How Serena Wolf '05 Continues her Mission of Healthy, Fun Eating and So Much More
On any given day, Serena Wolf '05 can be found in her kitchen, experimenting with recipes for healthy main dishes, new twists on classic cocktails, or lightened-up desserts. Or she's testing out new products to endorse on her blog, Domesticate Me, which started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends while studying in Paris a decade ago.
"It started as a fun, creative outlet, with funny stories about throwing dinner parties," Wolf says. "I felt no pressure or need to be overly formal in my writing since I felt like I was writing for my friends and family. I try to be accessible, funny, and approachable. When I first launched my blog, a lot of the blogs were Martha Stewart-esque.
"Entertaining people, making people laugh, and making them feel like cooking doesn't have to be a chore are always my goals. Honestly, my writing style is modeled almost exactly on the way I speak—it's conversational. Approachable. No posturing. I haven't 'crafted' it as much as I've just gotten comfortable showing up on the page as I do in real life."
That blog has turned Wolf into a full-blown social media maven, complete with podcasts, Instagram fame, television appearances, more blogging, and two cookbooks.
After graduating from Harvard in 2009, Wolf enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu Paris, receiving her cuisine diploma in 2011.
"It is somewhat funny that I ended up at Le Cordon Bleu," Wolf says with a laugh. "I did minor in French at Harvard, and I went to Paris to be a writer." Wolf says her plan behind going to the famed culinary school was simply to master some "killer domestic skills," in addition to practicing her French and enjoying Paris.
"I ended up falling in love with cooking," she says. "Le Cordon Bleu teaches traditional French cooking techniques, and I apply them every single day. I was really lucky that I had no experience. I was starting with a clean slate and was able to learn the correct techniques, knife skills, how to work with flavor and protein."
"After a few months, I had become a completely different person," she writes on her blog, domesticate-me.com. "I was gutting and filleting fish, deboning chickens, breaking down whole rabbits, and whipping up hollandaise sauce without breaking a sweat. The most insane part? I loved every second of it. Realizing that I'd found my (very unexpected) calling, I enthusiastically signed on to complete the full diploma program and never looked back."
Wolf's blog up to that point had been mostly confined to news for her friends and family, but she began adding recipes and growing a following. Her writing and recipes have been featured in various print and online outlets, and she has appeared as a guest on the Today show, Dr. Oz, and The Chew, among many others.
She has two cookbooks out, The Dude Diet and The Dude Diet Dinnertime, both of which take on previous unhealthy foods she saw her boyfriend (the "Dude") inhaling without regard to nutrition or his expanding waistline. That sparked her desire to make unhealthy foods healthier by tweaking the ingredients and preparations while keeping the recipes simple enough that even the most culinarily challenged guy (or gal) is able to pull them off. (She and the "Dude" recently married, and he's lost pounds and inches following her intervention.)
"I wanted to write a cookbook right after I graduated from culinary school. I think my inspiration was wrong out of the gate though. Originally, I wanted to write a cookbook because I thought it was the right career move," she recalls. "I wrote a proposal for a book called 'Food That Doesn't Suck' when I was 24, and it was almost bought by a publisher. Thank God it wasn't. It just barely didn't suck, and I didn't have the culinary or recipe development experience necessary to write a cookbook at that time.
"It wasn't until almost three years later (during which time I grew my blog, taught classes, and was the private chef for players on the New York Giants) that I wrote my next book proposal for The Dude Diet. That proposal was written from the heart by an experienced cook who had honed her recipe development skills and wanted to share recipes that would make healthy cooking accessible to people who might not otherwise be motivated to eat well. The Dude Diet started as a column on my blog. I wrote a one-off post about my then-boyfriend (now husband) Logan's ridiculous eating habits and how I was convincing him to eat a little bit better. The response to that column was so strong that I knew I was onto something with this 'middle of the road' healthy eating approach."
Healthy Eating's Not Boring
Eating sensibly is at the core of Wolf's philosophy.
"What I love about the way I cook and eat, which is nonrestrictive, healthy eating, is that I am able to nourish myself and the people I love and never feel like I'm on a diet in any way," she says. "Diet culture has become so extreme...I don't think restriction [of certain foods] is sustainable. I think those diets can be really effective for immediate weight loss, but I don't think we have it in us to only eat specific things, barring illness or allergy."
Her husband, Logan Smith Unland, is one of her taste testers for her recipes, and the couple had a rule while she was perfecting recipes for The Dude Diet Dinnertime, which came out in 2019. She only gets three tries on a recipe before she needs to move onto another concept. Her inspirations come from Unland and what she sees in restaurants. She particularly enjoys making over traditional American "comfort food" with an eye to healthful eating.
Example? She overhauled Unland's prized Buffalo chicken wings, swapping out heavy breading for whole wheat Panko crumbs and baking the wings, rather than deep frying them.
Download Buffalo Chicken and White Bean Chili Recipe (PDF)
"I mostly love that food brings people together," Wolf says. "It's the centerpiece of celebrations big and small, and I love that my recipes allow me to play a small part in bringing happiness to other people's lives and celebrations. I'm also so passionate about dispelling the ridiculous myth that healthy eating is boring. I truly believe that meals made with nutrient-dense whole foods can taste insanely delicious and indulgent, which makes eating healthily long-term sustainable. And exciting! On a personal level, I also find cooking to be so soothing. It's meditative for me."
Wolf says she has no formal nutritional training, just her deep knowledge of how foods can be made delicious and nutritious.
"I am a whole food enthusiast. I'm just hoping to provide recipe inspiration. I try to make the recipes as flexible as possible. If you happen to be gluten-free, Paleo, or dairy-free, all the recipes are adaptable. You do get options," she says.
Success Not So Easy
One thing you'll notice about Wolf if you read through her blog is that she seems to be always smiling. But that's not always the case. In fact, Wolf has anxiety that at one time triggered major panic attacks. But she's learned coping skills that include nutrition, supplements, exercise, and meditation. Her anxiety-centric podcast, "Spiraling," is launching its second season, and she's had countless messages of appreciation from her followers.
"It was a little bit nerve-wracking," she says of "outing" herself on the blog. "It put me in an extremely vulnerable position. But once I got it out in the open, it was oddly liberating. To share that part of myself helped me be more authentic in everything else I was doing. Trying to hide it was anxiety-producing in itself. So many people have reached out and shared their own stories and sent wonderful messages. Unfortunately, anxiety and depression are portrayed in the media as a negative defining characteristic and are stigmatized.
"I don't think having anxiety and having a successful and fulfilled life are mutually exclusive," she adds. "I've developed a lot of management techniques, and I'm doing my best to help break the stigma. But there's still a long way to go. What's really wonderful is that being open about my experience makes people feel less alone and that they're not 'crazy.'"
That connection with her followers is one Wolf treasures. As an "influencer," Wolf partners with different brands to cross-promote lifestyle items, including beauty, fashion, and home accessories.
"It's really amazing," she says. "There are many pitfalls to social media, but Instagram made it a lot easier for people to reach me with direct messages and a click of a button. I'm really, really proud of the community I've built on Instagram. It's really important to me to have that connection. The people who read my blog and follow me, they are incredibly loyal, and they are incredibly supportive. I do a Q&A at the end of the month and people can ask me questions, and I tackle those honestly. Just being myself has been really wonderful via Instagram. I can have my own cooking show. I can have in-depth discussions."
What's next for this busy social influencer? More growth, she says, adding, "I've had a ton of failures, and I've learned a lot from those. I've never really been able to see exactly where my path is going. I've stopped trying to see miles down the road and just go with the flow."