all the things, to not drink, well that blows some industry minds. Everyone on a Whole30 experiences having to explain themselves to co-workers, family, friends, etc in various situations but it’s a different level when food and drink are literally your profession and who you hang with 24/7. If I stock broker couldn’t make trades, or if an elementary teacher couldn’t be around kiddos-- you get the idea.

For me, I had a decision to make. Was I going to stick it out & take care of my health so I could continue to cook, or was I going to swirl the drain & force the show? Cooking is a demanding job, both physically and mentally. If you’re ambitious and want to make it through the 5-10 years of line-cooking so you can be at the helm, perhaps, putting your health first is really the only option. To do that, you need to understand how your

body works! Doing a Whole30 (don’t forget the reintroduction phase!) is one of the best ways to reset. And being behind the line is no longer an excuse I accept.

It’s tough not being able to hang out with your “family” at the bar after work, taste the cool new cocktail the bartender came up with, the awesome cheese that just arrived or the best bread that got delivered, not because of the food itself, but because that’s how so many of us in the industry bond & learn. It can feel isolating. It can feel like we’re missing out on something we should be doing because it’s part of the culture & career.

In the end, it was worth it for me. After 30 days, I felt much less sluggish, lighter, had more energy, my carpal tunnel cleared up, and I noticed I looked less “puffy”. It gave me a better idea of what was working and what wasn’t. My first Whole30 was the first time in my life I understood the power of food in a context beyond just flavor, career and satisfaction! It was the first time I thought, wow, I didn’t know it was possible to feel THIS GOOD. It was the first time I realized that you can change what your “normal” feels like by altering your intake.

I will add- all my problems were not magically solved at the end of 30 days, turns out I have a whole laundry list of food intolerances, including eggs, a Whole30 staple. But my first Whole30 sparked a fascination with exploring what healthy meant, and what it meant for me in particular. It pushed me to really “pop the hood” on this thing (my body) and start poking around to find out what makes it tick. It’s what ultimately led to my Celiac disease diagnosis. It’s what led me to a paleo lifestyle. It’s what led me to open my own celiac & paleo restaurant, Lucky Santo. Whole30 has led me to a better quality of life! I am able to shift my focus to what I want to do, rather than what I feel I should be doing.

I’ve completed two Whole30’s & plan on doing more in the future. What I love about the program is that it gives you a framework on which to hang other healthy habits. I can honestly say I’ve never felt better than I did during my second Whole30 (the program coupled with the knowledge of my other food intolerances and a daily 10 minute meditation practice). Having experienced a successful Whole30 before makes that second one even easier to be excited about.

So give it a try & figure your $h!t out. Ask a friend to join so you have support. Start simple & build up. You can do it & our team is here to help support.


3127 NW 85th St.

Seattle WA 98117

P: 206 294 3921


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