Kitchen Crusaders: Mother-daughter team shares power of food
Dinner invites to the Curry household are given out like candy.
“Tonight I’m cooking for eight,” says Peggy Curry, 56, as she paces in her spacious kitchen at the Manhattan Beach home she and her high school sweetheart husband Tim built nearly 30 years ago. “I donated myself to the Culver City Ed Foundation, so we have eight women coming over for dinner tonight.”
As she shuffles through her produce, the mother of four—who in 2006 was named by Switzer Learning Center as South Bay Woman of the Year for health and nutrition—describes what will be served that evening: farmer’s market Mediterranean white fish, a medley of fresh vegetables, rice pilaf and her signature house salad.
“Then Megan is gonna help me make a lemon tart,” Peggy adds, smiling.
Preparing healthy, delicious dishes together seems like second nature to the Manhattan Beach-native mother-daughter duo. After all, it’s their job—or at least one part of it.
About two years ago, the two joined hands to create Curry Girls Kitchen, an educational initiative to raise awareness about healthy eating, particularly for families. From private and group cooking lessons to parent education workshops and pantry makeovers, the Curry girls offer insight and guidance every step of the way from the grocery store to the kitchen.
Now they’re taking it one step further, as they prepare to lead a group of clients next month through the Curry Girls’ version of Dr. Alejandro Junger’s nationally acclaimed Clean Program, a three-week body cleanse with organic foods. At the informational session and demo Wednesday night at Pages bookstore, Junger himself was present to give the introduction, lending the Curry Girls credibility, and naturally, his blessing.
“He wrote this book on the premise that you can clean and heal your body through food—it’s amazing and totally doable,” Peggy says.
“There’s so much fear around cleansing,” says Megan, 23, second oldest of four. “But this is basically what we’re all about. It’s a lifestyle. It’s about making it a lifestyle—choosing clean, whole, close-to-the-source, minimally processed foods.”
After all, the Curry girls are walking testimonies of this very premise.
Growing up, Megan remembers being sick all the time. Her condition gradually worsened until its peak during her senior year at Mira Costa High School: She with her family had just returned from vacation, and for a week, she was bedridden with a 105 degree fever.
“I was in so much pain,” Megan recalls. “Because of the fever blisters I couldn’t eat anything. I lost half my hair.”
With nothing to lose, Peggy and Megan decided to get an internal test and discover the root cause.
“Sure enough, we’re gluten intolerant,” Peggy says. It actually turned out that the entire family was affected by the genetic condition but all showed different symptoms.
Megan struggles as she attempts to describe the life-changing impact of removing gluten and dairy from her diet. “I never felt so…”
Pushed by her own past struggles with food, Megan initially aspired to become a therapist to help other girls affected by eating disorders. She studied psychology at University of Colorado, Boulder, and graduated in 2011.
“After I went through all my senior classes, I realized I wasn’t empathetic enough to do that type of counseling, helping people in those ways,” Megan says. “It really affected me.”
At the time, Peggy was heavily involved in GrowingGreat, a “school garden, nutrition education nonprofit” she co-founded in 1999. It began at the five Manhattan Beach elementary schools and has since expanded to 250 classrooms in 35 schools across 16 school districts, including Culver City, Los Angeles, Palos Verdes, El Segundo, Santa Monica and Hawaii (singer-songwriter Jack Johnson is a huge supporter).
Through her other business, Kitchen Blessings, Peggy taught cooking classes, racking up more than 400 students across the South Bay.
One day when Megan was visiting home from college, Peggy told her that she was considering giving all her clients and material to a chef she worked with.
“I looked at her and said, ‘You can’t do that. Please wait for me, be patient for me, and we will do this once I graduate, together.’”
Kitchen Blessings is no more, and Peggy is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of GrowingGreat. That has made ample room for Curry Girls Kitchen, the newest Curry venture but most importantly a passion project for both.
“This is such a blessing, what we have together,” Peggy says. “People go, aren’t you so ecstatic you get to work with your child?”
“And that’s what I say,” Megan says. “I have the best boss in the world. It’s Megs and Pegs. We do everything together.”
As they exchange these words, eyes begin welling up. Perhaps partially due to another great piece of news they heard earlier that morning: They received word that a major publishing house in New York is interested in green-lighting their co-written lifestyle cookbook, Growing Great Families, which is stock full of original recipes and family anecdotes—about 25 years’ worth.
“The story behind it is: Food really does heal,” Megan says. “You think you want to be these doctors—for me it was a therapist—and helping people that way, but it’s about finding that root.”
That root, she explains, comes down to what we feed ourselves.
“It dictates how you feel, how you interact, how you nourish other people, to be able to give and receive,” she explains.
The youngest of four, Sam, 19, walks into the house with two friends. Introductions are made, pleasantries exchanged. As the girls bid their goodbyes and head out the door several minutes later, Peggy calls out after them. “Bye, we’ll have dinner together!”
“Sam was actually the biggest chef among us,” Megan says. “But she wants to be an accountant.”
“She’s going to run the business for us one day,” Peggy adds, laughing. “Everybody has a piece.”
The oldest of four, Alex, is a Fox Sports host for the L.A. Kings and Angels; Annie, the second youngest, is studying film production at UC Santa Barbara. Naturally, these two have taken on the tech bulk, from launching CurryGirlsKitchen.com to setting up social media accounts.
Her family’s strong, visible bond, explains Peggy, was cultivated nowhere other than around the dining table in their beautiful Manhattan Beach home, where the girls were raised all their lives.
“This table is the heart of every home,” Peggy says.
“My parents always taught us, this is your practice ground,” Megan explains. “If you can’t get it right here, how are you supposed to have etiquette with other people? All of those fundamental morals, we developed them here at the kitchen table. My friends would come here and say, I never talk about this kind of stuff with my parents…”
“We get down and dirty,” Peggy adds, laughing. “And it’s just fun. We made it so that when you’re around this table, anything goes. It’s just opening the doors so the kids felt comfortable. They weren’t judged, laughed a lot. Laugh and love. That’s the premise.”
Now with all four Curry girls out of the house and in their own walks of life, convening for family dinner every night is difficult, if not impossible. Still, the Curry tradition lives on.
“Sunday is now our family dinner,” Peggy says. “Everyone shows up, whoever can.”