"Many top chefs have discovered some surprisingly tasty ways to keep the pounds at bay. [Their] tantalizing suggestions [are] put forth in Smart Chefs Stay Slim, a new book detailing the eating strategies of today’s culinary superstars." -- OPRAH.COM

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Think like a Chef: Stocking your menu items

The first (and to my mind perhaps the most important) lesson in Smart Chefs is to EAT WHAT YOU LOVE. If that seems an obvious point -- don't we all eat the foods we love? -- take a look in your refrigerator and cabinets and see if  most or many of the foods you really love and want in your diet on a regular basis are on-hand.  If you want to eat great food, you have to have great ingredients available. Forget about ever acquiring the cooking skills of your favorite chef -- you probably won't and you don't need to. But think about how they shop. It helps to imagine your home kitchen a bit like a restaurant, not in terms of preparing fancy meals, but rather in stocking your basics. Rick Bayless: chef, yogi, healthy eater, Mexican food savant

During our interview for the book, the wonderful Chicago chef Rick Bayless told me, "What I want to eat is the stuff that is going to keep me the size I am." Me too. So that means this week I'm probably going to eat at least one meal that includes salmon, another with beans (probably a salad since it's warm right now), a few that include salad or spinach and I'm going to want Greek yogurt and fruit most mornings, and I'll be grumpy if I can't have it. 

In the extremely exclusive restaurant that is my apartment dining room, these are the usuals.  If I don't have the components, I can't make the dish (even if the "dish" is just bananas in yogurt). You know how you feel when you go to a real restaurant and they have 86'ed your favorite item? Don't do that to yourself. Know the foods you love and keep them around.


Eat Big Flavors: Using (and growing) Herbs

One of the main "big flavor" ideas put forth in Smart Chefs is the addition to a dish of fresh herbs, particularly when finishing.  The more I heard this from chefs, the more I was inclined to buy and cook with herbs. Fish with tarragon; chicken and roots with rosemary; peach-mint popsicles. And it usually went like this: Purchase herbs for specific recipe, wrap up leftover herbs and store in fridge, try to remember to use same herb in different dish next day, forget, find soggy, sad lump of herbage rotting in fridge. Toss. (And some weeks add: Find recipe using same herb, realize I've just thrown it out, substitute inferior dried variety.) peppers and thyme

For years I had read and ignored exhortations from cooks to grow a small herb garden for clipping fresh herbs.  So please don't hate me now that, converted to urban gardening, I am going to implore you to do the same.  Grow your herbs: You will be able to snip the exact amount you need, the rest won't go bad, and the flavor with be amazing.  This summer for the first time I have chives, rosemary, basil, mint, thyme, parsley, tarragon, oregano and sage surviving, and in some cases thriving, right outside my dining room window.

It has changed the way I cook. Most meals used to start around a protein: chicken or beans or fish, and then a recipe hunt for what to do with them. Now I look out the window and see that the mint is taking over, so what can we do with mint tonight? I've been throwing it in salads, pairing it with watermelon, chopping it into English peas.  My parsley can't keep up with my snipping demands; I want it in everything. chives, mint

I'm not saying you have to nurture seeds up through the earth. Just get some seedlings already started, and plop them into whatever plot you can create. We happen to have window boxes, but a few small pots on a sill will do nicely. Don't forget to water; I have my son helping with that. He was less interested in herbs which didn't seem like real food, so we are now also growing tomatoes and peppers.

My limited experience in urban gardening suggests that you don't need a full spice rack of herbs. Start with just the one or two you love to use often, and add more when you're ready.  For me, basil and rosemary seemed essential. But who knew how much I would love having tarragon around?  There is a surprisingly light chicken and leek pie recipe from Curtis Stone that uses tarragon and is lovely. Link is here.

So, that's my pitch. It is possible you'll ignore it as I did others to grow herbs. I can only tell you that I wish I had listened sooner.

sage, tomatoes, tarragon


Other People's Cookbooks

This is (a very poor cellphone shot of) the library in the offices of Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert’s four-star temple to seafood in Midtown Manhattan. We did our interview for the book in the conference room, which is underground in the labyrinth below the restaurant. The books, which are the overflow from Ripert’s extensive home cookbook collection, lined an entire wall, and my eyes kept going to them, trying to read the spines and get a sense of his tastes, which range from the giant (and in my experience impenetrable)  tome from NOMA to Molly O’Neill’s homey New York Cookbook. He doesn’t cook from them, of course. They are there for Ripert and his staff to get inspiration or enjoy some armchair travel. This makes me feel better about my own over-stuffed cookbook collection, which already contains more recipes than I could prepare in a lifetime. Unlike Chef Ripert, I do cook from books, often. But even though I have shelves full, I keep returning to a few favorites (some of which I can spot in this photo).  What are some of yours?


James Beard House event - JULY 18 at noon

So excited to be speaking on Wednesday July 18 from 12-1pm at the James Beard House in NYC. 

Please come for what will be a fun, casual, informative discussion of how some chefs like Thomas Keller, Michelle Bernstein, Cat Cora, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert and others spend all that time around great food, yet manage to stay fit. Hear what they really eat for breakfast, on the job, and when they are dining out. Learn their best tips for making food flavorful and light. The James Beard Foundation knows chefs, and chefs know great food -- that's who I want to take my cues from when it comes to eating well.

Here's the really great part: In addition to sharing their great ideas and taking your questions, I'll be joined by WONG chef-owner Simpson Wong, who has a dramatic story of changing his life and diet after a health crisis in his early 40s, will be on hand with some delicious samples of his signature "Asian locavore" cuisine.

I'm told there will also be chocolate. (Eat chocolate: one of my favorite "Smart Chefs" directives.)


Location: 167 W. 12th Street (between Sixth+Seventh Avenues). Call to reserve: 212.627.2308

Hope to see you there!

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