From Farm to Table
Back before the days of mass transportation and the global marketplace, it was natural to eat seasonally. Folks ate tomatoes in the summer. If they wanted them in the winter, they made sure to can some at the end of the growing season. If they didn’t have enough to can, they went without.
Most of us cannot even fathom not being able to find celery all year long. Or onions. Or green beans. We live in a fast paced world where food is shipped from one side of the globe to another. We import a lot of fruits and vegetables from South America where the seasons are the reverse of ours. Next time you’re at the grocery store, look at the labels on the produce. You might be surprised to see all of the fruits and vegetables from Argentina, Chile and Peru.
Because of globalization, we enjoy pineapples and bananas on the mainland. Folks in Minnesota can get fresh citrus fruits. Folks in Kansas can get lobster. Folks in New York can enjoy aloe and prickly pear cactus fruits. And don’t even get me started on world-wide chains.
The upside of globalization and the shipping of perishables long distances is that we can enjoy “exotic” or out-of-season foods at any time. This can expand our culinary horizons and educate our palates.
The Downside of a Global Supermarket
Unfortunately, there are many downsides, as well. One of the most pertinent in light of global warming is the carbon footprint involved with shipping. Think of the amount of petroleum products needed to ship foods over long distances. For every person who gets to enjoy a banana, there are greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere by the ships, trains and trucks that carry the bananas.
Another consideration is pesticide use. While the EPA, USDA and FDA has banned the use of certain pesticides in the United States because of health concerns, other countries might not have such strict standards. I am not saying that the fruits and vegetables grown in other countries are bad for you; I would just recommend that, if you have any concerns, you research the chemicals approved for use in the country in which the food was grown.
Since shipping perishables damages them, much research has gone into breeding “sturdy” fruits and vegetables that can stand up to the rigors of transport. Sadly, what is gained in hardiness is often lost in flavor. Many fruits and vegetables are harvested before they are ripe so that they continue to ripen during shipping. Vegetables lose begin to lose their natural sweetness once they are picked as sugars in the foods are converted to starches.
Plant Your Own Garden
There is nothing like the freshness and sweetness of freshly picked fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables, when picked at the height of ripeness, are also at the height of flavor and nutritional value. If you can, plant a garden with vegetables that will thrive in your USDA Hardiness Zone, and enjoy vegetables from spring through early fall. Talk about a small carbon footprint—I doubt you’ll need to drive out to the backyard to harvest your vegetable bounty!
This year we planted a small garden with my youngest daughter so she can experience growing her own vegetables. We are all very excited to see how we do. As a kid, my dad always had a small vegetable garden out back and I remember summer nights when he would come home from work, head back to his garden and pick some ripe tomatoes and dig around for new potatoes for dinner. What a treat!
Community Supported Agriculture
If you don’t have the space or the time to plant you own garden, consider signing up for local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The rules vary from CSA to CSA, but generally, for a flat fee for the season, you can get fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables weekly from a local farm. Some deliver, but many require that you drive to pick them up. Regardless, the carbon footprint is pretty minimal, since the grower is local, and you can rest assured that the produce is freshly harvested.
We have belonged to a couple of CSAs that were affiliated with my wife's workplace and enjoyed finding out what we were getting each week. Yes, sometimes there would be an abundance of greens we weren't sure what to do with but all in all it has been a fabulous experience.
No CSA in your neck of the woods? Frequent your local farmer’s market. Besides produce, many farmer’s markets have expanded into meats, dairy, honey and even pastries—a one-stop shop for local food. My wife and I go to the year round farmer's market every Saturday morning. It has become a ritual for us and because we go so routinely, we've gotten to know and because friends with the butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers, and farmers so we alway learn about what's fresh that day.
Eating seasonally requires a little forethought and planning. It also requires that you be flexible—you cook what’s available when it’s available. Eating seasonally also means environmentally friendly, healthier, more flavorful, fresher food for you and your family.
Thuffering Thucotash!I don’t know about you, but succotash sounds very appealing to me. I always think of Sylvester the Cat saying “Thuffering Thucotash!” The word succotash is actually a Native American word meaning “boiled corn kernels.” So, taken broadly, any cooked corn dish could be termed a succotash. Although succotash has sometimes gotten a bad name due to indifferent cafeteria cooking, it can be a very tasty and flavorful dish.
The main ingredients of succotash are generally fresh corn and lima beans, but there are any number of variations that you can make. Here is my simple take on succotash. Serve it as a summer side dish, when the corn is good and sweet like it is on the Jersey shore in August but don't let that stop you from making it other times of the year. I try to always use fresh vegetables when available but frozen can be used and still taste good.
Pack enough vegetables into it, along with other shell beans, and you have a really hearty meatless main course.
Consider this recipe a jumping off point. From this base, you can add almost any fresh vegetables that you have on hand and change up the seasonings to make the dish truly your own.
Helping Nat Learn How To Cook A couple of weeks ago, one of the neighborhood kids asked me if I could mentor him with his high school senior project. Nat wanted to learn how to cook so he is setting his goal to cook 14 different meals representing different cuisines and ingredients each night. Some of them are my recipes and some he found on the Internet.
Now Nat is not really a kid at 17 but then to me anyone under 25 is still a kid so I don't mind putting this in the Kids Can Cook category.
I'll be updating Nat's progress here and on my Facebook page if you are interested in how it's going.
Here's a list of what he is planning to cook.
|Chicken Dish||Chicken Maxengo Recipe|
|Beef Dish||Short Ribs with an Asian Touch, potatoes and salad|
|Fish Dish||Red Snapper, Veracruz Style, Salad|
|Vegetarian dish||Heart of Palm with Risotto|
|Italian Dish||Summer Fresh Pasta with Tomatoes and Prosciutto with Red Snapper and Shrimp(Grill)|
|Mexican Dish||Chicken with Rice (Arroz Con Pollo)|
|Oriental Dish||Chicken Lo-Mein|
|Indian Dish||Keema (Indian Spiced Ground Veal and Beef with Peas)|
|Frence Dish||Normandy Pork with apples shallots and cider|
|American Comfort||Burgers, pulled pork, and Fries, BBQ night|
|WeekNight Special||Meatloaf Nicois Recipe|
|Seafood and Pasta||Cilantro Shrimp Recipe|
|Tropical Flavors||Garlic Lime Grilled Chicken With Mango Salsa|
|The Ultimate Challenge||Beef Wellington--Gordon Ramsey|
Nat came over to talk about his menu and pick my brain for a few cooking tips. I think I overwhelmed with a little too much information cause he left with that glazed look in his eyes. We've been trading emails and yesterday he came back for another round of questions and answers and again left with that same look as the first time and a puck of Demi Glace Gold for making a wild mushroom sauce for one of his dishes.
Just can't help myself when I start talking food. No wonder he left dazed, I tried to give him 20 years of cooking experience in an hour. He did say he has been using The Reluctant Gourmet website to find out more about the cooking techniques needed for his recipes.
Here are some photos from his first couple of nights of cooking and I'll post more next week.
Nat's Chicken Maxengo
Red Snapper, Veracruz Style, Sala
Nat working on his red snapper
How to Make Classic Lobster Stock at Home
Stock seems to hold a mystique for many home cooks. But, at the end of the day, stock is just a way to extract every bit of flavor and body out of ingredients. It’s a way to prevent waste.
If we start thinking of stock as more of a frugal technique and less of a rarefied art, I believe that more people would make stock, and our food would taste better. It's why it is one of the first techniques they teach new students in culinary schools around the country.
While this “recipe” is for lobster stock, please know that you can substitute almost anything for the lobster: shrimp shells, fish bones, turkey wings, veal bones, roasted vegetables to make all manner of flavorful stocks.
How to Purchase Restaurant Quality Lobster Stock
Until now, classic lobster stock was unavailable to home cooks unless they: prepared it themselves, begged a professional chef for some or settled for a commercial brand loaded with m.s.g. and other chemicals
Now Available at Amazon.com
For years we suggested you purchase these products from a favorite gourmet web site but now that Amazon is stocking this product at prices 35% less, we suggest you buy them here:
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Glace deFruits de mer Gold is our favorite commercial roasted chicken stock product but it may be too expensive for everyone. So we have been finding alternatives that are less expensive but still very good quality. These include:
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Do You Know The Difference Between Tamari Sauce and Soy Sauce?I admit that I've never really given this much thought, but to my untrained eyes at least, soy sauce and tamari look pretty much alike. So there must be some reason that both are available. So I did some digging, and this is what I found out.
It is no wonder that both sauces look so similar. Soy sauce and tamari are both sauces made by fermenting usually some combination of wheat and soy. Technically they are both soy sauces as they contain soy. But while soy sauce always contains wheat, tamari contains less wheat, if any, which makes it a good alternative for people with a gluten intolerance. Since not all tamari is gluten free, it is best to check the label to be safe.
Where Do They Come From?
Soy sauce originated in China and then spread throughout Asia. Tamari is one specific type of Japanese soy sauce. So if you see a bottle that says something like Tamari Soy Sauce on the label, you'll know that it is Japanese.
How Are They Made?
One interesting thing I discovered is that, while soy sauce is "brewed" or fermented as a specific product, tamari is actually a by product of miso production. Miso ages into a thick paste while the tamari is the liquid that gathers in the vat as miso ages or matures, sort of in the same way that whey runs off cheese as it is pressed. The word tamari is actually loosely translated as "puddle" since it puddles up during miso production!
Tamari is a bit thicker and darker in color than its Chinese counterpart. Flavorwise, it is smoother and less salty than soy sauce. I sometimes find Chinese soy sauce to be a bit harsh while tamari is mellower and lends a more complex flavor to dishes than soy sauce.
When To Use Each
Since tamari is more complex and mellow than regular soy sauce, I think that it is a better option for dipping and/or mixing with wasabi as an accompaniment to sushi. Still, most sushi places that I've been to offer soy sauce on the table, even though sushi is Japanese. I'm really not sure why this is as, since a quick price search shows the two to be comparably priced. Perhaps it is because most Americans are more familiar with Chinese-style soy sauce rather than its Japanese cousin.
Whatever the reason, most sushi restaurants will have tamari as well. You just have to know to ask for it. And as I find myself eaten less gluten too, I will do the same.
But what about cooking?
Which bottle should you pick up to add to your stir fry?
I look at it the same way I look at my olive oil. If I have a very fruity and rich extra virgin olive oil, I am not going to use it as a frying oil since the complexity will just be lost when it is heated. I save my less-flavorful oils (and oils with a higher smoke point) for frying. So, when the sauce is going to be the star of the show, as for a dipping sauce for sushi or a quick and easy sauce for noodles, I'd choose tamari. When you just need to add some salty flavor to a stir fry, reach for the bottle of soy sauce.
So, do you need to own both Japanese and Chinese soy sauce? Unless you are gluten-intolerant and must use gluten free tamari, I leave that choice up to you. At least now you know the difference between the two. And don't forget to ask for tamari the next time you go out for sushi!
A Mother's Day Tribute to My Mom
Today is May 12, 2013 and it is Mother's Day. I lost my mom this year back in March and have been thinking about her today. My mom was from Denmark and although she wasn't the best cook around, she taught me a lot about food and how it can be enjoyed. The Danes love food and drink. I learned this the few times I traveled to Denmark with my mom to visit her mother along with aunts, uncles and cousins.
We would all sit around the table eating and talking while the adults would drink (beer and aquavit, a traditional spirit that tastes like caraway seeds and is very strong) and smoke. I remember there was a lot of smoking going on in those days. I'm sure that has changed for the better.
My mom came to this country at the age of 21 where she met my father and married him. I think her mom, my mor mor, taught her some Danish cooking as a child but she worked hard to improve her cooking skills to feed our family every night. She had a repertoire of recipes she would make most weeks. One night Frikadeller, a mini hamburger made from a blend of pork and veal with the addition of bread crumbs, onions, eggs and milk and fried in butter, another night over-broiled pork chops.
On Fridays it was always some sort of fish because my dad and us kids were Catholic and were not allowed to eat meat. If they were going out, she would fry up a batch of shrimp and french fries in our deep fryer. If we were all there together, it was fried flounder with new potatoes.
Sundays was usually a big afternon meal featuring a roast beef or leg of lamb. Often my Uncle Emmit and Aunt Gert would come over with my cousins for this meal or we would go over to their house. Leftovers were used for Monday and some days Tuesday night's dinner.
In the summer when our garden was pumping out cucumbers faster than we could consume them, my mom would make this incredible cucumber salad called Agurke Salat. For weeks and weeks, every meal at dinner was served with a big bowl of it. I hated it as a kid but have learned to love it as an adult.
I need to start making some of these dishes my mom cooked for us when we were young for my own kids and see if they enjoy Danish cuisine. I know they love the Danish pancakes (sort of like crepes) and Danish Ebleskiver.
I did this cartoon of my mother and The Reluctant Gourmet (me) in the kitchen with my mother cutting up some onions and me asking her to let me help. I can't honestly remember how much she would let me help as a kid. She was usually too busy with my older brother, younger sister and me for cooking lessons but I do remember as adults, she would never let me help her in the kitchen. She always wanted to do it her way with no help and was very stuborn about it.
Happy Mother's DayThere are lots more stories about my mother to tell and recpes to share but for now, I would just like to say to my mom up there watching over me, I'm thinking about you. And to all the mothers everywhere, Happy Mother's Day.
Riccioli Pasta with Wild Mushroom Sauce & Grilled Chicken
Needed a “quick & easy” recipe for dinner last night. My wife pulled out a bag of frozen chicken tenders from the freezer in the morning and marinated them in balsamic dressing before heading out to work. She “mentioned” we should use up the fresh, wild mushrooms in the refrigerator from the Farmer’s Market.
What to do?
How about a wild mushroom sauce served over this very cool pasta I found at Wegman’s called riccioli and topped with those grilled chicken tenders? Sounded like a good idea to me. Now I just have to come up with a recipe and here’s what I devised:
Riccioli (or should I say “little curls”) is a type of fusilli pasta traditionally made with a spindle shaped tool called a ferretto. About 2 inches in length, riccioli has a spring-like look after it is cooked. Hailing from Southern Italy, this versatile spirally pasta holds up quite well with chunky sauces like the mushroom sauce I prepared for this dish.
I wanted to make this a cream sauce but didn’t have any cream or half and half in the house but I did have some sour cream. I was a little concerned this sauce was going to turn into a stroganoff but it worked out fine.
The recipe also calls for demi glace, a highly reduced beef stock reduction that requires a time consuming process to make at home but is commercially available. Read more about demi glace.
Filets Mignon of Lamb with Sautéed Spinach and Spring VegetablesIn my interview with Chef Alain Braux, we talked about his cookbook How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food and I asked him to share a recipe from the book. Until I read his book, I found it difficult to believe you could lower your cholesterol by eating French food. Forget cholesterol, I didn't think you could even lose weight.
This recipe calls for lamb filets which you may not find at your local supermarket but I've seen them at Wegmans and some other speciality markets. If you have a local butcher, he/she should be able to get them for you.
Chef Braux tells you how to prepare sautéed spinach and spring vegetables to serve with the lamb - perfect for this time of year.
Pain de Viande Niçois or Meatball Nicois
This recipe comes from Chef Alain Braux's cookbook Healthy French Cuisine and is an example of how to prepare delicious, healthy, French meals for a lot less than might imagine. I interviewed Chef Braux asking him, "Is there a recipe from the book that I can share with my readers that offers an example of how they can eat incredible French food that's not only healthy but costs less than $10 to make?"
His reply to me was, "Actually, if you remember it’s $10 a day but yes, I’ll give you one that most people will never believe has a reasonable cost. It’s even gluten and dairy-free and no one will know the difference. Add to that steamed haricots verts in vinaigrette and voila, a meal for about a couple of dollars per serving."
Interview with Chef & Author Alain Braux
I am very excited to share with you this interview with Chef Alain Braux. Chef Braux grew up in France where he learned to cook in some of the most famous French establishments next to some of the greatest French chefs of our time. He came to America to work in some great New York restaurants and now lives in Austin, Texas where he is working as Executive Chef and Nutritherapist at Peoples Pharmacy and writing books about French Food and Nutrition.
Since I did this interview with Chef Braux, I've learned he has recently published a new cookbook, Paleo French Cuisine: A Paleo Practical Guide with Recipes now available at Amazon. In his new book Chef applies his knowledge of French cuisine and nutrition to the popular Paleo diet which is "based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, or Stone Age." I'm looking forward to getting it and doing a follow up with Alain.
Hi Alain, let me start by thanking you for doing this interview with me. I think my readers are really going to enjoy meeting you and learning about your new ebook Healthy French Cuisine For Less Than $10 A Day as well as your other books including How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food, and Living Gluten and Dairy-Free with French Gourmet Food. Let's start by learning more about you and how you became involved with cooking as well as the healthy side of cuisine.
How far back do you want me to go? I am (almost) an old man by now. Let me go check with my few remaining brain cells… I’m back. I started in the food business as a pastry apprentice at Auer in Nice, France, worked an assortment of kitchen positions over the years all over France, and in Belgium for 3 years.
I was offered a pastry chef position in New York City and accepted it. Every French kid wants to discover America. From then one, I worked my way up the ladder in Houston, TX, Sarasota, FL and Austin, TX. Then, my wife and I opened our own French Bakery and Café in Austin, TX and had it for about 10 years but had to close it in 1997.
Right around that time, I became interested in the effect of food on one’s health and thought it would be neat to combine my experience as a French chef and my newfound passion in nutrition. I studied Macrobiotics, then Holistic Nutrition and finally found a job as an Executive Chef and Nutrition Therapist (Nutritherapist) at Peoples Pharmacy in Austin, TX. I specialize in allergen-free food and desserts: gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free. I also offer private consultations to people with assorted food allergies.
Right about 4 years ago, I wanted to share my experience with high cholesterol with the general public and wrote and self-published my first book: How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food. I know, it sounds like an oxymoron but it’s based on the Mediterranean diet.
Since then, I have published Living Gluten and Dairy-Free with French Gourmet Food, Healthy French Cuisine for Less Than $10/Day and the most recent one mentioned above, Paleo French Cuisine.
I know you were classically trained in French cuisine but can you tell us a little bit more about your training - where were you trained, how many years, how old were you….that sort of information?
Wow! How many pages do I have? I love name dropping but unless you are knowledgeable in French cuisine and its chefs, I might be difficult to follow. Then again, there is always Google and Wikipedia, right? I’ll just mention the most famous.
Here it goes:
What was it like to work at some of the finest French restaurants like Le Grand Hotel du Cap near Cannes d'Antibes and l'Hotel Negresco in Nice
I learned a lot but it was intense as it tends to be in high caliber cuisines. Superb quality, long hours and all the excitement that comes with working with famous chefs. This is where I learned my trade and my skills as a pastry chef. I became interested in food much later.
I noticed in your bio you worked in a several pastry shops. Have you spent most of your career as a baker/pastry chef or did you work all the areas of the kitchen?
I started as a pastry apprentice, then pastry assistant and then pastry chef. Meanwhile, I was offered the opportunity to peek and assist in the kitchen once in a while. When I opened my own business, I became more involved in the cooking side of the business.
What did you find most challenging as a young cook learning your trade?
It was not easy in the beginning as I was more of a cerebral geek than manual worker. Wanting to understand the why of everything, I questioned everything. Needless to say, that got me into a lot of trouble at times. But that was how I learned. I have always been a perfectionist and loved challenges so I eventually got down to business and worked very hard to be one of the best in my trade.
Coming to America
When did you come to the United States to start your American culinary career and what brought you over here?
In 1979. I was offered a job as pastry chef at Dumas Pastry Shop in New York, NY. How exciting for a French kid!
Again I read in your bio you eventually moved to Austin Texas after living and working in New York City. In Austin you worked with Judy Willcott at Texas French Bread, started your own bakery and taught Pastry and Baking Arts at the Culinary Academy of Austin. Wow, that's a lot of experiences!
Yes, I guess you could say I get bored easily and needed to constantly learn from different chefs. I settled only when I opened my own business in Austin.
What was it like to go from working in a kitchen to teaching young students the skills they would need to go out and start their own careers?
I love teaching to people eager to learn my trade. At the time, I was old enough to want to pass along my knowledge and experience to the younger generation. As a chef-instructor, I was demanding but they all came out much better for the real and tough world of real kitchen work. Some of my ex-students are executive chefs or owners themselves and some dropped out all together. Too tough for them.
What advise would you given someone interested in going to culinary school to learn how to cook or become a pastry chef?
Honestly, the first thing I tell prospective culinarians is to try to find an on the job apprenticeship with a good chef. In my opinion, that’s the best and only way to learn to work in a real kitchen. The advantage is that you get paid (a little but who cares, most likely they’re living with their parents) and will not have a tremendous student bill to pay off on a meager salary once you get out of school.
Besides, if you do a good job, you could move up and get paid higher and faster in your apprenticeship position. But there is no secret, you will have to start at the bottom and prove your worth to your chef before he can trust you. It’s pretty much the way it is when you come out of culinary school anyway. So why not skip the big loan and get started that way?
After that, with your chef’s blessing, I would recommend you go work at other restaurants or hotels to learn all sides of the business before you can even call yourself a chef. This is no Food Network. Real life in the kitchen is no picnic and if you do not have food coursing through your blood, you will not last long… which is OK since you will not have the student loans on your back. You’re be free to try something else quickly. Most likely, you will know very early on if you can hack it or not. Your chef will not waste his time with you and will let you know. I had to do the same to a couple of wide eyed folks that believe everything they saw on TV and they actually came back to thank me.
Let's talk a bit about your background in nutrition. You were classically trained as a French chef and yes, there is a correlation between diet and health, but you took that to a whole new level. How did you get involved with nutrition?
As I explained earlier, while I owned my own business, I was asked by two of my assistants to create vegetarian dishes. In France, there is no such thing as vegetarian, vegan and all this complicated stuff. There’s food and that’s it. No partitions, no complications. You eat everything on your plate. I did as they asked and eventually started to wonder about the effect of food on one’s health. The good and the bad. That’s how it all started and I never stopped since. It is my current passion.
It says in your book that you are a nutritherapist . I have heard of nutritionists but what is a nutritherapist ? Can you explain the difference?
Nutritherapist is a European term – used mostly in England, Scotland and Ireland - describing people like me that use food and food only as a healing medium. I do not work with supplements unless they are from food source. Typically, nutritionists work with supplements and herbs. Some of them work with food but very few. “Let food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food” is an old adage I believe very firmly in.
Healthy French Cuisine for Less Than $10 a Day
Let's talk about your book Healthy French Cuisine for Less Than $10 A Day. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is a little surprised to read that you can prepare and serve delicious French food that is not only good for you but for less than $10 a day. How is this possible?
It came out of a self-imposed challenge (I told you, I like challenges). A few of my private clients complained that it was too expensive to eat healthy food. So I set out to prove them it was possible. You will notice that, in the book, all recipes are costed out per serving and I offer seasonal weekly menus that come out to be less than $10/day at the end of the week.
It’s all about how you shop, where you shop, when you shop. I also offer practical tips and tricks and tasty yet reasonably-priced recipes. Don’t expect filet mignon on that budget but you will still be able to eat meat, just not as often. I even give you a few tips on how to grow your own garden. You get a complete shopping guide according to season and guidance on what to buy, quality and quantity.
Can you offer a couple of examples of what we'll find in your book showing us how to do that?
Here is one about portion control:
Portion Control: Size IS Everything
Let me address a pet peeve of mine: food portion size. Sorry everybody. I know you have been indoctrinated to believe that bigger is better, but in this case, bigger is only going to do one thing: make YOU bigger. You need to learn to not pile food high on your plate.
Portion control is very important for the proper functioning of your body. When you eat too much, you tax your digestive system and make it work overtime. That’s probably why you feel sleepy after lunch or dinner. Your body is taking the energy needed to digest that big plate of food away from other bodily functions. Not to mention that you may have to deal with an upset stomach and acid reflux if you keep abusing your digestive system. So please, be kind to yourself and learn to eat less food per meal.
What is most important to understand is that quality always trumps quantity. What I would like to see you do is eat a smaller amount of better quality food, loaded with fresh vitamins, minerals and fiber, so that your body gets the proper fuel to operate at its peak. If you eat a large amount of bad quality food, not only will you strain your digestive system, you will probably feel hungry again in a couple of hours.
Why? Because you fed your body with empty calories, devoid of real nutrition. Naturally your body will ask for more! You filled it, but you did not feed it. It’s like trying to run your car on watered-down gasoline. Eventually your car will start to slow down, have problems and break down. Your body is like your car. If you feed it the right quality of fuel, it will function a lot more smoothly and you will stay healthy.
Isn’t your health worth the extra effort?
In your book you talk about "The Cost of Not Eating in Season". This chapter makes a lot of sense to me. Can you give my readers a few highlights so they understand what you mean by the title.
The Real Cost of Food
Being able to buy any food at any time of the year does not mean it does not cost us. For example, there is the cost of shipping that food to your grocery store. Do you really believe that all that supposedly cheap food is really cheap in the long run? Granted, labor and production costs might be lower in other countries, but what about the shipping cost and the added energy cost and the damage caused to our environment? Wouldn’t you rather eat a fresh apple picked nearby than an apple picked in New Zealand weeks before it reached you?
Eat Local Food
Eating seasonally allows us to eat a wider variety of foods at their peak of freshness, flavor and goodness. Wherever we live, our bodies are adapted to the local living conditions. So is our food. Eating tropical food–created to keep you cool in hot temperatures--is not appropriate if we live in the Antarctic.
On the other hand, the Inuit people, who lived mainly off local fish and seal blubber–foods considered to be fattening to us–used to lead a healthy life, well adapted to their environment, even though they do not eat vegetables or fruits. Wonderfully strange, isn’t it?
When the Western diet of canned and refined foods caught up with them, they started to experience the same illnesses we experience in Western societies. Dr. Weston A. Price proved that traditional local diets were perfectly adapted to their environment no matter what these different tribes or groups ate. It was only when refined food was introduced to their way of life that their overall health started to deteriorate. So, not only should your diet be adapted to the environment you live in, eating the foods that grow in your region, but you should also follow the seasons and be in harmony with your surrounding natural habitat.
A lot of people reading this interview are saying to themselves, "Healthy food that tastes great. How can that be?" What would you say to these people?
It seems to be a standard assumption in America that healthy food should taste dull and boring. Why? Because it used to be the case that doctors (which by the way know nothing about healthy and tasty food) would put you on a diet with no salt, no fat or no carbs. Well, those days are over.
Refined salt can be replaced by sea salt, and herbs, fresh or dried. Bad fat (hydrogenated fat or damaged oils) can be replaced by good fat – yes, good fat and bad quality carbs (refined flours and sugar for example) can be easily replaced by good quality fiber-full carbs.
Given this, I never claim in my book that it is a diet – although if you follow it, you might lose weight – but that is not the intent. The important part for me is to eat good quality and fresh food that tastes great and your body will be so happy, it will shrink by itself. Doesn’t that sound like fun? After all, how worthy would life be if you did not enjoy your food? Isn’t it one of our basic pleasures in life? Youor I should not obsess about food. Love it, embrace it, and enjoy it with pleasure… but always in moderation.
Is there a recipe from the book that I can share with my readers that offers an example of how they can eat incredible French food that's not only healthy but costs less than $10 to make?
Actually, if you remember it’s $10 a day but yes, I’ll give you one that most people will never believe has a reasonable cost. It’s even gluten and dairy-free and no one will know the difference. Add to that steamed haricots verts in vinaigrette and voila, a meal for about a couple of dollars per serving.
How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food
Can we talk about your previous book, How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food? This book really caught my eye because my cholesterol is a little high and my doctor and I have been treating it with drugs that I would prefer not to be taking. Is it really possible to lower your cholesterol with "French Gourmet Food"?
I guess, if you follow my guidance in the book, it is possible. My challenge was that I wanted to lower my cholesterol without using statin drugs with their deplorable side effects. I knew it could be done but I had to prove it to myself and eventually to the rest of the world. Why not lower your cholesterol while still enjoying your life and food.
Since I come from the South of France, I used the Mediterranean diet as a guide and set out to do it. I dropped my cholesterol by 35 points in one year while eating delectable food. What’s not to like? By the way, I have the lab results to prove it if you need them.
By the way, why is Mediterranean food healthy? Because it uses lots of fish, not so much meat (besides lamb and goat once in a while), olives and olive oil instead of butter, goat milk instead of cow’s milk, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts with healthy fats: pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and typically low-carbs (some rice but not much potatoes). All of these ingredients have been proven over and over again to be good for one’s health. So enjoy!
Chef, I think many of us have our own idea of what "gourmet" food is, but I would love to know your definition of "gourmet" food.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are still stuck with the antiquated vision of old French cooking loaded with heavy sauce and rich meals overflowing on large portions of overcooked meats. Yuk!
Since the 60s, a “nouvelle vague” (new wave) of young French chefs came out with the concept Nouvelle Cuisine (new cuisine) or Cuisine du Marché (market’s cuisine) as well as Cuisine Minceur (slim cuisine). I am talking about Michel Guerard, Roger Verge, Paul Bocuse and Gaston Lenotre, some of which I worked for in my early years.
The concept is quite simple really. Go to the market daily, buy freshly picked food at the peak of their flavor and cook them lightly, respecting their flavorful qualities without overwhelming them with heavy sauce. Instead they created light sauces, vinaigrettes, and flavorful “au jus” sauces.
The same goes for grass-fed or pasture-raised beef, pigs, lamb and fowl. Nothing that impressive nowedays but at the time, it was a revolution. I remember the old guard screaming murder at the “audace” of these young punks. Unfortunately, it took about 20-30 years for this concept to arrive on these shores.
I am just following in their “avant-garde” footsteps. I just hope I do not disrespect their intent. Actually, I would not dare. They might come at night and pull my toes while I’m sleeping. I just added particular attention to the nutritional aspect of these recipes.
How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food is way more than cookbook with a bunch of recipes. It does have great recipes but it also offers tons of information about cholesterol including what it is and how to control it. Can you tell us a little about why you wrote this book and what we should expect to get from it?
I see it as my mission to educate American people in the pleasure of food without the guilt. It must be the Puritan in every American that does not allow them to enjoy their food without the automatic guilt that comes with it. In Europe, especially in Latin countries, we LOVE and enjoy food the way it should be. All fun, no guilt. Life is too short to feel bad about the food you eat. “Stop and smell the roast”, that what I say.
Besides someone who is interested in lowering their cholesterol by diet, who else can benefit from reading this book?
It’s also a good general guide on how to eat healthy. There is a lot of information about the benefit of each food known to lower cholesterol with recipes to confirm that. I help you understand the difference between good and bad fats and good and bad sweeteners. I also teach you healthy cooking methods and offer a meal plan for the whole week.
Is there a recipe from the book you can share with readers that is a good example of French food that is not only healthy but can help in lowering my cholesterol?
Filets Mignons d’Agneau aux Épinards et Légumes Frais or Filets Mignon of Lamb with Sautéed Spinach and Spring Vegetables (I'll post this recipe later in the week)
Besides buying Health French Cuisine for Less Than $10 A Day A Day and How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food, what advice would you give home cooks to help them understand the importance of making good choices when planning your daily meals.
Thanks so much for this interview and helping me understand the concept behind your new book. I can't wait to put your ideas into practice and make my doctor happy. I look forward to more conversations like this in the future.
You’re very welcome. I’m glad to help. It’s always a pleasure to speak to someone as enthusiastic about food as you are. Remember, it does not have to be complicated. Use the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Silly! And for food’s sake enjoy the process. Bon Appetit y’all!
Chef Alain Braux