Even though I have not met Dara in person, I already like her. Her delicious dips are to die for, and oh so good for you.

In honor of the upcoming Clean Eating Challenge, I asked Dara to share with us how she got to be the Darista that she is today. Ironically, the place that inspired her to move toward this culinary journey is my home-country: Thailand. I am sure she and I will have a lot to talk about when we finally meet!
Here is Dara, in her own words. I enjoyed reading her stories and her wisdom. I hope you will, too.
You can get her dips at stores around Columbus, and at Bexley Natural Market for the locals! Be sure to try her recipe at the end of this post. It looks scrumptious!
1. Tell us a little about what you do, and how you got there.

I currently own and operate Darista Dips—a trio of all-natural take home dips that focus on local and organic ingredients to create unique, bold flavors. I have been on a journey to open Darista Café and had run a seasonal pop-up for two years out of the Hills Market in Worthington. It went amazingly well and we were on a path to securing a permanent home for the cafe, however we couldn’t secure the funding we needed, so that’s when I decided to reverse my business plan (wholesale, then brick and mortar.) The risk was significantly less. When I first met the Hills Market team back in 2011, Kyle Baker, Vice President of Hills Worthington, was the one who encouraged me to start thinking of ways to get my brand on the shelves, especially in preparation for the pop-up.

My background is in advertising and design. I used to be the Creative Director at a local agency here in Columbus. The concept of Darista Cafe was born on my trip to Thailand in 2006. I have been fortunate enough to travel to over 19 countries, where I like to say, “I travel the world on my taste buds,” and had the unique opportunity to immerse myself with local culture through the lens of food. It was here where beautiful friendships were born and this incredible cross-cultural exchange would happen.

I returned from Thailand feeling inspired that I needed to somehow translate my world journey, my experience to the plate. Whether it’s marrying kaffir and coconut  flavors in a braise to create a latin arepa with coconut curry pork, to recreating dishes that I shared with friends in Spain. I wanted to build these world flavors while sourcing locally. This is where Darista Cafe, world inspired, local fare was born.

2. What inspired you to make your products?

First, anyone will tell you, I’m a grazer and a snacker. I love to eat small amounts of many things. Potlucks might be my favorite gatherings. Needless to say, I’m a dipper. I love to dip.

Some were happy accidents! The Garlicky Kale Yogurt Dip was merely a result of “what’s left in the fridge.” After one of our pop-ups I had a few pounds of Wishwell Farm kale left. I blended it with Snowville Creamery Vanilla Yogurt (didn’t realize it was vanilla at that time) and other reachable spices. Loved it and made it again with regular yogurt. I missed the sweetness (that the vanilla gave,) so I added Honeyrun Farm honey to the recipe.
And others were world inspiration. The Moroccan Carrot and Roasted Beet Hummus really reflect our brand of “world-inspired”— where we take inspiration from flavors from around the world to give bright, bold flavor profiles. When I create new dishes, I usually get inspired around an ingredient. In the Moroccan’s case, harissa was my main squeeze. My intention was to offer a taste of Morocco with carrots being the hero ingredient.

 

3. If you could design a perfect meal, what would it be?

My perfect meal would be a large table with a huge spread, filled with my favorite things. A table that brings together family and friends where they can all dive in and sample amazing dishes. Small amounts of many things:) It probably would not make sense, nor would the food items complement one another, but it would be globally represented. A worldly tapas extravaganza!
Non-negotiable items at this perfect meal include: Pain au Chocolat paired with a macchiato , crusty french baquette with brie, iberico, manchego, goat-blue (any cheese really,) Tortilla Española, Mediterranean and Turkish salads, chicken makhani, Thai coconut curry, tostones, guacamole. And deviled eggs. One big mess, huh? and throughout this journey, I would love to have a beverage selection of: Rockmill Brewery Saison, a lovely Rose, Vinho Verde and Sauvignon Blanc, and a bold, spicy tempranillo red!
(not drinking all at one time, of course, but just to have options)
4. How do you stay healthy in life, and in business?  Any advice you could give to encourage others to eat and live better?

I try to find balance in everything I do, personally and professionally. It’s hard to do and I’m not always good at it. I keep coming back to “sustainability.” Create reasonable goals through eating, exercise and social engagement. Nothing in excess…We do not “diet” and we are not die hard weightlifters;)

On Food: When it comes to nurturing the body and soul, I do focus a lot on food. For me, it’s very important to know where my food comes from—one of the reasons I am a huge fan of forming relationships with our local farmers. One, they are awesome people, my heros. And they are working crazy hard to bring you the best, most nutritious and delicious produce and meat they can grow and raise. Not only you are getting the most nutrients out of each berry or vegetable (since they pick it at their prime,) but you are also keeping the dollars here locally and supporting our economy. And you get the benefit of learning their growing methods.

In our family, we eat and prepare fresh items from scratch. In the summer, we even grow some of our food in our tiny garden. We avoid a lot of artificial/pre-packaged preservative/mass-produced items and eat a lot of organic. It can seem intimidating to create many items from scratch, but the key is to plan and make it easy on yourself. Choose a day to prep for the week. For example, on Sunday, make salad dressing to last you the week, cook a large back of grains to add into your salads or meals, roast almonds for 9 minutes in your 350 degree oven and create your favorite granola recipe so you have snacks for the next two weeks. Then your Monday can easily be roasting or grilling chicken and serve it over that couscous or quinoa. Tuesday, grab your lettuce greens, dress them and garnish with cheese and toasted almonds; and so on.

Now, I’m not going to lie. We still indulge on pizza, brats and burgers, but we are super ok with that and love it.

On Exercise: I’m also a runner. I’ve run two marathons, but will say those shoes are retired and a bit dusty. I try to run at least 2-3 times a week—it clears my mind. And for additional “therapy” I dance flamenco (a Spanish dance) once a week. My husband and I walk and bike almost everywhere. If we could get rid of the concept of a car, I totally would. There’s something to be said about the experience and intake when you can absorb everything around you—from the music birds create to the social interaction of other pedestrians you pass by. Something you would not get from a car.

My strategy is to create reasonable goals (not always the case for me, as I seem to like to overwhelm myself). For instance, if you tie yourself to certain criteria to equate to success, it may result negatively. If you mentally commit to run 3 miles, 5 days a week, well, that can be a difficult routine for one’s lifestyle. What if you miss a day, and then another. Now you are feeling awful about yourself because you trained your mind that this is your “healthy.” And you may just fall off this routine entirely, resulting in no exercise. I’m not about excess. It’s about sustainability and that’s how I try to stay healthy. Where things become automated and integrated into my daily routine. Give yourself wiggle room.

On Engagement: I bought a book for my husband (who is nerded out on urban planning,) called Happy City, by Charles Montgomery. It talks about how lives can be transformed through urban design. I’m a true believer that your environment design and lifestyle is critical to healthy living and happiness. For instance, being able to come home from work and engage with the neighbors for 15 minutes before you dive into house work, or walking to your nearest cafe and meeting new people in your neighborhood—social engagement and activity does increase one’s quality of life. Being involved in our community and engaging with the neighborhood definitely contributes to our wellness.

1. Identify your strengths and find support to help in areas your not well-versed in, so you can grow and focus on what you do best. Be informed of those areas you’re not strong in, but do not burden yourself to take those on. Align yourself with valuable partnerships to help grow you and your business. I can identify with those areas immediately when I say to myself “you’re spending/wasting too much time on this.” And that’s my cue to seek help.

2. Lead with an open heart. I sometimes find myself bundled. I say “my creative pores are clogged.” When I am jumbled like this, I know that I am not good to the rest of the world, nor am I open to receive or be truly receptive to opportunities or little things that bring happiness. When you are purely “open” and cleansed, that’s when the “magic” happens. Align yourself with the universe and send out your positive energy, it will be received.

3. Be nimble. Often we have a strict vision of what our dreams, life or family should look like. It will almost never pan out that way and if you are open and receptive, a new direction will be introduced that can lead you to that path, or detour to something even more magnificent. Always consider. Always take that meeting. I never visioned myself in a pop-up. However, it took me on this journey I could have never mapped out for myself. I found a new niche, explored new concepts and met some incredible people, who I have developed strong partnerships with.

SEARED SALMON, HERBED QUINOA + DARISTA DIPS GARLICKY KALE YOGURT DIP

4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, skin on

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1¼ cup quinoa

1½ cup vegetable broth

Dressing and filling:

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

½ cup fresh basil leaves chopped

¼ cup flat-leaf parsley chopped

2 tbsp fresh mint chopped

4 shaved radish

cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ tsp kosher salt

Feta crumbles (optional)

Pepper to taste

Parsley for garnish

{Yields: 4 servings}

For the quinoa: Rinse quinoa in cold water and strain in a fine sieve until water runs clear. In a medium saucepan, bring broth and quinoa to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce the heat. Simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Set aside for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork.

In a bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest and juice, herbs, salt and pepper. Toss with quinoa and add the rest of the ingredients. Season to taste.

For the salmon: Heat a large non-stick pan over high heat with olive oil (coat pan evenly.) Season the salmon with salt and pepper. When oil is almost smoking hot, place salmon skin side down in pan. Do not move fillet or over crowd pan. Lower heat to medium. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the salmon (away from you to avoid splashing oil) and sear until just cooked, about 4 minutes, or until just barely pink in the center. Serve immediately with the skin side up.

To plate: Place 1-cup mound of quinoa on center of plate. Top with salmon and drizzle Garlicky Kale Yogurt Dip over top. Garnish with parsley.