By Nicole Berrie
Photography by Justin Namont / ra-haus
WHEN GINNY SIMON GIVES A GIRL A GLUTEN-FREE, NON-GMO, VEGAN COOKIE, she’s probably going give you a glass of coconut almond milk. That’s just the kind of mom/CEO/cookie queen she is. But all the trappings that come to mind with a term like cookie queen, don’t exactly apply to Simon. Yes, she bakes. Yes, she’s built a burgeoning empire on unbelievable addictive cookies. Yes, they are delicious. But the successful entrepreneur who launched ginnybakes in 2010, is a far cry from the ubiquitous pastry chef we’re all used to. (Sorry, Martha.) Instead, the mother of four boys is an avid yogi with a background in holistic nutrition and doesn’t exactly live on her own treats. In fact, she currently leans towards the Paleo lifestyle and allows herself one bite–that’s right, one bite–of her treats after lunch since she “needs something sweet.” (With her sons and husband as fans, she’s resorted to hiding her own stash in the freezer.)
Since launching her line three years ago, Simon has expanded her ever-growing enterprise into a multi-million dollar business selling at specialty food shops and major markets like Whole Foods, beginning with her first sales account, Apple A Day market on Alton Road in Miami. “The owner told me to put them wherever I wanted,” recalled the Roslyn native over a platter of fresh fruit, lemon water and of course, cookies. “I put them at eye-level, since that’s where customers look!” The rest, as they say, is dark chocolate chip history.
We caught up with Simon on a bright Saturday afternoon in her lust-worthy kitchen where she dished on her personal health philosophy and why we kept going back for another treat. (Hint: she reveals the secret ingredient below.)
What did you do before starting Ginny Bakes?
My first company was Mindful Organics. I had graduated from IIN, the kids were heading to high school and I wanted to do something for myself. I always said that a woman should have a part of herself that’s her own. So I became a nutritionist. I started the company teaching about organic living including how to shop, cook and prep. People think it’s so difficult, that it’s so much easier to run out or order in, but it’s so simple. I wanted to make it accessible to everyone.
What led you to open Ginnybakes?
Most of my clientele were gluten-intolerant. I decided I was going to find them bake mixes that they could bake at home and I would make shortcuts for them. So I ordered any bake mix that was out there at the time. I couldn’t recommend anything. So when I couldn’t find the bake mixes, I decided I was going to do it myself. We weren’t going to be something that tasted awful but was good for you.
Why did you become gluten-free?
I’ve had so many issues. I’ve had Candida. When you’re trying to heal yourself, it becomes a passion. I’d read books like novels. I just finally said I eat Paleo now. I don’t have any grains. My system at this point doesn’t tolerate grains.
What do you say to skeptics of the gluten-free lifestyle?
To me this isn’t deprivation, it’s a beautiful way of living. I think it’s wrong for people to be judgmental. Do your thing but be mindful of what you stick in your system. That’s why my tagline is indulge mindfully. Know that you are your own healer. As a nutritionist, I specialized in gluten-intolerant and Celiac’s disease. But I’ve learned that every person has a different way of doing it.
Where do you source your ingredients for the cookies?
All the ingredients are non-GMO, organic, kosher and gluten-free. We use brown rice flour and only extra dark chocolate. All the nuts are raw. For sweetener, we use agave. In the vegan cookie, we use coconut oil and rice milk. There’s no hidden high fructose corn syrup or trans-fats. There’s nothing you can’t pronounce. It’s all clean.
What is the “secret” to a ginnybakes cookie?
It has to be crispy and have a salt recall. There’s sea salt in every cookie we make. It’s a little bit savory and not very sweet. That’s what keeps you coming back for more.
What’s your favorite cookie?
Hands-down the vegan. I’m crazy about it. My husband like’s double chocolate and the boys each have a favorite too.
How would you describe your eating philosophy?
You have to listen to your body. At different times in your life, you’re probably going to be different things. I’ve been a raw foodist, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and paleo. But the minute someone starts saying to you, “What percentage raw are you,” it’s time to stop with the labels. I ate my first ate my first piece of beef in 24 years last July. I’ve only had six steaks in my life. All of us are the keepers of ourselves and we do heal by self.
So you do have a bit of animal protein these days?
I truly believe that there’s a place for some people for animal protein and if they want it they should have it. None of us should judge. It should be sustainable, it should be clean, it should be organic and grass-fed. And you better know the welfare of the animals. If you’re going to eat animal protein, you have a real obligation to learn how the animals are treated.
What protein source is your favorite?
I love salmon but I got myself mercury poisoning. Now I only have no more than three times a week and once a day. I don’t tolerate beans and tofu very much. I’m very aware of everything. My body is really sensitive. I’m paleo, but very plant-based. Even my son who’s the Crossfit guy will eat no more than 4 ounces of protein at every meal. When you see a 22-ounce beef on the menu, you’re like, someone’s eating a cow. What did the poor cow do? We’re really into not taking more than our share of what we’re supposed to.
What is your health non-negotiable?
I like to exercise a lot. My body needs a little bit more food because I do sports and Mysore yoga every day at Miami Life. I go at 9:15am, get on the mat and it’s my space. You’re mediating and your body is moving. You watch you body, sometimes it hurts more, sometimes it’s opening and expansive. You watch yourself struggling through positions and all of a sudden the positions start to unfold. It’s like life. Sometimes you struggle, sometimes it’s easy and you have to learn to respond and not react to the body. The boys all do Crossfit. They’re very competitive.
What does a day in the life of meals look like for you?
I drink carrot juice almost every day with a little bit cucumber just to reduce the sugar because it’s really great for the skin and eyes. Then I do yoga and I come home and I have a whole kale shake. For lunch, I’ll just have a salad. We have so many salad books. My favorite right now is Williams & Sonoma Salad of the Day, I’m also really into Jerusalem right now and Eat to Live. Or lunch will be eggs with lots of veggies.
What do you always stock in the fridge and pantry?
We cannot keep enough vegetables in the house. I’m also a huge avocado eater. I just put on some salt and eat it. The dogs eat it too. They have the softest fur because of the avocado. We eat a lot but we eat clean. I love food. I eat a lot of fruit. I’m not afraid of sugar from fruit but I try to eat it earlier in the day. Except for an apple or pear, I love those late in the day. I’m one of those people that get hungry every three or four hours. We eat a lot of butternut squash. Sweet potato is our starch.
What are your favorite snacks?
I love Fage yoghurt. I can’t live without it. It’s one of my go-to snacks. I throw in some cashews, blueberries and cran-raisins in it, or leftover kale shake if i have it. I’ll also snack on sweet potato. I take yoghurt and mash it into the sweet potato and drizzle a little honey on it. It’s unbelievable. You can even put a little bit of almonds on it for crunch. That’s a meal.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
I cook a lot of salmon. One of my favorites is with coconut milk, fresh chunky tomatoes with ginger and garlic. We put it over sautéed kale. I brown up the kale with coconut oil and put in toasted pine nuts and raisins, then season it lightly or even put a little curry on it. I make great salads every night. We have a ton of vegetables with protein as our side. I think the protein should be a condiment: 20% protein the rest of the plate is colors.
What is your current go-to recipe?
This particular week I’m addicted to my butternut squash soup. I make it so plain. I take the squash, cover it with water, boil it, put curry, salt and pepper and make it chunky. I don’t put it in the Vitamix or anything. I’ve been fixated on it. Sometimes I put coconut milk in it.
Do you ever cleanse?
I’m completely vegetarian for one week every month. That’s my way of keeping the mercury levels low.
What is your guilty pleasure
Pizza. I eat pizza every Halloween. I dream about it all year. My son was born on November 1st. I ate pizza on Halloween and had the worst stomach ache ever. The next day I gave birth to my son. I said to my husband, I’m never eating pizza again. And when Michael was born, I said I’m going to eat pizza every Halloween. I can’t wait to try Lucali.
What is your trip to keeping healthy while on the go?
If we’re going away in the morning, I’ll drink a shake, even if it’s early so I know I’ve started my day clean and I’m on the right track. If you start it clean and you’re inspired by your food, it helps. On the plane, I’ll bring avocado mashed into egg whites. Or I’ll take fruit. You can’t get yoghurt through unless you go to Ice Box on D11. If it’s lunchtime, then I’ll bring a salad. I’m not embarrassed to eat in front of other people. I’m really proud that I take care of myself and I think that’s honoring myself.
What is your healthy mantra when traveling?
First thing people have to remember, you gotta stay the course. If you get off, you better jump right back on. A lot of people say, when they’re traveling, it gives them such freedom, but the truth of the matter is, you gotta pay it back when you come back. The body you left with is the one your going to re-enter with. You still have to be mindful.