Orange County Register: Up Close- Get to Know the Nybll Founder Chef and Cancer Survivor who Promotes Healing through Plant Based Diet

by Jennifer Tanaka

January marks new beginnings. We make resolutions, start diets and vow to maintain exercise regimens. It’s when we pull our lives together. But what to do when you have to kick your team into gear too? If you ask chef Kristen Thibeault, you start with what fuels them. Food.

“What we do is really focused on health,” says Thibeault. “It’s balanced with all your micros and brings you what you need on a daily basis.” Thibeault founded Nybll, a food service company that caters healthy plant-based foods to CEOs and athletes, in 2015. The likes of Amazon and the San Francisco Giants hire Nybll to feed their people, which in turn makes them happier, healthier and more focused.

In the past decade, plant-based diets have risen in popularity. The lifestyle extends beyond models and health nuts. It’s gone mainstream. Athletes have embraced it big time. Tom Brady popularized it with his teammates in New England, and in November 2019, Justin Coleman told Sports Illustrated that he credits his vegan diet for fewer injuries and quicker healing. Thibeault, who is also a cancer survivor, is an advocate.

She’s helped David Ortiz overhaul his pantry. The baseball star “wanted to lose weight and go vegan. I got lucky and I got to cook for him,” recalls Thibeault. She was already cooking for more than 20 clients on a regular basis, all plant-based. “Then I went to culinary school to make it legit,” she says. “At the same time I studied nutrition. So I became a sports nutritionist, and now I just recently completed Stanford’s nutritional science program to augment everything.” When Four Seasons San Francisco wanted the brand’s first plant-focused restaurant in 2012, they contacted Thibeault.

The blond mother of two boys enjoys changing perceptions about plant-based eating. Her “vegan sweetbreads” are succulent seitan protein encrusted with crispy porcini mushrooms that double as a gateway dish. The night before we met, Thibeault had converted a burly crowd of Anaheim Ducks hockey players and their fans with her vegan sweetbreads at a tasting benefit. The dish also impressed the meat eaters when she won San Pellegrino’s Almost Famous Chef Competition in Napa.

“Everything is plant-based including all the butters and sauces we use,” she says. Nybll’s dishes consist of flavorful offerings such as Moroccan-style Japanese eggplant stuffed with ground soy sausage. A vegan roulade with wild rice and mushrooms served with broccoli rabe and a celeriac purée with truffle oil tastes like the best parts of Thanksgiving.

Understanding where and how our food is cultivated is important to Thibeault. “I get the rice from a family friend in Minnesota,” she says. “And the morels come from someone who hand forages for me.”

Nowadays, Thibeault, who recently moved to South County, is seeking a more balanced life with her husband, Keven, and sons Zander and Zacheo, along with their Italian mastiff, Lola. “We belong to Monarch Beach Club and my boys love surfing, and that’s where you’ll find me most sunny days,” she says.

But she still leads a busy life. With Nybll offices in Oakland and Anaheim, she continues to heal communities with food. She formed The Patra Project, a 501(c)(3) that has served over 100,000 meals to families in need. The mission is to “provide access to healthy food for underserved families in food deserts.” Meaning, all the food waste from Nybll and other catering jobs are converted into nutritious meals for children at risk of going hungry. This is one way Thibeault plans to address our country’s serious food waste problem. It’s another way to share the love and feed the soul. Couldn’t we all use a second helping of that?

Chef Kristen Thibeault founded Nybll and The Patra Project, promoting plant-based eating. (photo by Leonard Ortiz/COAST Magazine)

MY NEIGHBORHOOD: Capistrano Beach/Dana Point and Montclair in the Oakland Hills. (I divide my time managing businesses in L.A. and the Bay Area.)

MY SANCTUARY: My beach house.

WHERE I’D LIKE TO MEET FOR LUNCH: Eve in Encinitas. A bit of a drive but well worth every mile. Their Truffle Shuffle Burger puts all other vegan burgers to shame. Seriously otherworldly.

RED OR WHITE? White. My latest obsession is no residual sugar vineyards like cult brand Scribe’s Chardonnay or Riesling. They consider it “chuggable’” and so do I.

FAVORITE SHOW TO BINGE WATCH: With two energetic little boys, a growing business and a non profit to run, I honestly never watch TV. If I did, I’d pick “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” or another Netflix comedy show.

WORST ADVICE: Stay in your lane. A professional kitchen is no place for a woman.

THE BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen.

ON MY NIGHTSTAND: “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” by Joe Dispenza.

PET PEEVE: Chefs’ bizarre obsession with pork belly.

IF I HAD A MAGIC WAND I WOULD … find every child in foster care a forever home.


NO ONE KNOWS THAT I … am a closet Korean karaoke diva.

MY MOTTO: Everything you want is on the other side of your comfort zone.

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