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Chef Jen takes spiritual approach to cooking at Genesis

WESTFIELD — A nourishing meal feeds the mind, body and spirit, and Jen Moynihan relishes each opportunity to provide healthy meals for guests at the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center.

Known affectionately as “Chef Jen” by her colleagues, Moynihan can be found on many mornings searching for the right ingredients for the day’s meals in the vegetable and flower garden behind the Carriage House.

Jen Moynihan, head cook at the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center, enjoys picking fruits and vegetables from the garden in preparation for the day’s meal offerings. (LORI SZEPELAK PHOTO)

While the region logged more than an average rainfall last month, fruits and vegetables were not impacted in the Genesis garden, providing Moynihan with a multitude of meal options.

“I love looking out the kitchen window every day since you will see something new sprouting up,” said Moynihan recently as she was preparing a salad that included multi-colored cherry tomatoes and cucumbers she had just harvested.

Moynihan, who has been at Genesis for nine years, said she also enjoys creating sauces and salsas from what the garden has to offer.

On a recent morning visit, Moynihan had a field day picking yellow squash and zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, eggplant and blueberries. 

The garden area also has apple, peach and pear trees. The sour cherry trees have also provided Moynihan with ample fruit to make a sour cherry salsa and a sour cream concoction for a pork tenderloin meal.

“The sour cherry salsa was a little different,” she said, noting she looks at her ingredients for a given day and then “googles” recipe options. 

“I usually do a hybrid recipe from my research,” she added.

Creating desserts from scratch are always a welcome part of her day and recent recipes have included rhubarb muffins, rhubarb custard and a sour cherry yogurt cake.

Jen Moynihan, head cook at the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center, prepares a salad for retreat guests. (LORI SZEPELAK PHOTO)

Because of Genesis’ mission that each person “is a seed of God that is meant to grow into the likeness of God,” Moynihan appreciates the uniqueness of her role as head cook at the retreat center.

“We are like a family here,” she said, adding that while the seasons change as she looks out her kitchen window each day, one constant remains.

“We are all connected to the earth and the nourishment it provides,” she said. “I feel really blessed to create meals that provide our guests with the feeling of home.”

Liz Walz, ASP, executive director at Genesis, takes a similar view.

“Today, most of us think of food as fuel, calories, a means to an end,” said Walz. “But when we come to recognize the holy mystery of seeds plus light, water and soil becoming our bodies, thoughts and actions, we eat with a spiritual attitude and are nourished by the divine directly. That’s what it means to us at Genesis to cook and eat from our garden.”

Since the summer season has an abundance of vegetables to offer, Moynihan is sharing one of her favorite recipes — Bruschetta — with Westfield News readers.


Bruschetta – 6-8 servings

2 pounds of tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2 cloves of grated garlic

8 large fresh basil leaves with a chiffonade cut

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Mix all ingredients and let marinade rest for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

“The mixture is delicious over chicken or tossed with pasta,” said Moynihan, adding she enjoys serving the mixture on top of a French baguette that has already had olive oil drizzled on the slices and baked for approximately eight minutes in a 350-degree oven.

“Fresh mozzarella can be topped off on the baguette slices after baking to add more color and flavor,” she said.

Moynihan is joined in the kitchen by Abby Blischik, a part-time cook, and Kristen Lally, diet aide.

“Every day is different since some days we may have a group of 50 and the next day we are cooking for five people,” said Moynihan, noting she also has gluten-free and vegan recipes to satisfy every visitor’s unique needs.

“I love cooking all of these things,” she said. “The kitchen is the heart of our home here because we love and care what goes into the food we prepare.”

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