Kristen Thibeault, CEO and founder of corporate catering company Nybll, has a storied history when it comes to cooking. Growing up in the 1980s, a time when the world of cuisine and fine dining was mostly a man’s game, Thibeault set aside her dreams of attending cooking school for something more traditional. “[It was] always sort of a dream and a passion, [but I] never thought it was an option for me,” Thibeault says, whose early career centered around the beauty and wellness industry.
It wasn’t until she was blindsided by a double cancer diagnosis that she reevaluated her life and career choice. In 2008, she was working 90 hours a week, commuting every week to New York from her home in Boston. “One day, in June 2008, [I] got a phone call after having a normal routine mammogram, my first one ever,” Thibeault remembers. “They found something.”
It was stage III breast cancer. Eight months and a double mastectomy later, she was diagnosed with cancer again—early-stage uterine cancer. For the next two years, Theibault would be in and out of the hospital. “I had a twoplus-year stint of just constantly dealing with my health,” she remembers. “It just really rattled my world and I felt like I couldn’t control anything in my life.”
But there was something Thibeault felt like she could control: “What I put in my body, and how I treated my body,” she says. Thibeault dove headfirst into the world of nutrition, deepening her understanding of how what we eat affects our overall health. She committed to a plant-focused, vegan lifestyle, cooking healthy meals for herself while undergoing chemotherapy. According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” like cancer. This is due to a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains without consuming any animal fats.
Because she wasn’t able to work, Thibeault began cooking for her friend who was also looking to incorporate healthy eating into their lifestyle. “Suddenly, I had five [clients], and then I had ten, and one day I looked and [realized] if I just did this, I wouldn’t have to go back into the rat race of corporate life,” she says.
After a year running the first, all-vegan personal meal service, preceded by culinary school, receiving her chef de cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu, and re-certifying in sports nutrition (based on previous work experience, she knew her potential client base would include athletes), Thibeault had amassed an impressive client list of more than 100 people, including celebrities like David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. Her success was due to the fact that there wasn’t anything quite like this on the market at the time—delicious, nutritious meals powered by plants. It led to her landing the position of head chef at the first plant-focused restaurant of the Four Seasons franchise in San Francisco, Kombu Kitchen, which she ran for three years before launching Nybll.
Launched in 2015, Nybll is the first plant-focused catering company serving the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Six months into launching the business, Thibeault landed her first major client: the Oakland Athletics. “They were looking for a really healthy, sports science nutritionist, [and] I had that in my background,” Thibeault says. With onethird of Nybll’s clients being professional athletes, Thibeault works closely with the team’s nutritionists and sports trainers to ensure the players are receiving the right calories and nutrients to perform their best. With an impressive client list today that includes several other Major League Baseball teams and tech giants like Amazon, Nybll’s expansion has been nothing short of epic.
All told, Nybll creates 6,000 meals per day. They are able to adopt recipes for any dietary restrictions, but every meal is guaranteed healthy and fresh. Thibeault’s food philosophy is simple: “[A]bout 70 to 80 percent of your plate on a daily basis [should] be plant-based—as many plants as possible, as often as possible,” Thibeault says. And then she imparts a surprising fact: “We need very little protein as human beings. Most of us can only process about 3 to 4 ounces of protein in a day. […] The rest we eliminate, or it converts to sugar and then to fat in our bodies.” This is something Thibeault keeps in mind even when cooking for high-performing professional athletes. Thibeault’s meals provide enough protein from plant sources to power both CEOs and professional athletes.
Sugar is another ingredient Theibault limits in all of Nybll’s meals, hearkening back to her experience treating her cancer. While currently not cooking for cancer patients, throughout her culinary career, Thiebault has personally cooked for around 40 clients who were undergoing cancer treatment.
In January 2016, she founded the Patra Project. Inspired by her children who she adopted out of foster care, the Patra Project is a nonprofit organization providing fresh, healthy meals to underserved communities in the LA and San Francisco areas. The Patra Project addresses “the disparity between the haves and have nots in terms of food and the quality of the food and access to food,” Thibeault says.
“When I started cooking, I quickly realized that there’s first of all, a ton of waste,” Thiebault begins. “Two years ago, we launched the Patra Project and donated about 1,000 meals a week [to] children in transition or that are high-risk. […] Wherever they are, they don’t need to have a microwave or oven, and they can open it up and have a beautiful healthy meal.” The Patra Project also donates to food banks and soup-kitchen style environments. “[It’s] the same food we serve Steph Curry—the same food we serve all of our clients—so there’s a lot of nutrition and dignity in the food,” Theibault says.
Whether she’s cooking for professional athletes, business executives, cancer patients or families in need, Thibeault’s meals are plant-forward, chock-full of the appropriate nutrients and delicious, because this is what Thiebault herself needed to be her best self during her fight. “The moment I realized I knew I needed to make a [lifestyle] shift, I naturally went back to what I knew,” Thiebault says, noting her cancer diagnosis. “[Healthy eating] was something that would help me support my health.”