Local Flavor

Street Scents with Barb Ehlers

It wasn’t easy, but somewhere between climbing towers, training for the NYC Marathon, and searing salmon to a melt-in-your mouth perfection, food and fitness professional Barb Ehlers slipped away to share some her scents and   sensibility with us.  Ehlers is definitely a bit of a globetrotter – in every sense of the word – but she definitely knows how to slow down and cherish the places she calls home.

NB: Can you describe your personal style in a nutshell?

BE: Sporty with a chance of edgy

NB: And because we have to ask, do you have a signature scent?

BE: Rusty dumbbell. Ha, I genuinely change my scents with the season. How trendy of me. I generally default to Bvlgari’s Classic parfume. In the summer I do love Burberry Brit.

NB: ​Where were you born?

BE: Howard Beach, Queens, NY. But Bremen, Germany is my second home.  My family is from there and I spent years there living with my Grandma (Oma).

NB: What are some scents associated with those place?

BE: Howard Beach was salty sea, sulfur at low tide, and the rich smell of tomato sauce and garlic from all the Italian establishments. That’s probably why I love cooking with salt, cruciferous vegetables and making rich tomato based sauces & stews. Germany was the smell of fresh forest, wood, earthiness, and during the holiday season, ginger, molasses, cloves. Most people don’t know that Germany is about one third forest. A very green place indeed.

NB: Where do you live now?

BE: I call ​Hampton Bays, NY home lately, although I still gravitate towards NYC for work and sparks.

NB: What does your current home smell and taste like?​

BE: North Hampton bays is like an ideal combination of my childhood homes: salty, woodsy, the glorious scent of aerated, rich manure in the organic farms I frequent nearby. I have the grill going from May through October, so the smell of caramelized/charred vegetables, and bursts of the sea from freshly caught fish from my local fish monger.


NB: What are some of your most cherished scent memories?

BE: Scent kindles my emotions and other senses. Scent sometimes transcribes sound and  touch. When I first smelled shaved truffle I heard the rustling of leaves in a damp forest. When I smell baking gingerbread I hear Handel’s Messiah, and feel my grandma’s hugs. I do love the smell of an iron-filled gym as well. Makes me want to lift & push hard!

NB: What are your favorite things to eat and drink right now, whether here or abroad?

BE: The summer & the fall in the Hamptons are a localvore’s heaven. This summer I indulged in local Pinot Blancs (love the Lieb cellar wine) & Palmer Vineyards’ Spanish winemaker is creating a local Albariño-a summer favorite. In the fall I transition to reds-love Martha Clara‘s Northville Red, and Channing Daughters Rosso Fresco. I love roasting (grill roasting) root vegetables and squashes this time of year. Roasted Moroccan-spiced butternut squash is something I cannot make enough of lately.

NB: How would you describe your professional persona?

BE: My life is spent balanced between the food and fitness world. I’m French Culinary Institute trained, so French technique is the basis for my cooking, but the personal trainer in me constantly calls for recipe modifications to make meals less caloric but just as delicious & nutritious. I worked for Equinox for years, and in restaurants, but now do both privately. My clients share my philosophy, so it’s like preaching to the choir, but I’d love to expand my fitness and food knowledge to the larger American audience. It’s not that challenging or expensive to look and feel great with a little guidance.

NB: How did you get into it?

I had a asthma as a kid and my mom enrolled me in karate, where I learned to breathe beyond my lungs, and to challenge my mind and body to grow stronger. I got myself off of all asthma medication, and have always had a deep connection to overcoming challenges by challenging oneself beyond one’s comfort zone. I started cooking too at a young age because I decided to become a vegetarian in a very German household (where eating chicken is considered not eating meat). My grandma bought me some vegetarian cookbooks, like the Moosewood cookbook, which inspired me to nourish myself. And since how we look and feel is always a reflection of our diet, exercise, and state of mind, my work reflects this.

NB: Does your work space or creative space have any scents associated with it?

BE: Before I cook or go to see private clients, I spritz a special French lavender my aromatherapy friend Cheri Keeler made me. It always calms me and prepares me for what’s to come. Since I cook so many different meals for many clients, the scents of my kitchen vary tremendously. I do love cooking with North African spices, like saffron, cumin, and cinnamon. I’m also an advocate of fermented foods, like raw sauerkraut and kimchi, and mushrooms like shiitakes and maitakes, so there’s often an earthy smell to my kitchen. And vinegar. I use vinegar & water to clean my stove, counters, sink and yoga mat!

NB: How does scent play into your life, whether in the kitchen when cooking or otherwise?

BE: Scent plays a leading role in my existence. It’s as important as the appearance and taste of the meals I create. Wine pairing is a big passion of mine, and scent-aroma is one of the elements of wine. Scent is elemental in my life. The scents we emanate-whether through sweat or our breathe-also indicate dietary concerns, which is something I pay attention to in myself and in my clients. I usually introduce probiotics, as well as hydrating foods when things don’t smell right. 

barb cooking

NB: Are their certain scents that have inspired you throughout your journey?
BE: I have a BA in Art History, and I must confess I love the smell of museums. Old,European museums, or museums like the AMNH in NYC. It’s a glorious smell of disintegration (my favorite Cure album), the smell of history and far off places. The smell that the objects have been somewhere else, perhaps for a long time, and have a story to tell. Libraries filled with old books also have this smell. This smell always inspires me to go somewhere or do something interesting, like when I studied Mayan Art and Architecture in Mexico, or hiked through the Andes to visit numerous Incan sites in Peru, or live with Buddhist monks in Nepal. The conception of my adventures are usually born in a museum or library.
NB: It sounds like smells are especially transportive for you!
BE: I’ve been meditating for some years now, and I’m fascinated by the way our senses blur into one another into a singular awareness of being. For example, when I hear the sound of rain, I perceive it as a surrounding sensation. It’s no isolated sensation of sound, but rather a reverberation that I can feel in my whole body, not just my ears. I’m convinced that scent works in the same way.
NB: Where can we check you out?  Any upcoming events or  classes you teach?
  • I’m at  Nimble Fitness teaching TRX/Core on Tuesdays at  7pm
  •  mang’Oh yoga – Core yoga Wednesdays at 7am
  • Small group outdoor TRX classes (seasonal). Email me for details!

Find out more about Barb Ehlers at her website.