Julia Chebotar has been a foodie from the time she was a child. Her family came to the United States from Ukraine when she was little, and she remembers fondly how her grandmother would cook for the family.
“I was always surrounded by food growing up. My grandmother was a great cook. We all cooked together, that was what brought us all together. That’s where my love for food started,” said Chebotar.
Chebotar says that though she grew up in a Russian family, her family was sort of “hippie-ish,” eating a lot of foods like kale and seaweed, which aren’t known to be staples in Russian cuisine. Eating macrobiotic and healthy foods was important to Chebotar’s family, particularly after a family member was diagnosed with cancer.
“My stepdad’s mother was diagnosed with lymphoma in the early 90s, he took her to Berkshires and she went fully vegan and macrobiotic and within a few months she went into remission,” said Chebotar. “She was around for a few more years, then she passed and my stepdad opened the restaurant in her memory.”
The restaurant Chebotar’s stepdad opened was Organic Grill, a popular vegan restaurant in Manhattan. The restaurant, which serves a full vegan menu with kosher and gluten-free options as well, thrived in the Lower East Side for 20 years before recently moving to a new location in Greenwich Village.
Chebotar herself ran the restaurant as an adult for awhile. But after feeling some burnout, she opted to make a change.
“I ran the restaurant by myself, burning myself out — I gave myself shingles. I was like, I can’t run the restaurant anymore. I want to do something else but I still want to be in food,” said Chebotar.
After going back to culinary school and refining her skills, Chebotar became a private chef, allowing her the freedom to be as creative as she wanted to be in the kitchen while also giving her a better work/life balance in the process. She started her own health journey as well, adapting a mostly vegetarian lifestyle that she carries over into her brand as “Health Chef Julia.”
“I think most of my clients come to me for some sort of health-supportive reason. Either food allergies, health ailments, trying to lose weight or trying to recover from surgery. I definitely cook with the rainbow, I cook with a veggie-forward mindset,” said Chebotar. “One of my clients came back to me after her yearly physical and said everything improved, it was amazing. People know how to cook proteins, that’s not what they’re afraid of. They are afraid of veggies and grains.”
On top of being a private chef herself for the past 10 years, Chebotar also manages a network that finds work for private chefs. Called Health Chef by Tina & Julia, the business connects chefs to clients throughout New York City, Long Island, Northern New Jersey, Philadelphia and Miami for a variety of purposes, such as meal prepping, cooking classes, event meal prep and even full-time or part-time private chefs for hire.
Chebotar enjoys interacting with her private chef clients, and loves the challenge of cooking meals that fit everyone’s needs. For example, she has clients where one is a vegetarian and their partner isn’t, and they both have different food allergies. Though at times she misses the camaraderie that can come with working in a restaurant, Chebotar loves being able to create fantastic meals for her clients that fit all of their dietary needs.
“You definitely have to think on your feet but you really get to create whatever you want. You also get to physically see your clients’ happiness when eating your food,” said Chebotar. “In the restaurant, you are back in the kitchen, you don’t get to see the customers, you don’t have that rapport with them. As a private chef, you are really taking care of someone.”
Outside of her work, you may have seen Chebotar competing on some of the latest Food Network hit shows. She made her first TV appearance on the hit show “Chopped,” hosted by Ted Allen.
“I remember being completely scared, this was my first time doing something like this. I didn’t know if I’m good enough, that whole imposter syndrome starts popping up,” said Chebotar.
After moving through the first two rounds, Chebotar found herself in the dessert round presented with cantaloupe, blueberries, leftover brownie batter and dill pickle almonds. After raiding the pantry for additional ingredients, Chebotar made a dessert that she often makes for her clients: raw balls.
“They are a very quick dessert. I used the blueberries and cantaloupe to make a compote and a ginger puree,” said Chebotar. “All I can remember is hearing the judges — my station was right next to them — saying how is she done already, shes’ got 15 more minutes left, she’s definitely not winning this round.”
To her surprise, Chebotar was crowned the Chopped Champion, taking home the win and the grand prize.
“I had no emotions because I’m on a high that I’m even there. It didn’t even hit me yet. We go into the final judging and I won, but it took me 15 seconds to realize [that I won],” said Chebotar.
This past summer, Chebotar was featured on an episode of Food Network’s new show “Kitchen Crash,” hosted by Jeff Mauro. Chebotar says she got really lucky with the family that she competed with to win that show, which for that episode had an ’80s prom theme to it.
“I got so lucky, my family was amazing. I laughed the entire day,” said Chebotar. “At one point it was torrential downpouring, we were cooking in the rain. There was food everywhere, my makeup was running down my face, and I did not care one second. The energy of that day was so fun.”
Chebotar also took second place on one of Food Network’s newest shows “Alex vs. America,” hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli, in a specifically plant-based episode. Chebotar sees how many opportunities her work has given her and hopes to be able to keep rising up in the future.
“I am so fortunate to have this job, I can never take this for granted,” said Chebotar.
For more information about Chebotar, visit healthchefjulia.com or follow her online @HealthChefJulia. For more information on Organic Grill, visit theorganicgrill.com.