Conscious Bite Out+Superfoods=No Strings Message About Dining Out

Having one of the most amazing, stressful, labor intensive, exciting weeks of my life this past week, I quiet myself, regroup and get even more clarity about the message of a plant based lifestyle I am so eager to share.

First though, I get the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams as a “progressive modern” chef. I am asked to be the feature chef of Conscious Bite Out, a monthly dinner held at Sacred Space whose philosophy encompasses all of my beliefs: stay local, educate guests to make better food choices, encourage healthier options in restaurants and most of all, they bring awareness to our future generation by donating to Edible Garden Schoolyard Projects. 

This dream of feeding guests, in a formal dining experience, the absolute maximum nutrient dense flavor profiles that nature has to offer is something I have not been able to explore up until this point. I honestly put the idea on the back burner and told myself that it is going to wait until I launch my own concept here in Miami.

Well, wouldn’t you know, one of the founders of Conscious Bite Out, happened to be at a tasting that I did and gave me the honor of leading this last event of the season before the Sacred Space undergoes renovations for the summer.

I didn’t tip toe around my ultimate motivation to nourish my guests and chose “superfoods” as my theme. I took things like fresh local bee pollen, goji berries, coconut, raw chocolate and an abundance of nutrient dense-local-organic fruits, vegetables and grains that most people do not even know exist and made them the star of the show.

This casual/upscale event started with an hour of passed hors d’ouevres; coconut and mamey with cilantro, Jamaican jerk roasted boniato with nutty local honey, small spoons of quinoa with sweet potato and maple toasted pecans, bok choy and pineapple skewers with tahini and toasted cashews.

Jordan, a good friend of mine, came to the event representing Whole Foods South Beach, who also donated most of the dry goods. He was juicing shots of ginger, cucumber, mint, etc, and coating the rim in honey and the most buttery bee pollen you will ever taste, also donated by a local bee keeper.

The 65 total guests then were seated in a separate room minimally decorated with white candles and just golden light illuminating from the floor. I started with a bee pollen salad. Just when you thought it was only good in smoothies or on top of yogurt. This amazing, complete protein was put into a dressing with sesame and lemon and then coated onto the mango turmeric paint on the plate. red and golden beets, swiss chard and pickled mango were also there to accent the flavor.

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Next course: White corn and zucchini cake with pistachios and a superberry “crema” Organic corn being in season here now influenced this concoction. For the “crema” I started with cashews and mamey as a base and rehydrated gojis and mulberries.

Entrée: Lentil arancini, tomato broth, jalapeno “butter” and roasted rainbow carrots The broth was reminiscent of where my heart lies, in the North End of Boston, and the lentils were like a rich stew of mushrooms, vegetables and herbs.

Dessert: I decided to do a “semifreddo” duo: Chocolate hazelnut with salty hempseeds  and strawberry guava. Jaboticaba is also at peak season here now so I made a caramel with this deep purple exotic tasting fruit to drizzle around the plate.

I came out to talk to the diners and express how blessed I felt to be feeding them in this way and also some Q+A about the meal they just experienced. I hit them with so many flavors, textures and most likely added on a year or two to their life along with a boost in their libido for that night to say the least. The look in their faces and overwhelming gratitude that they expressed fueled my motivation all the more to continue this journey.

After an event like this, the “Progressive Modern Chef” in me is left with this question, “What has happened to a guest’s perception when they dine out and what is my role as a chef that is feeding them?”

Most people lose sight of our most predominant survival instinct and why they are eating and more about what kind of emotions they will feel when experiencing their favorite flavor or texture or even the thrill of who the name is behind the restaurant and, in Miami, the celeb they are sitting next to. This I could shout from the rooftops and at the same time would be frowned upon by my fellow chefs making a killing off of their patrons lost instinct to nourish their bodies.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, no one respects the history of food and the many cuisines as a chef does and I will forever refer to those that came before me for the technique, execution and passion that they demonstrate. But, the bottom line is that chefs are feeders. That’s what we do. We feed people in many ways. Casual “grab and go” ways, “fancy” ways, in ways that people will never forget as it is what molds many, many traditional celebrations. No matter what caliber you are at or what recognition you have gotten, if you are a chef, you feed people. Period.

When a therapist provides services to a patient, the results of their work will show after some time, No? If they are misdiagnosing them and keeping them on medication to keep the money rolling in and the patient inevitably is taken for a ride, what kind of therapist are they? Although the person can surely make the decision to not listen to the therapist and walk away if they know what’s best for them, is it still ok to take advantage of their distorted perception and falling to manipulation?

Same goes for a chef. If I go to eat at your restaurant on a regular basis, eat your food and then end up overweight, diabetic and full of dietary disease, who is to blame? What if I just go sometimes and just get a little sick each time whether I know it or not?

I know, I may be a little harsh here, especially on these chefs running French bistros and diners and what not that may not have two micro-nutrients to rub together, but I am making a point based on my own awakening. I was not taught this, necessarily led this way in any one conversation, it is a strong intuition that pushes me to bring this awareness to chefs and anyone that dines out.

This country has a serious “eating” problem. You can blame the media and advertising that manipulates kids while they watch their Sunday morning cartoons all you want, but as a chef, what can we do to contribute to slimming down this obesity epidemic and educating not only our guests but our peers on what foods will benefit them most and which ones may be killing them slowly? Let’s put our cost sheets down for a second and put some morality behind what is on the shelves in our store rooms and walk-ins.

I have a lot of love for the restaurant business and even more love for those that not only dine and keep me employed but look up to us chefs like we are God sends, admiring our talent and constantly patting us on the back. I say, it’s time to give back and maybe in an anonymous way. A sincerely good deed is left unsaid. If we pay attention to what we are serving, the guests are more inclined to be aware. Awareness like this on a global level will reshape the entire food industry and more importantly our ever increasing “eating” problem.

blueberrybananasmoothie

How Long Can You Go Without That Morning Cup? Here’s A Real Energy Packed Alternative (recipe follows)

Who doesn’t like that first cup of coffee in the morning? Even the act of stopping to get it before work everyday is just part of the routine for many. The smell, the conversations that take place around coffee, it is more than a drink but a pleasurable icon in socializing enjoyed worldwide.

Discovered in Ethiopa by a goat herder around 850 AD, coffee, aka the “American lubricant,” is the second most valuable commodity in the world next to oil and also one of the fastest acting drugs known to man absorbing into every cell in the body and brain within minutes. Since as far back as a 14 year old freshmen in high school I have been dependent on this liquid stimulant to function daily. 50% of Americans drink 3-4 cups a day (330 million total cups a day) and then you add in caffeinated tea and soft drinks and its 80% of the adult nation also depends on this caffeine fix everyday.

God willing, to this day I have overcome many devitalizing vices in my life. From cigarettes in 2009 after 14 years, alcohol and its accompaniments a couple years before that and of course indulged in healthy eating habits to replace the drug-like toxins found in the crap food I was eating for so long. Although there are studies showing coffee to have higher antioxidant properties than any other food or drink, the idea of needing it was starting to weigh on me as a crutch.

So for the past 28 days until today I have refrained from the fuel I drank straight up and all caffeine for the first time in my life. I was fortunate enough to have a friend on the same path at this time to lend me his vegan approach to combating what was to soon come mentally and physically. Some plant trace minerals, DHA, B complex and some purified water to help curb the initial withdrawals and attempt to keep my caffeine-dependent sluggish mind alert. I knew the feeling of letting go of other habitually damaging yet accepted foods like refined sugar and white flour. Luckily the symptoms were brief in my gradual shift of eliminating those things. But, letting go of caffeine was the unthinkable for me for a long time. I needed direction and am always open to organic solutions.

I did not ever plan on giving up coffee completely. I was looking to get some clarity on how “addicted” I was to caffeine and without it assess ten general physical skills, adopted from Crossfit; cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. All of these skills could be questionable without a stimulant at some point during the day right? Would I fall on my face while running or crumble and break my back trying to do power snatches without that false sense of energy I was used to from caffeine?

What is my conclusion at the end of 28 days?(FYI: I did get laid of from my job of 3 ½ years on the 8th day of no caffeine so my sleep schedule and effect of not working 50 hours a week may have contributed to my results.)

First of all, one of the things I started saying around day 5 was how delusional I was all this time about how I “needed” coffee to wake up, go to work, go to the gym, have the energy to step up my conditioning and exercise routine to train for Tough Mudder, etc. I continued to eat the superfoods I had regularly been eating like bee pollen, chia seeds, spirulina, raw plant proteins, raw chocolate, goji berries, nuts and seeds to maintain that energy I thought I might be lacking.

The Bad:

The free time I suddenly had off of my feet 5 days a week when losing my job, left way too much time for my heart rate to slow and to feel unmotivated during the day. I was now letting myself get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, which was more like 5-6 in the past, in hopes of enough sleep replacing the morning jump start. This wasn’t always in my favor. Whether I went to the gym or not, my mind would not fully wake up until later in the day. Unless I was doing something physical, my heedless mind would drift and I would find myself taking a nap instead of giving in to the temptation. Out of frustration I would lay down in hopes of it just passing only to wake up an hour later but feeling better. For me, without the coffee, a good 8-9 hours sleep is a must at this point in the game.

The Good:

I not only maintained my 4-5 day a week Crossfit regimen and running 15+ total miles a week but I actually increased it just to prove a point to myself; nine days straight of Crossfit at one point including yoga, Crossfit/5Krun/Crossfit within 24 hour period on a couple separate occasions. Not even in the beginning of no caffeine did I feel any less energized than before to do my workouts. My strict eating habits of mostly whole grains, eggs, fruits and vegetables with little animal protein stayed the same this whole time as well. I am sure I did not get any worse, nor did I improve in any of the physical skill areas I mentioned based only on the elimination of caffeine.

From here on out, I now know I don’t need caffeine as I thought and will never drink it on a daily basis again. No longer do I have to feel lost in my own brain without ingesting a certain liquid everyday. Like today, when I used it to get my day started after having a restless (but enjoyable) night, it will be playing second string to my Good Morning America smoothie.

Good Morning America

  • 1 Banana
  • ½ cup Blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cups Almond Milk (any milk you want I guess)
  • 1 T Ground Flaxseed
  • 1T Bee Pollen
  • 1T Maca Powder
  • 1T Peanut Butter(all natural, no hydrogenated oil! Don’t cheat!)
  • 1/8th Raw chocolate bar (raw cacao, not hersheys)
  • Couple of ice cubes

  • Blend it all together until smooth and get the engine running in that big noggin of yours without caffeine.

Pro-mo Chef Influences Coworkers

One of the reasons most young chefs are motivated to get up and go to work every day is for the instant social interaction with the attractive front of the house staff. The endless hook up potential from the constant flow of newbies keeps the pep in their step when kitchen life gets stale. I wouldn’t be here today had my father’s parents not met this way when she was a carhop and he was a cook back in 1948.
I am fortunate to be in a South Beach rooftop lounge/weekend party scene where there is no shortage of attractive wait staff and bartenders. The all female wait staff wears nothing more than booty shorts and a bikini top most of the time. No matter how young or how blessed with good genes they are, you would think that they were on strict diets with their slender to sculpted beach bodies. Just like any one working in a busy venue, they can also neglect their diet and have the workhorse mentality just grabbing what they can fill their belly with. It’s usually Easy Mac or those two dollar cheap sandwiches at Walgreens across the street. Just because someone looks average on the outside doesn’t mean that they don’t feel sluggish and inattentive from not eating the right foods.
The first thing I did when I came up to this venue two years ago was change the menu. About as much effort went into this sad excuse for food options in this $700 a night hotel as did the workplace it is produced from. This venue had been operating for two years before I got up here and the extensive changes I had made did not go over well with the staff and I was not making any friends here for quite some time.
I stayed consistent with the standards I hold as a chef and began to get some recognition from some of the girls who liked my food. I would educate them on the menu and give them specific menu descriptions. Most of those carefully typed packets I would find stuffed in their stations, unsurprisingly. When you’re selling 70 grand on a Saturday and only seven of it is food, the 10 ingredients in the jerk chicken marinade is not their priority.
Like any relationship between a chef and wait staff, time is of the essence. The more and more I initiated change in my diet and began to share my knowledge with the ones that were receptive, the more I began to notice how I really could impact those around me.
To prove how the lifestyle of a chef can impact those around them I conducted a small survey via email with the wait staff that I work with most.

The first question I asked:
1) What idea comes to mind when you think of the lifestyle or the image of a chef? (ie: body type, demeanor, influence on others)
Three of the four girls said they picture an unhealthy male with comments like “not-so-health conscious, sloppy, overweight and out of shape.” Shisney, a native of Brooklyn and a 10 year veteran in the industry, expressed just what I was waiting to hear. She has grown accustomed to the fact that all chefs are “jerks and rude,” and it should be expected. She said, “Most chefs just want to satisfy the customer regardless of how many empty calories they throw in their food and could care less about what kind of influence they are on those around them.”

Questions #2 and #3:
2) How many health conscious chefs have you worked next to? If so, tell me when and if he or she had a positive impact on your diet.
3) In what ways have you benefited from working with a chef practicing a progressive modern lifestyle? (Me)

Before I go on to their answers I just want to remember that chefs are dishing out millions of meals a year to their trusting guests. Combined with advertising and marketing companies, chefs are the almighty leaders in the food industry. This idea that we can and should be knowledgeable of nutrition and composing our dishes accordingly should not be far-fetched or left to only the small amount of health conscious concepts. Just saying…
Three of the four girls did not read onto Question 3 and said that I was the only chef they have ever worked next to that has had a positive impact on their diet. Their experience ranges from 9 to almost 20 years working in restaurants and hotels with chefs and sadly not one has posed any influential enlightenment as to what the right foods can do for your body, mind and spirit. I am not the least bit surprised, but moving forward, this neglectful pattern in a chef’s role needs to go out the window with white flour.
Lisa, a 39 year old Miami native, has been in and out of being a “good” vegetarian for the last 20 years. In the past 6 months she has really utilized picking my brain and says in Question 3, “The ability to communicate with you about new ideas and recipes has encouraged me to get excited about certain ingredients and revisit vegetarianism in a whole new way.”
More than improving her own vegetarian diet with superfoods like bee pollen and spirulina, she and Shisney as well, express how they are bringing it home to their sons. Lisa’s four year old is asking for the apple juice mixed with super green powder full of spirulina, kale and spinach. Shisney has replaced cow’s milk with almond milk at home and is sneaking wheat flour and quinoa into her two year olds diet. “I want to instill in him at a very young age the importance of having a well rounded diet so that he can live a full life and not think of it as a diet but as a way of life.”
Marielle, a 29 year old going for her second BA, this time in Psychology, gave me short answers and felt like she didn’t say enough. The one thing she did say was that she now has an awareness of her sodium intake due to me constantly reading her the labels of her grab and go microwaveable crap snacks. She also remembered our talks about bee pollen a while back. Hmm… from Easy Mac to bee pollen and an awareness of sodium. I’ll take that. It sounds like she now knows about nature’s only complete food essential to sustain human life and also how to prevent the many problems associated with a high sodium diet. Chefs aren’t doctors, we should just know the food we are serving and its effect in the long run.

4) How do you think people would feel about dining if they knew the chef, at all levels of cuisine, had their health and not just their taste buds in mind?
It should be assumed that the chef cares about his guests enough to not load there food with toxins and empty calories. For a split second, we all take that assumption the moment we sit down in their restaurant. Of course no one would spend money in a place that they felt their health was being jeopardized. Then we chuckle to ourselves at how much crap was used to create that rich decadent flavor we are tossing around our mouth. But it’s SOOOO GOOD!!
So, the answers here were pretty much a given. Obviously, they would want the person cooking their meals to genuinely care about their health. The idea just seems so out of the ordinary. It’s like the chefs are unreachable and far too busy to think of what? Our health too! I say it does not increase your work load to use more nutrient dense ingredients and less empty calories. With the right knowledge we can work smarter not harder.
They all said they would be more comfortable going out to eat and go more often. Good news for restaurants and diners, win-win situation. Healthier guests, go out to eat more, live longer. Sweet!

“People need to realize that you can still have delicious food and have it be healthy.”
“When I know a restaurant serves organic/hormone free meat, I feel much better about eating there.”
“The forward thinking chefs are those in my opinion that would gain much respect because taste buds change and so do people.”

I, myself, also have a hard time finding the ingredients and nutrient content I generally eat and would also go out more often. I feel this is where the food industry should be going. The challenge for a progressive modern chef today should be targeting his/her menu to appease the health conscious crowd. We lead the way in our own lifestyle, demonstrate our talent on our menu, and our diners follow.