A (70s) Macrobiotic Cooking School is Brought Up to Date


When people talk to Anthony Fassio about his new role as CEO at Manhattan’s Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI), he tends to field the same question: “Isn’t that the vegan school?”

A few years back, that might have been closer to the case. Although NGI didn’t traditionally offer a vegan cooking education, but rather one focused on macrobiotic food, which espouses grains, local vegetables, and limited animal products. While processed foods are shunned, dairy and meat are not. “The school was always advocating eggs and dairy if your constitution could handle it,” says Celine Beitchman, a teacher at NGI, who attended the school in 1987.

The school had its start in 1977, in Dr. Annemarie Colbin’s Upper West Side kitchen, and has trained a whole range of nutritionally minded chefs and home cooks, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the early days, and more recently personalities like chef and Afro-Vegan author Bryant Terry, and Food Network personality Chloe Coscarelli. But just as the landscape of holistic nutrition has shifted, so has NGI.

According to Fassio, who has spent the last two years refreshing the school’s brand and website, and implementing modern technology at the school, the new identity is clear: rather than vegan or macrobiotic, he says, the school is “mostly plant-based.”

“We are the only school that can navigate vegans and vegetarians through our program,” says Fassio. Teaching the next generation of chefs, educators, healthcare workers, and nutritionists is still the main priority, but as the school hopes to grow, it’s also working to reach a broader audience.

Fassio was raised on an egg farm, attended multiple higher education programs (including an MBA and a culinary degree), and most recently was managing ingredient sourcing and safety programs at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. He is also on the board of Slow Food NYC. In 2013, Fassio saw Colbin speak at TedX in Manhattan. He was “captivated” by what the founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute had to say.

Originally published for Civil Eats. Read the rest of the story here.