Chef Dillon Tisdel: “food is the great connector”

Dillon Tisdel

Originally published in Taos News

Photo taken from Chef Tisdel’s website 

Chef Dillon Tisdel is a big advocate of plant-based food. Inspired by Ayurvedic teachings and macrobiotic philosophy (eating grains and local vegetables, and avoiding highly processed foods and most animal products) Tisdel uses a holistic approach in both her kitchen and her life.

“I like to draw on the wisdom of ancient systems such as Ayurveda,” she said, “but I am exploring how we can effectively bring that knowledge forward to our current context. We don’t live in ancient India so I am trying to apply these systems in a way that is sustainable and relevant.”

Tisdel has been a pastry chef and a private chef for five years and has also cooked for small retreats.

She still cooks for local retreats and works with individuals who want to change their diet.

“I help people incorporate more plants into their daily menus so as to function and feel better,” she said. “Food and health are interconnected. The way we eat definitely influences the way we feel in a manner that we are often unaware of.”

Though she eats mostly vegan food, Tisdel doesn’t call herself vegan or vegetarian.

“I prefer not to use labels,” she said. “I eat high-quality goat cheese and local eggs occasionally and that works well for me, but it may not be right for others. There is no one-size-fits-all diet. You have to discover what kinds of foods are best for your body and find tasty, nutritious recipes in which to use them.”

A very special plant—holy basil

Tisdel’s website offers plant-based recipes, resources and tips. She named it after a plant considered sacred in India and often used in Ayurvedic medicine.

“Holy basil belongs to the same family that the common basil, but it has a distinctive, unique flavor,” she said. “It is adaptogenic, which means that it adapts to fight different kinds of stress in the body. It’s kind of a miracle plant.”

Holy basil can be used as tea or for seasoning.

Favorite gadgets

Like many other chefs, Tisdel likes her collection of cooking knives, but she is also fond of a Vitamix blender.

“It is a very powerful blender,” she said. “You can even make almond butter with it!”

Food and spirituality

Though she had been interested in food since an early age, Tisdel had seldom cooked for others until she moved to Hawaii to study with a spiritual teacher.

“He held retreats for people who came from all over the country,” she said. “I was inspired by all of the produce that grew locally—coconuts, papaya, avocados—so I started cooking. Not only I felt happy because I had found a purpose, doing something that I really loved, but my health improved as I stopped eating wheat and began a diet that relied mostly on plan-based food.”

After leaving the spiritual retreat in Hawaii, Tisdel realized that she had found her true calling. She attended the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, founded by Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

“The teachings are based on seven core principles: food should be seasonal, local, whole, traditional, balanced, fresh and delicious,” said Tisdel. “It was a great learning experience that helped me create my own culinary style.”

A career in three states

After graduating Tisdel got a job in Mas, a Michelin-starred, farm-to-table restaurant located in the West Village.

Later she lived in Silverton, Colorado, for a few years, where she worked as a private chef.

She moved to Taos in 2010 with her husband, environmental lawyer Kyle Tisdel.

“After I had our baby I decided to continue my education in nutrition,” she said. “I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in February 2015.”

While taking care of her son, Tisdel plans to cook for retreats offered by the Contemplative Leadership Development Institute founded by her mother, Jan Birchfield.

“My plan is to integrate cooking classes with health education,” she said. “Beyond that, I want cooking to be a vessel to share love, connection and community. Food is the great connector. I like to make amazing meals for people and watch them have the experience of feeling different (amazing!) after the meal, versus just telling them about the benefits of healthy food.”

Advice from Chef Tisdel:

Start your day with a glass of warm water with lemon. It is really important to drink water before putting anything else in your body: coffee, tea, or food. Warm water with a good squeeze of lemon will rehydrate your colon and flush out toxins that have accumulated in the night, while preparing your system for digestion. By alkalizing your body, it will help it to maintain a healthy pH.

I am not of the mind that dessert should be abstained from. I enjoy something sweet on an almost daily basis, but not all sweets are created equal. White sugar is toxic, plain and simple. Everyone that I have supported in getting off refined sugar reports having more energy, less food cravings and a clearer state of mind. The most commonly used sweeteners in my house are real maple syrup, dates and coconut palm sugar. Molasses is another good option and is a lot less expensive than maple.

To find out more about Chef Dillon Tisdel visit her website


Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-Free + Vegan)


1 cup oat flour

2/3 cup hazelnut or almond meal

1/2 cup rolled oats

3 tablespoons chia seeds, ground in a coffee grinder or 6 tablespoons chia powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup coconut palm sugar

1/2 cup almond butter

1/4 cup almond milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Combine the oat flour, hazelnut or almond meal, rolled oats, ground chia, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In another bowl, whisk to combine the coconut palm sugar, coconut oil, almond butter, almond milk and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and fold together until almost combined. Add the chocolate chips and fold them in.

Scoop the dough by the heaping tablespoon onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until edges are just starting to brown.
Homemade Almond Milk


1 cup raw almonds

1 date, pitted

tiny pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

4 cups of water
Soak the almonds for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

Drain the almonds of their soaking water and give them a rinse.

Put all of the ingredients in the jar of a blender and cover with the 4 cups of water.

Blend until the almonds have broken down and a smooth milk forms, about a minute.

Strain the milk though cheesecloth, a nut milk bag or, my favorite milk-straining implement, a nylon paint strainer (which can be found in most hardware stores).

Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Raspberry Chia Breakfast Pudding

Makes one hearty portion


1 cup almond milk

1 date, chopped

tiny pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

3 tablespoons chia seeds

In a blender, blend all the ingredients, except the chia seeds, for about a minute.

Pour the raspberry milk over the chia seeds and whisk until no lumps remain. Whisk frequently for 5 minutes and then let sit for 20 minutes, whisking a couple more times.

Garnish with berries and cacao nibs, if desired, and serve.

Photo taken from Chef Tisdel’s website