Kelly Emberg, Model Gardener, Dishes on Love, Life and Lettuce

Catching Up with the Supermodel

Steven Hempel
October 18, 2013

Supermodel Kelly Emberg’s life has been a series of transformations, rising to fame in the ’80s and gracing the covers of Vogue, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan. But first, there was a tomboy childhood in the Memorial area of Houston, where she attended Stratford High School. Her journey saw her leave Houston for New York City and later Los Angeles — she retired from modeling in 1990 and traded a successful interior design practice in L.A. for a life that revolves around friends, family and the earth. With the upcoming launch of a national radio show, a host of charity commitments and children Cole (11), Tyler (15) and Ruby (26, a singer/songwriter living in L.A.), she is a busy woman. Food Made Simple debuted on iHeart Radio in September and has its roots in something just a few steps from her front door. Through this first foray into the airwaves, she aspires to educate people about both growing and eating healthy foods. Emberg, in town for an appearance at the I Am Waters charity luncheon last fall, brought us up to date on love, life and lettuce. 

She began modeling at 18 — a decade-long career that led her around the world, from a trip down the Nile to Aswan and Luxor, to work in Petra, Jordan, to Bora Bora for a shoot with Sports Illustrated. While Emberg seemingly had it all, she left modeling in 1990 after a split with pop singer Rod Stewart, ending their relationship of seven years.  With their daughter Ruby just three at the time, the change gave her more time to be a parent and the opportunity to pursue a degree, something she had given up for modeling. Her subsequent marriage to Mike Padilla, whom she met in Aspen, led her to Rancho Santa Fe, just north of San Diego.

An idyllic town known locally as The Ranch, Rancho Santa Fe lies between rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean. The family home, resting on a high point on the land, quickly became the center of Emberg’s universe. With a climate that encourages growing year-round, she tried her hand at gardening, a hobby that became an obsession. She devoured books and information online and enjoyed success with a few seedlings, then large crops of fresh vegetables and herbs. “Growing brought me closer to nature, the seasons and the cycle of life, and it made me want to be kinder to the planet,” she says. “I know it may sound corny, but if you planted one seed and it grew into a huge tomato plant with the most delicious tomatoes you have ever tasted in your life, you would understand what I mean.”

Emberg felt compelled to educate others not only about growing, but about the benefits of a healthy diet, noting that diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity are all preventable through proper diet. As the world’s population has grown, new ways of growing have changed the way we eat. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are present in almost 90 percent of the corn, canola, soybeans and alfalfa plants grown in the United States today. This is fed to animals and exists in almost all processed foods. Emberg hopes to promote awareness and education by teaching people that they can take charge of what goes into their bodies. Her Web site,, was the first step towards that goal. She incorporated her message through gardening and nutrition, supplemented with how-to videos and images. The web page serves as inspiration for others and a great place to begin the education process. Her iHeart Radio program, Food Made Simple, consists of interviews and segments with noted chefs, farmers, nutritionists, authors and the occasional celebrity; sharing ideas and knowledge about the food we grow and eat; inspiring others to begin their path towards a healthy diet; and tips to navigate grocery stores to find healthful alternatives. “Food Made Simple is about simply growing, simply cooking and simply understanding your food,” she says. “Once people really understand what is in their food and where it comes from, they will make the right decisions for themselves. I truly believe it.”



The Model Gardener at

Kelly Emberg

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Recipes From the Heart

Simple Margarita. 1 shot of fresh squeezed lime, 1 shot of triple sec, 2 shots of tequila and the juice of a wedge of orange. Use a martini shaker, shake, and pour into a cold martini glass rimmed in salt. Mmmmmm.

Simple Salsa
. 4 tomatoes — I like heirloom variety, but any juicy tomato will work. Avoid Roma or plum; they are better for pasta sauce. 1 - 3 jalapeños or any kind of chili pepper. (Depends on how spicy you would like your salsa.) 2 cloves of garlic. Salt and pepper.

Cut the tomatoes and lay them skin side down in a large skillet. In another small skillet, put whole chili peppers. Place both skillets on medium heat for a few minutes. Constantly turn the peppers with tongs and blacken all sides. Check tomatoes often to see if the skins are starting to brown. Once the peppers and tomatoes are blackened, remove from heat. Peal the garlic cloves and chop in food processor or blender. Remove the stems of the peppers and add the blackened chilies to the food processor and chop. Lastly, add the blackened tomatoes, salt and pepper, and chop again. Take the pan that was used for the blackened tomatoes and add a little water. Heat it up to loosen any blackened tomato residue; add the juice to the salsa and process it one more time. Voilà, it’s done. Chill and serve. Trust me, you will love this.

Beet Soup. Take a few beets, cut off the tops if you grew them and set the greens aside. (You can use those later - sauté in garlic, olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper — delish!) Put whole beets, skins and all, in a large pot and add water to cover. Depending on the size of the beets, cook approximately 30 minutes. Test with a fork to see if they are tender. Once tender, remove from water and cool. Set the beet water aside. Using a paper towel, slide the skins off the beets and slice. Put them in a food processor, blender or, even better, a Vitamix. Add some of the beet water to desired consistency and purée; add salt and pepper and a tab of butter, and you’re done. Optional: add crumbled goat cheese as a garnish. That’s it. So simple but so delicious.

Gardening Notes

Everyone always asks me what my favorite thing is to grow, and I have to say it’s tomatoes. There is nothing like it when they’re homegrown. There are more than 7,500 types of tomatoes — that’s a lot to choose from. I’m growing 16 varieties, and a few of my favorites are heirloom Black Krim and Black Cherry. They are just so sweet. Tomatoes come in all colors, but you will never see most of these in your grocery store — another reason you might want to think about growing your own.

You should always grow the things you love to eat, and I love spicy peppers. I’m growing all kinds this year: Ghost chili peppers, poblano, habanero, serrano, cayenne, jalapeño, Thai and the not-so-spicy varieties such as green, yellow, red bell peppers and heirloom black bell peppers, too. Always pick peppers when they turn red; they have more nutrients and taste much sweeter.

Tips to get started

Now, after I just told you how big my garden is, my one word of advice is to start small. A 10-by-10-foot is a good size. Plant what you like to eat, and don’t get discouraged if something dies. Without our failures, we would never learn. You will have successes and enjoy them. The next season, you’ll be ready for all kinds of new things. I’m still learning, and I hope it never ends. If you don’t have the space, garden with a friend. Find someone near you who does have the space. There are always community gardens; all you have to do is google. I hope you start. Good luck!