Pride Outside Campaign, Top Local Chefs and the Anticipation of my “Closed Doors” Dinner in Wynwood

Two days after my Conscious Bite Out dinner, I get the opportunity to give back. A great source throws me in the mix to participate in the “Get Out of the Kitchen” launch event for the Pride Outside Campaign. They aprideoutsidecroppedre set out to raise over a million dollars to build new playgrounds in Bal Harbour schools. The new St. Regis was the host of the event and I was among 16 other top chefs in Miami and Fort Lauderdale volunteering their time and food for a great cause. Jose Mendin chef of my favorite spots in Miami, the Pubbelly Group, Timon Ballo of another one of my go-to places Sugarcane, Giorgio Grapicavoli, Chopped winner and chef/owner of Eating House, Jeremy Ford from 3030 Ocean, who I know now, is practicing being self sustainable and growing his own produce in a greenhouse at his home in Fort Lauderdale, and many other local reputable top chefs dished out our best to this well dressed crowd.

(some more pictures from the event)

Each of us had our own station set in the ballroom with a table of 12 in front of us. We chose the menu and the décor for the table based on our restaurant. I obviously do not have a restaurant but Sacred Space Miami provided a beautiful set up to go along with the only plant based menu of the night.

We were allowed three courses without dessert. I start with an amuse bouche (single bite)

Kale Napoleon with Raw chocolate, Mamey and Pistachios. (Oh, this is a fancy event so I will use some fancy words. Once again, bridging the gap between tree hugging and the mainstream chef.)

Next is another variation of my Bee Pollen Salad- swiss chard, fennel, mango champagne coulis. 2013-05-02 20.52.06

Appetizer was Coconut Corn Cake-black bean puree, scallion-jalapeno salsa and turmeric paint.

Entrée was the best and here I did something a chef should never do. Rule of thumb: never do a dish for the first time when you are in front of a live audience. I tend to want to take this risk often and has yet to totally blow up in my face. Maybe a little splatter, but not totally. I do a pasta duo: Purple pappardelle with porcini cream and maitake mushrooms and a Whole Grain Risotto with Kale pesto and marinated red beets. It was the pappardelle that I had practiced just hours before and decided to put it on the menu. It paid off. The lighting in the room illuminated a florescent purple and my guests were left asking what it could possibly be if it wasn’t pasta.

I had some great help from my friend Misha, a fellow chef here in Miami and overall the night was a great success. My non-vegan guests were continually surprised at what was going on in their mouth after every bite. The questions poured in and gave me all the room to pass on the benefits of eating this way, even in such an upscale environment.

Putting this plant based lifestyle at the 2013-05-02 21.22.02foundation of my philosophy as a chef is a risky one and coming from my meat and potato-Bostonian heritage, it is more like frowned upon. Well, I have always been a bit of a risk taker and not afraid to stand behind something that does not get the majority rule. Sadly, in this case, it is more of a skewed perception and lack of education than a valid reason to not see the benefits of a plant based culinary foundation. In my opinion, this will be the future of all cuisine if we are to sustain this planet and increase the declining health of our population.

After the event, Executive Chef of the St. Regis, Tom Parlo, put out a spread in a few of their meeting rooms and invited us chefs back for a bite and a cold one. I got to meet some great chefs; some that I knew, some that I have wanted to meet. I spoke to some of them about getting together in the future as I plan a “closed doors dinner” at my new place in Wynwood. The minute I moved into this up and coming artsy neighborhood and saw the potential of the huge space I live in, I thought underground dinner club!! Showcase a local artist, maybe a guest chef once in a while, food you cannot find anywhere else. It’s just what we need here in Wynwood.
Stay tuned for more info on this small invite only dinner that I want to hold at least once a month.

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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.

Grace Prayer Evolves to Break Bad Habits

Every religion, whether Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Islamic or even non-religious humanists have a form of a Grace prayer. I was brought up in a non-practicing Catholic household. A picture of Jesus on the wall and a crucifix here and there, church on some holidays; is a pretty common theme where I’m from. Saying Grace before dinner is something I never did or even had been present at the table during until my late twenties. Although, being told to be grateful for the food I ate or scorned for how ungrateful I may have acted at times was common language.

The acts of saying a prayer before a meal, in most religions, is to offer thanks for the food you have been given. This brief moment that is taken in silence before a meal is a tool that is also used in Dr. Epel’s study relating stress with eating habits.

The biological effects of stress cause us to unmindfully choose the sugary, salty fatty foods. One key way to relieving this stress is, of course, exercise (I say, get some Crossfit in your life). But what caught my attention about her approach are the meditation practices throughout the day and especially before meals. Epel emphasizes using these brief moments of mindfulness and awareness to become in tune with the body’s needs and eating based on caloric need NOT emotional need. This means taking a minute to observe the food you are going to eat with all of your senses; its sight, smell, origin and more importantly, what its nutritional content is going to do for your body.

Can the meaning and purpose of saying Grace evolve to also include this awareness? I feel it is such a widely known ritual so many are comfortable with and could easily be the relative starting point for this very beneficial tool.

Is having a constant consciousness a life skill that could benefit many people struggling with bad eating habits, especially those in the restaurant industry that are constantly picking at whatever is around? I remember the first time I decided to do a fruit and vegetable fast. I had hit a plateau in my force feeding habits in hopes of gaining weight and decided to give my body a break and try to get my appetite and taste buds back. Talk about being mindful. I was literally pulling my hands from my mouth as they were instinctually trying to feed me bits of chicken salad and tortilla chips. I never had to be mindful of what I was eating on that level. That fast and a few more soon after brought the discipline I needed to break any long standing eating habits I had formed and become aware of my body’s needs.

I picture the traditional thought process while saying Grace to be about gratitude, maybe some humility and love for those around you, and that is great. It is also something that is dwindling with time as is the amount of people attending church and synagogue. In fact, studies show that a big percentage of people are lying about attending services.

My opinion is that if taking that moment before meals and throughout the day was meant to bring awareness to what you are consuming and your body’s needs and not synonymous with a religious saying or action, it would be more widely accepted and utilized to prevent bad eating habits. Maybe there is no words said and it is that silent few minutes of just listening and feeling your body’s needs and acknowledging your cravings for different nutrients.  Give it a shot. Try a fruit and vegetable fast if you have never and gain that discipline we all need. “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” – Edward Stanley (1826-1893) from The Conduct of Life