Deborah Szekely

Long before the world was interested in organic food, Deborah Szekely (ZAY-kay) was growing what she ate and serving it—tastily prepared—to a worldwide clientele at one of her two premier spas, Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico and the Golden Door in Escondido, California.

She continues to espouse the importance of “mindful eating,” choosing foods that nourish your body rather than merely entertaining your mouth (though her flavor-packed recipes prove that the mouth is certainly not neglected). She is the author or co-author of three cookbooks that focus on using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients. These include Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta: Recipes from the World-Famous Spa; Golden Door Cookbook: The Greening of American Cuisine; and Vegetarian Spa Cuisine from Rancho La Puerta and Deborah Szekely.

Nutrition has always been at the center of Deborah’s life. Her mother, a nurse, served as vice president of the New York Vegetarian Society, and the family spent summers at health camps in the United States and Europe. It was at one of these camps that she met and later married Edmond Szekely, a proponent of healthful living. Together they founded Rancho La Puerta in 1940.

The couple built their spa around the idea of eating freshly harvested food from their own organic garden and complementing that regimen with rigorous daily exercise. “You have to earn the right to eat,” Deborah has been known to say. Today, Rancho La Puerta has its own cooking school, so that clients can take their newly acquired healthful habits home with them.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic, she emphasized that, “Everyone should cook from scratch. There’s really no reason not to. There are life-giving elements in food. Not just vitamins, not just minerals – freshness, aliveness.”

Widely regarded as “the godmother of the wellness movement,” the energetic 91-year-old has just launched WELLNESS WARRIOR, a non-profit organization that aims to educate people about health and wellness issues and to advocate for safe water, safe air and safe food.