On a trip to the Italian island of Sardinia, Dr. Annie Fenn found herself fascinated by the island’s reputation for longevity and its high number of centenarians — people who have reached the age of 100. Annie, a physician and foodie, was particularly interested in the traditional Sardinian diet of powerhouse brain foods.
“They typically have a bowl of minestrone for lunch,” she says, describing the flavorful, yet simple soup made using vegetables, beans, pasta, tomato broth, and garlic. “It’s a pearl of wisdom we can all access — eating for brain health can be delicious!”
Food and brain health have long been Annie’s passions, but finding her true calling was a journey. After completing an obstetrics and gynecology residency in Chicago, Annie and her husband — who met as undergraduates at the University of Denver — followed their dream of moving back to the Rocky Mountains. Her husband, who spent a winter living in his pickup truck in Teton Village, suggested Jackson Hole. The couple arrived in 1994 and Annie began caring for patients at her own practice.
“I loved it here, I loved practicing medicine, and I loved my patients. But 20 years in, I was itching to use a different part of my brain.”
Annie decided to attend culinary school in Tuscany and Texas; started a blog, Jackson Hole Foodie; wrote the Foodie Files column for the newspaper; and started teaching cooking classes. She also continued reading medical journals, paying particular attention to the evolution of nutrition as a scientific field.
In 2015, a series of events led Annie toward her next venture. She started working with Brain Works Boot Camp — a program to help people keep their brain healthier longer — at St. John’s Hospital and her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The coinciding events resulted in an epiphany: “I could use my medical degree, my love of cooking, and my culinary training to help people prevent dementia.”
That breakthrough led to the creation of Brain Health Kitchen, a cooking school and blog dedicated to helping prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias using brain healthy foods and lifestyle tips. Annie started sharing recipes online and teaching cooking classes — first in her home, then at a catering kitchen, and finally, worldwide. These days, she teaches at cooking schools around the world, including stints at Monteverdi Tuscany.
With the halt in travel, Annie has been in Jackson healing two ACL injuries — her own and her son’s — and working on her upcoming cookbook, set to publish in 2022. To keep her brain, body, and taste buds happy during this downtime, she’s been cooking up dishes like pasta e fagioli, a minestrone-style soup reminiscent of her time in Sardinia, and pumpkin blueberry muffins sprinkled with hemp seeds and baked using olive oil for healthy fats and polyphenols.
“Alzheimer’s doesn’t just happen when you get old,” Annie explains. “The process begins 20 to 30 years before the first symptoms. Cognitive decline starts in our 20s, 30s, 40s. That surprises people.”
Her secret? Take a cue from the centenarians in Sardinia — it’s all in the way you live and eat.