In 1997, Franklin Becker was a 27-year-old chef whose star was on the rise. That same year, he was also diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. The disease not only changed the way he ate, but it also changed the way he cooked. Becker, who was most recently the corporate chef of the EMM Group, overseeing menus for New York City restaurants Abe & Arthurs, CATCH and Lexington Brass, learned to use simple ingredients, to cook with more vegetables and to add flavor to food by using good fats such as olive oil, nuts and avocados.”I realized that if certain ingredients were bad for me to eat, they were probably not great for my guests to eat either,” Becker says.
Many people who crowd into chef Zoe Nathan’s Huckleberry Café in Santa Monica come for her phenomenal morning pastries and baked goods, including the likes of chocolate-almond muffins, blueberry scones and lemon-kumquat teacake. But Nathan — who is a veteran of San Francisco’s cult favorite bakery, Tartine – was actually trained as a chef, not a baker, and cooked at restaurants like bld in Los Angeles and Lupa in New York City before convincing her now-husband and business partner Josh Loeb to hire her as a pastry chef at his restaurant Rustic Canyon. “I had never done desserts before,” she recalls. “At Tartine, I had done breakfast breads and lots of savories, so I kind of lied and told him I had pastry chef experience, and then when I got the job, I had to go to my parent’s house to teach myself how to bake!”
Lunch at many public schools across New York City means chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks and mystery meat sandwiches. But at P.S. 244, The Active Learning Elementary School, in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, the menu sounds like this: Roasted Organic Tofu with Sweet Curry Sauce, Braised Black Beans with Plantains and Herbed Rice Pilaf, Chickpea Falafel with Creamy Tofu Dressing, Lettuce and Tomato and Loco Bread, and Mexican Bean Chili. In April, it became the first public school in the nation to become 100-percent vegetarian. But there’s more. To drink, there’s low-fat milk and water. No juice, no soda. And the salad bar looks like something from a very expensive day spa, not the 24-hour corner mart.
For Bob Groff, a co-founder and the principal of P.S. 244, and the man who turned his menu meatless, the need for better food was obvious. Kids were drinking neon sugary drinks, eating cheese puffs, losing focus and gaining weight. His students were not alone. Nationwide, one in three children and adolescents is obese or overweight, and childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. “There is a strong correlation between academic achievement and student health and nutrition,” said Groff. “I wanted to prove that better nutrition could make a difference to students’ lives.”
Here’s something you may not know about Camille Becerra, chef at the stylish New American seafood restaurant, Navy, in New York City’s SoHo. Becerra studied macrobiotic cooking, prepared meals to heal cancer patients in Philadelphia and lived at a Zen monastery in New Mexico where she cooked vegetarian meals for the monks, sourcing ingredients from the on-premises garden. “Through macrobiotic cooking, I saw the importance of food as a source of health,” she says. “I am always very interested in how food can heal and prevent illness.”
At Navy, Becerra offers a menu that caters to locavore hipsters, with seasonal plates like black bass crudo with rhubarb and pine nuts, tilefish with tomato, avocado and almonds, and soft-shell crab with squash-blossom pancakes. But she’s also partial to her macrobiotic roots. For the lunch menu, Becerra added this bowl of grains and eggs with an eye toward offering guests a midday meal that would energize. “During the day, you don’t want something super-rich that will potentially slow you down,” she says. “For the lunch menu, I focused on lighter dishes with lots of vegetables and superfoods.”
It’s 5:30 a.m., and chef Tony Maws is running. Actually, he’s not just running. He’s sprinting up and down the stairs at Harvard Stadium. And he’s not alone. He’s one of 300 this morning, all part of The November Project, a free fitness movement that was originally born in Boston as a way to stay in shape during cold New England months. Now present in multiple cities in across four time zones in North America, the movement motivates and encourages people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels to get out of their beds and get moving. And Maws is moving.
At 44, he has a six-year-old son and two of the Boston area’s most popular restaurants, one fine dining, Craigie on Main, and one casual, The Kirkland Tap & Trotter. Known for his rustic farm-to-table style, Maws continually earns recognition as one of the country’s best chefs.
At Kirkland Tap & Trotter, local ingredients are the foundation of a menu that’s mostly cooked on a wood-fired grill, the centerpiece of the restaurant. While Maws knows that most of his guests come to toss back pints of craft beer and get their hands on his slow-roasted pork belly and beer-battered ocean perch, he also understands that Kirkland is a place regulars come to several times a week. “I want this to be a place you can eat at regularly, so there have to be dishes that are not all heavy,” Maws says. To that end, he offers a grilled dayboat swordfish, a Persian-spiced vegetable stew and his killer grilled brochette, a steak skewer perfect for summertime grilling. “It’s simple, but we’re not looking for innovation, we’re looking food delicious. And it’s delicious.” Read more
“When you cook at home, you know exactly what is going into the food you’re eating,” says David Lebovitz, who has been cooking and baking for most of his life — much of it in restaurants. He spent nearly thirteen years at Chez Panisse, working with Alice Waters and pastry chef Lindsey Shere, who became his mentor. He left the famed Berkeley restaurant in 1999 to coincide with the release of his first book, Room for Dessert. And five years later, he moved to Paris with little more than a cast-iron skillet and one French phrase: pain au chocolat.
When Doug Crowell opened Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn in 2008, the crowds were lured by chef Ryan Angulo’s hearty Americana fare: buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffles with savoy cabbage slaw, duck meatloaf with corn pudding and blackberry gastrique and St. Louis ribs with new potato salad and mustard glaze.
But Crowell and his chef knew their audience included almost as many vegivores as carnivores. Instead of cobbling together an array of vegetable sides to satisfy these guests, they created a separate vegetarian menu that included a house-made mushroom-barley burger, a warm mozzarella and romaine salad with a soft poached egg and roasted cauliflower, grilled flatbread with snap peas and ricotta, and locally made Caputo’s linguine with summer squash, tomatoes and basil. “There is such demand here for vegetarian dishes and recipes that are just a little lighter,” Angulo says. “So many people are eating that way. They don’t want steak frites every night. We wanted to give them a menu that included as much variety and thoughtfulness as the regular menu.”
“Nutrition was always something I was interested in,” says Josh Feathers, corporate chef at Blackberry Farm, the acclaimed Tennessee hotel and restaurant in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. A veteran of the Navy, where he was an admiral’s cook for seven years, Feathers was in fantastic shape when he joined Blackberry Farm in 2000. But as time went by, things changed. “I spent more and more time than ever in the kitchen and middle age started creeping up on me,” he recalls. “I looked at myself and said, ‘’Wow, I need to lose about 30 pounds.’” By focusing on portion control and adding a regimen of running and weigh- training at the gym, Feathers shed the weight in six months.
Halva, the Middle Eastern sesame candy, is a dessert favorite. Dense and rich, it tastes like peanut buttery fudge and is often layered with ribbons of chocolate. What could be better? Just one problem: It’s traditionally loaded with sugar. Israeli native Shahar Shamir was a huge halva fan too, but as a former dancer keen on keeping healthy, he was hesitant to dig in.
A home cook since the age of eight (his mother taught him everything he knows), Shamir decided to fiddle with a recipe of his own, grinding sesame seeds with honey and roasted nuts, and making something that more closely resembled a nut butter than a candy. His rendition also dispensed with the usual hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors. He served his new-fangled halva spreads to friends at dinner parties. They went wild.
These days, it’s all the rage to join a community supported agriculture plan, or CSA. But as recently as 2008, it wasn’t quite as easy. That was the year Dahlia Abraham-Klein, frustrated with the lack of locally sourced food in her Long Island, NY, town, gathered enough signatures to start a CSA out of her garage.