There was a point in Paulette Lambert’s life when she wanted to be a pastry chef.
For a lot of people, it’s a good thing that she went in another direction.
“I remember her saying years and years ago, ‘I’ve seen enough patients to fill up Dodger Stadium,’” said Ellen Bauersfeld, her former business partner and a California State University, Northridge’s Klotz Student Health Center registered dietitian. “(I’d say) every one of them would say, ‘Paulette changed my life.’”
Lambert ’75 (Dietetics) is one of the most accomplished and sought-after dietitians in California. She was the first registered dietitian in California with a private practice, is a published author and for years has been a go-to expert on health and nutrition for various media, including a stint on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition.
Lambert is currently the director of nutrition for the California Health & Longevity Institute in Westlake Village. She has been at the institute since its opening in late 2006, and continues to make an impact on lives every day.
“My goal is always to impart knowledge that empowers [people],” Lambert said. “We’re teachers. Motivation has to come from within, but very often people lack motivation because they don’t have knowledge. If we can communicate in a very simple way that gives that person the ah-ha moment, [thinking] ‘I can do this,’ then they can make those few changes we’re asking them to make, it can have great impact on their health.”
Lambert’s story could have been very different, though.
Lambert spent much of the first 12 years of her life living on a dairy farm in New York. She was reading labels on the backs of spice bottles at 4 years old and was making jam by the time she was 7.
At 12, the family moved to California’s Ventura County. She later chose to study at CSUN because of its proximity and value, she said.
When she was a junior, she was at a crossroads. Lambert was a political science major, thinking she would teach one day. But teaching jobs were scarce at the time, prompting her to rethink her direction. She was accepted into nursing school, but strongly considered culinary school to become a pastry chef because of a love for baking.
Ultimately, her mother, knowing Lambert’s fondness for food, suggested she become a nutritionist. Lambert researched the possibility and decided it was worth changing majors, even if it meant extending her stay at CSUN.
A couple of years after graduating from CSUN and completing an internship in Dallas, Paulette became a clinical dietitian at Medical Center of Tarzana. She worked on the pediatric floor, including the oncology unit, for the first year and then went on to handling the hospitals outpatient nutrition clinic.
Within months she had a long waiting list. She asked the hospital’s administration for more space and more staff, but there weren’t enough resources to accommodate her needs.
“I went back to my office and had a conversation with my boss, and he said, ‘How’d the meeting go?’ I said, ‘It went fine. I just resigned,’” Lambert recalled. “She looked at me and said, ‘What?’ ‘[I told her] I’m just going to do this on my own.’ I (became) the first dietitian in private practice in California. That was in 1979.”
It was a gutsy move. Not only were there no private dietetics practices, but she was only 28 years old and relatively new in the field.
“I had no clue what I was getting into,” she said. “It wasn’t something they taught you in class or even in my internship. Nobody was in private practice. But I thought, ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Lambert already had a number of patients and a connection to open up her own office, so she felt she had a solid foundation. The business, Lambert and Associates, grew. She estimates seeing 100 to 125 patients per week. Lambert became a certified diabetic educator, and her reputation grew.
She contracted with other dietitians to work at her office, including Bauersfeld, who began working with Lambert in 1990.
“She’s a human dynamo,” Bauersfeld said. “She’s one of the people I admire most in my world in so many ways. First of all, she’s brilliant. She is incredibly creative, but she’s also business smart. It’s really challenging to have to program (for people) and be business savvy and still have that human side where she cares so deeply about her patients. She gives everything in her approach to counseling and teaching.”
Lambert said one of her strengths is communication — simplifying the complexity of nutritional language and planning so it can be simple for people to get healthy.
She also is active in the kitchen because she believes she needs to have answers for whatever question her patients might have. For example, if a mother’s son has diabetes and wants to know how to do a birthday cake for him, Lambert needs to have the answer.
After 28 years of doing the same thing in private practice, Lambert wanted a different challenge.
The Next Adventure
The California Health & Longevity Institute is the brainchild of businessman, philanthropist and dedicated health and wellness advocate David Murdock, the owner of Dole Food Company, Inc. A headhunter sought out Lambert and convinced her to apply for a job at the health and wellness center in anticipation of its December 2006 opening. She got the job and left her private practice behind.
She runs the culinary school, develops the institute’s nutrition programs and protocols, and lectures about nutrition and wellness to individuals, high-level leadership in the corporate world and other groups. One of her objectives is to feed people knowledge that will empower them to reach their goals.
“The consumer is more confused now more than ever because they can’t decide what is science and what is marketing hype,” Lambert said. “They don’t really know what to listen for — what to believe and not believe. A big part of my job is to make nutrition science and medicine easy for people to understand. We’re based on medical evidence. We don’t follow the latest fad.”
In addition to her work with the California Health & Longevity Institute, her book The Wellness Kitchen was published in December 2014. It features recipes and offers nutritional and wellness advice. The book incorporates everything she does in the kitchen at the Westlake Village institute.
Lambert said that to this day, she still relies on what she learned at CSUN.
“What I still use is [information from] clinical nutrition classes — disease prevention, understanding your physiology — and my advance nutrition therapy classes because that’s the base,” Lambert said. “Basic chronic disease prevention and nutritional science and prevention of disease stays pretty solid. It changes slightly. New studies come out. But you have that base of understanding, and that clearly stayed with me.
“And the two classes I took with Christine Smith — she always gave the practical approach [when she taught] . … She made it really come alive, and it was really important. There was always a practical application to this not just science.”
Lambert returns to CSUN from time to time to guest lecture.
She said she’s reached the point in her life where she’s beginning to think of her post-professional future. In her remaining working days, Lambert wants to continue to help grow the wellness institute because “great things are happening here.”
Bauersfeld called Lambert “the epitome of what we would hope a CSUN graduate could be.”
“She was able to go out there, follow her dream, be successful and be a great ambassador through everything she does, everything she touches,” Bauersfeld said.