How Motherhood Inspired This Chef to Make Plant-Based Meals Accessible to Everyone
More often than not, major life changes inspire more major life changes. In Splendid Spoon founder Nicole Centeno’s story, impending motherhood is what drove her to take her culinary expertise and passion for healthy, plant-based eating and turn it into a business. A meal delivery business, in fact! The kicker is that this whole system is based on how people actually live. Instead of assuming crazy expectations of perfectly healthy everything all the time, it’s about focusing on one or two healthy meals a day.
Anjelika Temple here, Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Brit + Co, longtime plant-based human (going on 23 years now!), and Splendid Spoon’s latest subscriber ;) For this Mother’s Day edition of Creative Crushin’, I’m excited to be able to share the story of yet another incredibly motivated, inspiring mother, Nicole Centeno. Scroll on to read about how she shifted from a career in the media industry to founding her own line of soups and smoothies, and what keeps her going day in and day out.
Brit + Co: First off, tell us a little more about your background.
Nicole Centeno: I grew up in the suburbs of Massachusetts in a town called Longmeadow in the western part of the state. I have always been a curious person, and this came through in the activities I loved as a child: growing vegetables in the garden, cooking and baking with my family, studying biology and diet therapies at Boston College.
B+C: Before you founded Splendid Spoon, what did your career path look like?
NC: I was working as a digital strategist in publishing. I spent a lot of time at Conde Nast at titles like WIRED and The New Yorker, building marketing programs for brands like AMEX, Samsung, BMW, etc.
B+C: Did you always know you wanted to start your own business?
NC: I have always had a strong desire to connect with people and help them in a creative way. When I discovered food, I knew that it was the creative force that would get me there.
B+C: What was the turning point when you realized you could take a chance on yourself and start your own company?
NC: I took a few years to take the leap. After culinary school, I stayed at Conde Nast but pursued my food career on the side through catering gigs, pop-ups -- really whatever I could do in my spare time to feed people. When the side gigs started to take up as much time as my full time job, I knew it was time to focus fully on building my own business.
B+C: What inspired you to start Splendid Spoon? Tell us about your company’s mission.
NC: I was pregnant with my first son when I came up with Splendid Spoon. My experience with eating was frustrating, as I think it is for anyone trying to be healthy while keeping up with the demands of a busy week. I was especially annoyed that most of the wellness community had a very “all or nothing” mentality around healthy eating. It just wasn’t realistic for me to eat vegan all the time or orient my life around superfoods. I decided to focus on just one healthy meal a day, and let go of the expectation that everything I ate had to be the vision of perfection. Coming from such a genuine place, I think, has helped me to grow the business because I can always put myself in the position of my customers.
B+C: How involved are you in recipe development and meal planning? What does your team look like?
NC: When Splendid Spoon started it was just my recipes; now the whole team gets involved. We are all busy people who want to be healthy, so we take our various perspectives and diet needs into consideration whenever we bring a new meal to life. Many times, we’ll be inspired by ingredients from our latest farmers market visit or restaurant meal. We love the challenge of taking meals that just taste good, and making them super healthy, too.
B+C: Can you share a fave recipe? :)
NC: One of my all-time favorite recipes is our carrot lentil curry:
1 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
4 cups chopped carrots
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
½ pound dried black lentils, rinsed and drained
2 quarts water
1 can coconut milk
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Zest of 1 orange
- In a medium pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Cook the onion, celery, and carrots, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the mixture is tender. Stir in the garlic and curry and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant.
- Stir in the lentils, water, coconut milk, and salt and cook for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still al dente.
- Enjoy warm or chilled. Garnish with cilantro, red-pepper flakes and orange zest.
NC: The biggest shift in my leadership since becoming a mom has been an improved ability to listen. With kids and businesses, they will really tell you what’s wrong and how to fix it, but you have to be very patient and receptive to listening to hear the signals. On the flip side, growing my team has really helped me to embrace the unique qualities of my children and the various grown-ups in their lives (sitters, instructors, teachers). Everyone has different talents and they will reveal them to you if you provide them with a safe, nurturing space.
Favorite Quote: “If I am irritated by every run, how will I become polished,” Rumi
Trivia About You: I look for the perfect bite in every meal and save it for last.
Go-to Karaoke Song: Carly Simon "You’re so Vain"
Latest Fave Ingredient: Szechuan peppers. Currently obsessed with Fly by Jing sauces
Late Night Snack: Chips and salsa
Currently Reading: A whole pile of back issues from The New Yorker and a book about food psychology, Mindless Eating.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
NC: Stay true to yourself. Mom told me that growing up, and she repeats it whenever I’m going through something difficult. It is my grounding force!
B+C: What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs who want to turn their passion into a business?
NC: Accept your strengths and your weaknesses. Lean into your strengths, then find people who share your vision and are great at the things you are weak in.
B+C: I know that sometimes being a founder can feel like an island. What does your support system look like? Do you have mentors, community groups, etc that help you thrive?
NC: I place a lot of emphasis on vulnerability and creating space to be vulnerable with my network. I do this with friends I’ve known since before the business, my boyfriend, my ex who is an amazing co-parent, moms who are entrepreneurs. Also, one of my board members is a total badass entrepreneur and executive who also happens to be a woman and a mother. Lots of support!
B+C: When you get creatively blocked or burnt out, how do you reset? Do you have tips you can share?
NC: I have a process for this - I exercise (a quick jog over the bridge and back is really helpful), meditate, journal (or talk to a friend) and then I return to my project.
B+C: Do you still make time to cook at home? Do you have other creative hobbies/activities that help you zen out?
NC: I make really simple meals for myself and my family. Often, the mornings are when I am most productive and I’ll prep veggies for dinner later. I love having a big dinner with friends on the weekends where I get to prep and cook at my own pace. Most of my other activities center on my kids. Playing chase at the playground, building forts, making slime...these are all really special moments that help me appreciate the present and the uniqueness of being a parent.
B+C: If you could give your younger self a pep talk, what would it sound like?
NC: I would tell myself it’s okay to have big feelings. That I’ll be able to channel my emotional self to connect more deeply to other people… and ultimately those big feelings will help me build a beautiful and unique village of friends, teammates, and customers that help each other every day.
B+C: What’s up next for you and Splendid Spoon? What should we be on the lookout for?
NC: This is a big year of product optimization. We are developing some really unique partnerships and community-driven experiences in addition to, of course, evolving our meals.
We can't to see what Nicole and the team at Splendid Spoon come up with next. In the meantime, I'll be sipping on my Green Match smoothie right about now... ;)
Author: Anjelika Temple (Photography courtesy of Nicole Centeno)