Don’t Get Distracted, Just Eat Whole Foods

no diet signBy now, my “progressive modern” philosophy of eating and cooking primarily plant based has an unshakable foundation. This way of life is deep and ever evolving, eco friendly, proven to cure and prevent disease etc etc. What’s distracting to most people I come across is all the he said she said of fad diets, cruelty free scare them with this, strictly raw that, high carb to no carb. I really like to keep things simple and also an open mind to not only my own body’s ability to change but the complex genetic make up and needs of those I am feeding and educating.

Example: I hear of people like Derek Nance of Kentucky. After years of being sick, he came to the conclusion that its only raw meat that he can eat without pain. Just one good example that we are not all made exactly the same. Who am I to tell people what their bodies need?

For me, it’s not about “my way of doing it is better than yours.” There are many reasons I choose to live this lifestyle and none of them have to do with the above mentioned “distractions.”After having many health issues my whole life including terrible gastro problems, I became open to try something I hadn’t before and take a look at how I was feeding not only myself but my guests. Through some meditation and fasting I have become conscious of my own body and well being and for me, I truly feel best when I eat a primarily plant based diet.  veggies

In my career, as a chef, I hold a position next to chefs of all levels playing a strong role in the way people eat and think about food. I feel with the statistics around obesity and diet related disease, the scandalous  food production industry of today and the deteriorating environment and nation as a whole, that it is my obligation to step up. Looking the other way and ignoring these things as a selfish slob is not an option.

It is just a matter of one conscious, proactive choice over the detrimental, mainstream other. This proactive choice trickles down to all those around you and ultimately contributes to the solution of bettering the health of all those you feed and saves the environment. (Not to mention the millions that would be saved if not for the health cost of diet related disease)

I really, really love my family, especially the innocent kids around me that tell me they love me and bring so much joy to my life. I love them so much that I am thinking into their future and what kind of rude awakening they could be in for and what I can do to change that. I eat this way and I cook this way because I love kids (most kids anyway lol).
We only get one chance in this incarnation to make an impression on those around us, to leave a lasting memory with those that will follow us and most of all the earth that set us up with an abundance of food and resources to use as we may.fruity kid
My message is this:

  • Do some research if you don’t know how our eating habits have effected our health negatively worldwide
  • Look at where all of this disease and pain started  with packaging processed foods to replace whole foods.
  • Don’t be distracted by fad diets or scare tactics
  • Get back to nourishing our body the way it was intended to be.
  • Be aware that the food industry is a business that runs off of consumers, repeat customers that buy their products. Just like any business except the health of the consumer is not part of the business plan.

Our bodies have not evolved to digest the processed foods we are feeding it. Maybe it will someday but as of now our bodies are functioning the same way they did when we were hunting and gathering. People are getting sick, very sick and it’s all because they are making a decision to eat one “food like product” over whole foods.
Share the message of eating whole foods. Rest easy knowing that when you leave this planet, you were not selfish. Instead you were considerate of the lives of those that had to depend on whatever resources you left for them to survive on.

 

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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.

My Journey to SoCal: 10 Miles of Tough Mudder and the L.A. Food Scene

There has always been a west coast/east coast beef whether it’s among rappers or rival sports teams. “Our loud, closed-minded edgy New England rapport is better than your hemp growing, generic tree hugger lifestyle!” Growing up, I was always flaunting how proud I was of my heritage and my Bostonian Scotch/Irish roots, and with that naïve pride, by default, was not receptive to any other culture.

Personally, I think placing stereotypes on anyone is just a cop out for shortsighted people. It is only from breaking free of the mindset I was brought up around that I have been able to grow and ultimately welcome life on life’s terms as it unfolds in its many forms.

Last week I went out to the west coast for the first time. I took on one of the biggest physical challenges of my life while there, Tough Mudder So Cal, a 10 mile military style obstacle course in Snow Valley Peak Ski Resort, Running Springs, CA. It was a friend of a friend that organized a team of 10 coming from as far as Australia., rightfully named East Coast Fury. Together we climbed up and down double diamond peaks, plunged into icy waters and ran and crawled through 10,000 volts of electric shock to the head and body for 5 straight hours while screaming “ECF! EAST COAST!”

I trained long and hard for this event running and doing Crossfit but my real reason for going out there was to scope out the food scene in and around Los Angeles that I have heard so much about. I stayed in downtown for just 3 short days but traveled through the burrows of L.A. to Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

My first thought when I got to West Hollywood was, “damn this city is spread out and pretty dirty,” compared to my well kept little neighborhood on South Beach where I can bike everywhere I need to go. I guess I wanted to see an abundance of beautiful California produce lining the sidewalks while some free spirited, hallucinating hippies danced around chanting Greenpeace.

Luckily I was not swarmed with the smell of pot smoke, patchouli and dirty dread locks like I had expected but what I did find were concepts I have been envisioning, creating and sharing with clients and all of those around me. Healthy fast food everywhere! Freshii, Tender Greens, Greens Up and Real Food Daily are just a few chain restaurants I got to experience that are spread throughout L.A. County putting raw, organic, fresh nutrient dense foods conveniently at your fingertips.

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Jinky’s in Santa Monica, known for its breakfast and many chilis (6 different daily options) and also Caffe Primo in downtown had the whole grains, raw options and superfoods as, not just an afterthought, but a substantial part of their menus. Jinky’s served up a massive bowl of Kelp noodles, sprouts, greens, raw veggies and seared tuna for $14. I can hardly find kelp noodles, which are low calorie and packed with 70 minerals and 21 amino acids, at a one of the few raw vegan concepts in South Florida, never mind at just a regular cafe known for chili.

Primo’s also had a brown rice bowl full of raw veggies with your option of tofu, chicken or fish for $10-$12. Big portions of whole grains and vegetables, endless healthy options no matter where you go all well within reasonable prices sets L.A. aside from anywhere I have been here on the east coast.

My last night there, a friend brought us to Chateau Marmont, a historical landmark hotel with a small French restaurant next to, Bar Marmont. My friend was entertaining a few Columbian models he had met at the hotel so I figured I would take one for the team and eat some unhealthy calorie dense French food for one night. Well even here, at a see and be scene destination, I find kale, raw, in a salad along with lentils and brussel sprouts to remind me that I am still in California. Nutrient density at all levels of cuisine, not that hard is it.

This experience has motivated me even further to develop nutrient dense dishes, educate those around me on simplifying healthy cooking and conceptualize my “progressive modern” approach to the food scene here on the east coast. Without a doubt I thought about, still thinking about, moving to L.A. to surround myself with this progressive lifestyle but feel like the east coast can benefit from my “progressive modern” concept much more than the west coast.

I say, “Get Humble East Coast!” The way we are eating sucks and we need to open up to what California is doing. I am confident that it will only be a matter of time before areas on the east coast, especially South Florida, will have more convenient healthy options eliminating the need to grab the fast food crap so readily available that is detrimental to our health.

“Where has your Mouth been Anyway?”

(recipe follows)

I can go on and on about my ideas on the evolution of nutrient dense ingredients to develop, what I feel should be where flavor profiles are headed these days. I didn’t plan on making my blog just about my awesome food, mouth watering pics and recipes. Although I have been getting requests for recipes, diet plans etc., I have held back from the food because I first wanted to give readers a look at what is driving my passion as a chef and bring their attention to a few important topics.
There are many issues in the world that I cannot single-handedly do much about, but as a chef, there are a few that I can put my efforts towards. Like eliminating and suggesting those I work with to be done with ingesting toxins. The majority of chefs are still buying and using them and the people being poisoned by them as a result of being misled by advertising and marketing. By “toxins” I mean refined sugar, white flour, iodized salt, hydrogenated oil, and MSG in its many disguises. To me these are the worst food products. They are the leading causes behind our deadliest health problems. This is not breaking news and you don’t have to wait to be told by a doctor to eliminate them and start eating the right foods.
I could contribute to slimming down that obesity epidemic I’m always writing about even by just using my creative talent with flavors. Making whole foods (not messed with by processing or refining) and lean proteins combined with nutrient dense superfoods taste good is something that an average person who has been taking the easy way out to get flavor won’t be able to do for long. Most will cringe at the idea of adding whole grains and the fiber that’s in the fruit and not just the sugary juice to their diet.
Leading by example as a chef that is not using my career as an excuse to let my health go, is bringing my “progressive modern” lifestyle of a chef into the kitchen. My latest venture is consulting with people one on one in their homes on how to simplify cooking for themselves and their families and soon to hold group demonstrations on “Eating to Live.” It will only be a matter of time before I am opening my own concept and spreading the knowledge of who benefits when we cook and live this way.
Before I can even start to introduce the food that will bring maximum benefit to your health along with great flavors, colors, textures and so on, I have to ask you, “Where has your mouth been?” Has your tongue been slathered with white flour, sugary drinks and sauces, MSG and other addicting flavor enhancers found in all grab and go food for most of your life? If so, let’s wean off of that crap and give your tongue a good scrapping to start fresh. Your mouth plays a small role in digestion and unfortunately most people rely on what goes on here, flavor, texture etc., to determine their diet. Becoming aware of what your body’s real needs are is part of enjoying nutrient dense foods.
For someone who is already eating a diet that is eliminating, refined sugar mostly, but all of the aforementioned will enjoy food that is, not lacking, but not based on rich flavors through fat, salt and other magical man-made fairy dust.
So it’s been long enough, here is one simple recipe that I have created using my favorite one pot mixing grains and starches technique. Full of protein, essential vitamins and minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. Add animal protein if you want but one serving of this dish will give you at least 15 grams of protein. The misconception of needing to eat meat to get protein is another blog. I am by no means a vegan, still consider myself a full on omnivore. When it comes to getting the most nutrient dense calories though, I do eat a ton of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Red Quinoa – sweet potato-figs-toasted pecans
2 cups red quinoa
1 1/2 cups sweet potato (not peeled, small dice, about ¼ in cubes)
1 cup dried figs (stem removed, cut in half)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasted is optional)
1 bunch baby arugula
31/2 cups vegetable stock (or just water with a little sea salt)
1/2 T maple syrup
Sea salt to taste

 

 

 

Rinse quinoa in a medium sized saucepan with vegetable stock over medium heat. Bring to a slow simmer. 4 minutes in add sweet potatoes and cover for the next 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take cover off, liquid should be almost gone. Add figs and take off of heat. Let stand for a few minutes and stir in maple syrup and pecans. You can serve it over the arugula or fold the arugula in.

This is a fine example of a nutrient dense side dish. Feel free to swap out the pecans for walnuts or whatever you like. The figs can be a different fruit like cherries also. Arugula can be spinach or watercress. Bringing sweet components into your savory dishes will fulfill the sugar craving we all have. Have fun with it.

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

Choices: Overweight Doesn’t Mean its Over

Just a reminder: The Weight of the Nation streams online for free on HBO.com.

The second of this four part documentary, Choices, first reminds us that Americans have built a cheap food model as a result of being mislead through television and advertising. It is the profitable foods that are in our face the most that become our go to options as we constantly look for the more convenient way to eat.

At the National Institute of Health they are trying to look at what drives obesity through metabolic clinical research in hopes of developing better therapies to treat and prevent it. They can see the brains response to more pleasurable foods but the biological systems involved in obesity are complex and have posed a challenge to science. The sensible conclusion of most studies: Small changes in lifestyle will reduce weight. To me that means more discipline in making healthier choices driven by the desire to want to live.

The documentary reiterates much of what has been said for years about diet, exercise, and diabetes and obesity prevention. When it comes to fad diets, author of The 100 Year Diet Susan Yager, tells us these diets are meant to be temporary, if they solve the problem they will be out of business. The legitimate dieticians, doctors and researchers all have the same suggestions about this shift in lifestyle in order to lose weight. The first suggestion to prevent obesity is:  Stop drinking sugary drinks! Soda, red bull, orange juice, any sugary juice extracted from its fiber needs to be eliminated. Dr. Robert Lustig Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF says, “The sugar in the fruit is nature’s way of getting you to eat your fiber.” I agree. There is a reason that nature does not produce little sacks of pure fructose. We are not meant to ingest sugar without fiber present.

It is not breaking news that to lose weight, caloric intake must be a few hundred less a day than what your body needs to function. Those calories do not need to be all carbs/no fat/no protein, all lean protein/some fat/no carbs, or whatever the next 2012 Diet of the Mayans before the Apocalypse might suggest. Obviously nutrient dense calories would be ideal here and resisting trans fat and toxic calories are common sense. Toning down all three macronutrients; protein, carbs and fat is suggested. They talk about not going extreme with a caloric intake that is too low, starving yourself, because it will slow your metabolism and therefore burn no fat.

Scientists in this study do not agree with the Biggest Loser’s approach to intense physical activity being the primary solution to lose weight. Although exercise is just as important as diet, portion control and gradual weight loss is much more effective for the long run. What exercise does do on top of burn calories is reduce stress and raise levels of opioids, the chemicals in the brain that allow us to feel pleasure. Sugar, white flour and fatty foods also raise this level and eliminating these without adding exercise is part of the struggle while transitioning to a healthier lifestyle.

 

As far as diabetes prevention as talked about in this film, Dr. Epel of USCF conducted a study with two identical twins in their 50s to see if a lifestyle intervention could decrease diabetes. In 95% of cases, if one twin has diabetes, the other one also gets it. The patients in this study were the Daly twins. The one who was a little less active and a little more overweight got the warning of pre-diabetes from his doctor in his early 40s. He continued his lifestyle while the healthier one increased exercise and a healthier diet to prevent his chances even more. Ten years later the unhealthy twin has full on type 2 diabetes while the healthier twin does not. Doctors are suggesting that with weight loss, exercise and proper diet that he can reverse this health problem that could take his limbs if not his life someday.

The stress epidemic is in direct relation with the obesity epidemic. Part of one study is to teach the patients about bringing awareness to their food and listening to and feeling the body’s cravings for foods. Being able to see when we are eating out of stress is key in maintaining a healthy weight. Stress literally causes your body to go into fat storing mode and look for these fatty, sugary foods. When the brain is stressed it sends a message to the adrenal glands to release adrenalin and cortisol. Cortisol floods the body creating enzymes in the fat cells that turn them into fat storing machines. This rush floods the brain and like the drive for a drug pushes you to look for these fatty unhealthy foods.

To sum up, no matter what you are genetically predisposed to or what your current state of health is, through a few small changes in your lifestyle you can achieve a healthy weight and prevent and reverse disease such as diabetes high blood pressure. This is a topic that I am very passionate about have began working with clients through Plant Based Body on a one on one basis. Going into their homes setting up their kitchens teaching them how to simplify cooking these healthy foods at home is how I am beginning to make this my life.

Two days ago I was laid off from the hotel I was at after 3 ½ years. I am now looking forward to pursuing my passion full time and helping those around me find the love that I have found for nutrient dense food. I have the ability to bring my 17 years of culinary experience to show them how to utilize what nature has given us and make this lifestyle that much more simple.