I’m Yvonne Maffei, Founder & Publisher of My Halal Kitchen. I was born and raised in small-town Ohio in the heartland of America. After studying at Ohio University (Athens, Ohio) I’ve lived all over the country and traveled the world, but northeast Ohio is where I will always call home. I had a wholesome upbringing in a place where the people were nice, the surrounding was safe and peaceful, and the schools fantastic. It shaped everything about the person I am today because it was the launching pad I needed to go forward in life to set off satisfying all of my curiosities about the world — and I’m very curious.
I was raised visiting farms on the outskirts of my small town. Every Wednesday or Saturday my parents would visit the local flea market where we could directly interact with Amish farmers or other local producers about their farm stand produce and hand-crafted goods. School trips and family outings involved things like hay rides, visits to apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and summer strawberry picking — memories I cherish deeply and one of the reasons why fall and spring are my absolute favorite seasons of the year.
What has made my life even more interesting is that I’m half-Sicilian and half-Puerto Rican, which means that I grew up eating some really amazing food! My Sicilian grandparents had Sunday suppers for the entire family every week. Pasta with meatballs, lasagna, homemade sauce, homemade bread, homemade pizza — it was all a part of the culinary experience of my youth and something I thought was normal. On the Puerto Rican side, it was rice and beans, chicken, pasteles (banana-leaf wrapped tamales), and all sorts of Caribbean-style sweets made with guava, mango, coconut and pineapple. It’s no wonder I grew up with a desire to hold on to the culinary traditions I grew up with when I saw so much of it disappearing into the marketplace of not-so-real food as I got older and began shopping for myself.
A trip to Sicily when I was 18 years old changed everything about how I viewed food, cooking, and living. I experienced how to shop, select, cook, and savor the freshest ingredients one could possibly put on the table. My aunt showed me around the markets of my family’s seaside home town in a small village outside of Catania and the rest of my family there showed me how to truly enjoy it all. I was never the same after returning, and never returned to yo-yo dieting or eating processed foods.
Coming back to the U.S., I entered college and began traveling abroad more and more — Mexico, the Caribbean, France, England, Switzerland, Morocco, Spain, Greece, and all of Italy. I couldn’t get enough of learning about how people around the world cooked and lived and enjoyed the freshest and most local ingredients on hand. I talked to everyone I could about how to prepare food from scratch and why they used certain cooking methods over others. No culinary school could have given me that type of experience, although I really wanted to enter a prestigious culinary school at the time. Without regret, I graduated from Ohio University with a B.A. and an M.A. in International Studies and came out speaking a couple of extra languages, meeting some incredibly interesting people, and having the most amazing college experiences I hold deep in my heart.
After college I was a Spanish and English Language and Literature teacher for nearly 10 years before deciding to pursue food writing and teaching the culinary arts within a halal context on a full-time basis. I’m passionate about wholesome food, nutrition, gardening, homemaking, and learning about fascinating culinary traditions of people all over the globe. I love real food and am concerned about the current state of our food industry and other factors that jeopardize our food freedom and fair and equal access to healthy food for everyone. It helps that I love to cook, I love to be in my kitchen or garden, and I love to travel and cook and garden anywhere else in the world, too. I could literally cook and discuss food and everything that surrounds the topic all day long. Really, I could.
I live just outside of Chicago and am always scoping out food and products that are natural, organic, pure, halal, raised humanely, sourced ethically, and brought to market without poisonous toxins and chemicals. Unfortunately, that’s not always an easy thing to do, but it is getting easier as more great companies produce wonderful products I love to shout out to the world — that means so you can find out about them, too!