In a dark time of her life, Vick Vannucci took a step back to see what the world and nature could truly offer. Armed with a new outlook, Vannucci has now used that connection with the Earth to bring healthy and innovative dishes to the dinner table.
Drawing from nature wasn’t always on the mind of restaurant owner Vick Vannucci. A former Argentine professional tennis player, model — and even a TV personality — Vannucci’s past was glamorous. During a trip, however, Vannucci was involved with a hunting controversy that sent her into a depression, where she took a step back to try and see the world in a different light.
“I started asking many questions, and those questions started bringing more questions, and I ended up very depressed for many years. I was living in Colorado, I didn’t know anything about nature, I didn’t know anything about life. I [started wondering] how someone [could take] an animal’s life.”
Vannucci continued to ask questions, while also reading up on topics she wasn’t aware of — such as climate change — and found the newly found information to not only be eye-opening, but disturbing.
“In my depression, the connection with the nature [started]. Pachamama means, in Quechua, ‘Mother Earth,'” she said. “So I started connecting with nature, and I started noticing myself every time a little bit better. I started feeling better, I started going out from my house. I started planting seeds, I started asking more questions.”
Vannucci ended up building meaningful connections and relationships with farmers around her, with one Colorado farmer explaining to her the connection in the Earth. One thing turned into another, and Vannucci found herself putting on the chef’s hat. “I feel that for me, it’s my mission, it’s my personal mission.”
“[If] we don’t have bees, we don’t have food. If we don’t start thinking about the bees and taking care [of] the bees, I don’t know what type of future we can have. I think promoting bees right now is something good for everyone. Something that we really need.”
Pachamama’s — which is set to open a new location in Los Angeles — menu and operations reflects Vannucci’s healthy and positive mindset. Along with dishes of vegan tacos and carne saltado, Pacamama boasts an ongoing effort to ensure sustainability, while Vannucci has tried to encourage other restaurant owners in the area to follow suit.
“One of the things that I’m proud [of] in Pachamama is that we are sustainable. I don’t promote plastic, I hate plastic. For me, it’s very important to give that message. During the pandemic, I reached out to [restaurant owners] and said, ‘hey, why don’t you change your packaging and use more sustainable packaging.”
“If you put aluminum packaging, [it’s] not just cheaper for you, you’re helping the planet, you’re helping to save the oceans too. Also, at the end of the day, it’s better for your food. So I don’t understand why you keep buying your food in plastic, that’s packaging that kills our ocean and beaches, and your pockets.”
Vannucci also shared how the restaurant has strived to bring awareness to bees, a species that continues to see alarming average death rates. Vannucci admitted her previous ignorance about the dangerous depletion, and after some reading was driven to action. “We did this photo production, full of bees, to show people that bees are not so dangerous.”
“I always have the same wish of having a culture inside my restaurant, in which my employees can feel more than just an employee. I want [them] to feel entitled to say ideas, to grow Pachamama with me. This is for everybody. It’s not only me winning here.”
While Pachama presented Vannucci with the newfound opportunity of exploring her culinary desires and goal to spread environmental mindfulness, the obstacle of succeeding in the restaurant industry — in a foreign country, no less — still awaited her. “The first thing that I thought of the restaurant industry at the beginning of my experience was, ‘oh my gosh.’ From all the industries that I’ve ever worked before in my life, this is the hardest. It is a new country, a new community, a different language, a different way of everything.”
“It’s very difficult to have a restaurant that’s new [while at the same time] succeeding all of the sudden, and Pachamama was one of those. I think the concept helped a lot, but again, yes, the restaurant industry is very competitive. You need to be on top of everything every time, you need to be there all the time. If you aren’t there, the team’s not running the same way.”
The kitchen staff, the life and blood of any good restaurant, is an aspect that particularly stood out to Vannucci. “At the beginning, I couldn’t figure [employment] out. Having a team and wanting to work as a family is very difficult, especially if you want a culture inside.”
Vaccunni struggled with team building for months – she tried having frequent meetings every week among other attempts, but nothing seemed to be working. That is, until she sat down and took the time to hear their thoughts and opinions. “I started listening to them. I think as an owner and leader of any particular industry, you need to listen to your employees. You need to listen. They have their own ideas, and if you don’t give them the [opportunity to speak], to grow with your business, you will never have that type of relationship.”
“We are all of the same here, this is a team. I feel proud of that, because at the beginning it was very hard for me to achieve. And I failed a lot, but I think right now I’m in the moment [where] I can say this team is my family,” Vannucci said, adding that her idea of success is where everyone wins.
“Imagine that when you invest, it’s very hard to recover at the beginning. You need the machine working. So it was a challenge for me, but I’m very grateful too, because I think COVID-19 built me into a better businesswoman. In a way, I have mixed feelings with COVID-19. I learned so much, but also so many people [and] businesses suffered.”
Vannucci, who started Pachamama only eight months before the COVID-19 pandemic, said she had varying emotions about the global event. “My restaurant was very different before the pandemic, and after the pandemic, I changed a lot. I realized that I understand how to work better, how to use my resources better. Especially because we didn’t have any customers during the pandemic, and [for me] that was very hard because I needed to survive with my business.”
At one point in the pandemic, Vannucci didn’t have any employees, and was forced to manage the brunt of work. The chef explained that working in the various roles — such as cashier and prep — in addition to cooking gave her a better understanding of not only the positions, but her employees as well.
The country Vannucci now calls home has long held very different views on healthy eating and lifestyles. In 2020, the U.S. obesity rate hit 42.2%, the first time the national rate has passed 40%. Still, she believes she sees a different mentality that suggests positive changes are on the horizon. “I think the U.S. has been changing a lot. They’ve been working on this new mentality for a long time.”
“I notice every time I go to L.A., to San Diego, I keep seeing more healthy restaurants. I think that’s very huge if we, as the restaurant owners, can have a more healthy concept out there. I think the COVID-19 helped a lot in that situation, I have so many friends that have stopped eating like they used to eat, and now are eating clean food, raw food, more vegetables, more fish. They stopped the junk and fast food. I think if we can have more of this type of concept, at the end of the day, we’ll be more healthy.”
“I want to give a good example, and I think a good example is also accepting who we are, accepting our mistakes and [getting] it right. Because when you’re young, you make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. The important part of a mistake is that you have an opportunity. The opportunity is what you do with that mistake, and what I’m doing with that mistake is trying to amend my way.”
Vannucci’s life-changing incident didn’t just give her a new path in life and appreciation for nature – it also altered much about her own self, and helped her to understand the importance of correcting mistakes and learning from them in order to reach our best possible versions.
“I think I learned a lot about myself too. I was on covers every month, and I wasn’t feeling that I was giving a message. I was going through my life very fast, famous, [and] young, but I wasn’t doing anything I could say, ‘this is important. This has meaning.'”
Vannucci explained it wasn’t just the depression that made her want a change, but the way she saw her life going and how she could end up if that path continued. When she takes a step in front of a mirror, she likes what she sees.
“I want to be better every time. [I’m] trying to give back, trying to learn something new [every day], trying to be a better human, trying to be a mom, [and] trying to be a better leader for my team. I can say today every time I see myself in the mirror, I’m more happy.”
If you’d like to learn more about Vannucci and Pachamama, you can visit her website by clicking here.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.