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.

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The Diet of a Chef

     Has anyone ever muttered that phrase…ever?

     What would menus look like if the chefs writing them were practicing healthy eating habits in their own lives? By eliminating toxins such as white flour and refined sugar from their own meals wouldn’t they think twice before serving them to their guests? Could that simple shift in their own awareness impact those menus and therefore the health of every guest that came into their establishment?

     As chefs, indulging in everything edible in our own diets is culturally acceptable, yes.  I argue that this blind indulgence is also the easy way out. Developing flavor profiles purely based on taste and pairing them with the right wines is fun.  It’s also getting kinda old.

     What is all this attention aimed at the chef de cuisine while marketing a new restaurant? Is it just because he may or may not have a likable persona among the media and makes food that’s tasty and pretty in pictures?

     Some chefs, like anyone else I choose to spend time with and money on,  are inventive and witty, stand-up citizens of their communities.  They even do charitable work, and that’s all great. But the bottom line is, chefs feed people! At the end of the day, that is what we do. Nourishing or abusing the bodies of our guests with the dishes we create. Sometimes the same people two, three, four times a week. Some may have been eating under the same chef for 15 years and never once talked of or acknowledged the nutritional value of his or her dishes. Sad but true.

     It is like the chef has the guest mesmerized and under a trance as soon as they sit down across from a celeb and smell the aromas permeating through the dining room. As if their natural born human instinct to seek what will bring them optimum health vanishes and the dopamine rushes over them as they savor your succulent duck confit and waffles.

      I say it’s been long enough that chefs are using the excuse of longshifts and no time to neglect their diet. Unlike any other time consuming profession, we have all the God given nutrients we need at our fingertips. Regardless of your role in the kitchen, with a little planning and a routine, any chef, line cook or restaurant worker, could easily be maintaining a healthy diet. That concept should be a no-brainer but in the traditional lifestyle of a chef is nonexistent.

     To want to maximize your nutrient intake means to want to live. To consume toxins and eat empty calories is to invite that disease-riddled, very costly slow death. Chefs have a chance to impact all of those around them and collectively can make a change in how America eats. With just some discipline and a routine to maintain our diet and health, the effect can have a huge impact on what diners expect and how they eat.

     I am working on a book, The Progressive Modern Chef, and have gone in depth on this subject and how I make it possible in my own life. My intention for this blog is to build an audience and put this message in front of as many eyes as possible before the book hits the shelves.

Pictures above are from lunch at home the other day, my example of nutrient dense deliciousness: Pan roasted Salmon with Goji habanero coulis on Kale with toasted pecans and shallots and purple yams tossed with cheesy nutritional yeast. Kombucha Cocktail with Goji and orange puree, blueberries and chia seeds

Food Trend Starts with Progressive Modern Chef

Before I put the cart before the horse, I want to emphasize a few topics I would like to think most are tuned into at this point of our existence. The awareness of diet having a direct correlation with one’s health is a given, right? How about our many pushes at relieving stress from the dominating work load we carry? We do want to remain liable to our passion for the long run without sacrificing our well being, right? Good. And lastly, we have all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat,” (more like you are what you consume). Excellent. This is a good starting point for you to see where I am going with this.

I have been in the industry for 16 years and can count on two fingers the number of chefs, owners and co-workers that have uttered the words, body, mind and spirit in a non-sarcastic direction. Through 8 ½ years of hands on education I was never advised to eat right and exercise or seek organic (non-chemical) solutions to relieve stress. Bahaha!! That’s unheard of!

It’s no wonder that this industry has double the percentage of substance abuse and divorce rates over any other workplace in the U.S. You think that the awareness would be more vocal and therefore present more prevalent solutions. Front or back of the house, this has not been my experience.

Isn’t it the lifestyle of our leaders that we inherit and consider the norm? I am going past the farm-to-table, all organic with shaved truffle on top hype. It is not the caliber of a chef’s cuisine that will bring them good health and sanity. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for the chefs I have learned from and do not feel cheated by their message or lack there-of. I truly feel that until I was open to it, I wouldn’t have heard them anyway.

Like most of my predecessors, I am also to blame for not wanting to inconvenience myself and just sweeping it under the rug when I had nothing to offer. Gaining humility and a willingness to think outside the box is the only way I could see the light at the end of that tunnel.

I have always known that chefs can impact those around them greatly. People are entertained by them, donate to charities that they put their faces on and read about them like local celebrities. Is it going too far to say that these chefs can impact much more by first taking action in their own lives? What could it do for the freshies coming into the industry or even the rising obesity issue in this country? Where would food trends go?

I say out with the old, in with the new. FIFO, first in first out. Break out of the old school mindset, if you’re up for it, and into the next progressive modern chef.