Two Years Out

It’s been two years since I started culinary school. I spend 2013 becoming a better cook, working with different clients, and continuing to love my work.

At the moment I have three clients and things are going well. I enjoy the work and look forward to growing.

Keys to 2013 Success
A great website name – Austin Healthy Chef – was awesome for Google searches.
Taking on all clients who could afford my rate (not being scared by new things)
Only taking on clients who would afford my rate (not lowering my expectations)
Testing recipes to grow my skills and knowledge
Posting photos online
Having a GREAT network of people that I’ve worked with who refer me business and who I can call on to help me. And being willing to offer help when asked.

Goals for 2014
Keep testing recipes and growing as a cook. Take cooking classes that grow my skills.
Improve my web presence even more. Move to Wix or another site with a slicker look.
Look into growing my network of personal chefs in Austin.

The Next Chapter – Austin Healthy Chef

Greetings!

It’s been one year since I embarked on the journey to culinary school, and six months since I graduated and created my new identity – Austin Healthy Chef.

I’ve been working as a personal chef, making healthful and whole foods meals. I’ve also taught some classes privately in homes, for groups privately, and even some classes at my alma mater, The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts. I’ve worked with some terrific chefs in various temporary arrangements, competed in a couple of cooking competitions, and learned a lot of lessons during all of it. It has been one of the most rewarding years of my life. 

Despite making the riskiest financial decision of my life, I’ve managed to get off on a very solid foot. And though the past year has been a financial risk, it was a slam dunk no-brainer for my spirit. I’m far happier, more motivated, and more inspired than ever.

2013 will be another year of growth for me as I take my business from seat-of-the-pants success to engineered prosperity. Marketing will be a key activity for me this year. 

Toward that end, I have created AustinHealthyChef.com, and a Facebook page to match. As part of my effort to promote myself in a focused way, the energy I’ve put into this blog will mostly be directed elsewhere. I will be posting updates about myself, food, and nutrition at these places. Please “like” my Facebook page and subscribe to the WordPress blog at AustinHealthyChef.com

Thanks for your ongoing support!

Victory: Winning the Papi Tino’s New Chef Challenge

At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Cooking a still relatively unfamiliar-to-me cuisine and doing it with animal protein, something my vegetarian culinary school never discussed. But then I consulted with some experts, read up on Mexican cuisine (real Mex, not the “Tex” variety), and tested some recipes. Then I chose an outstanding collaborator for the finals, my fellow Natural Epicurean alum, Chip Singer, who is himself a pro at Latin cuisine and a terrific creative mind.

We were faced with a mystery box for the final round and we were up against students from the Escoffier and Cordon Bleu cooking schools here in Austin, both larger and if I understand correctly, much more established on the national scene (although Natural Epicurean has other locations in the works, including Portland).

Our protein draw was ground pork from Richardson Farms, which made me glad because I’ve visited Richardson Farms and I think they probably raise animals for food as honorably and sustainably as any commercial purveyor you could find in our area. We also had peanuts and sweet potatoes, which played perfectly into the only concept I had done advanced testing on – a roasted potato puree with peanut and lime – and which we were able to produce for the final dish. I had no plan for ground pork, however.

I did some research using ye olde iPhone and found a concept we could build on, with modifications. Chip and I got chopping, roasting, blending, pickling, browning, pureeing, and tasting. We spent a few good minutes finalizing the plating. All the while we bounced ideas off each other regarding flavors and pairings. Chip brought a tremendous confidence to the table with his knowledge of Latin cuisine that was invaluable. I remembered that no culinary effort at this scale is a one-man effort. In this kind of task, you’re better off finding support and using your collective knowledge to accomplish the mission. Chip was a great partner and I’m really glad to have worked with him (we also work together at Green Island Catering, a local vegan caterer and meals-to-go company).

I have to give big time credit to my wife, also. She listened to me whine about how nervous I was and told me to imagine myself winning. She’s been a great support through this whole culinary enterprise I’ve been on for the past several months.

Below: The scene at Papi Tino’s (Photo: Vess Consulting).

Big thanks to The Natural Epicurean for donating a big load of fresh produce to the competitors via Farm to Table. I felt like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games getting help from unseen sponsors in her life or death match. We ended up using some limes and green leaf lettuce from that delivery. Of course it was all available to everyone and I’m sure the others made good use of it, also.

The prize for the victory is a 6-month contract to work at Papi Tino’s. It would be a great chance to continue my exploration of Mexican cooking. I’m not sure I have the time to make that happen, but just having the opportunity is nice .

Uchiko Internship: Complete

I finished 80 hours of internship hours at Uchiko, a highly regarded restaurant in Austin. In addition, it’s among the most highly regarded restaurants in the Southwest US. I’m glad I chose Uchiko, but in retrospect it may not have been the best choice for me. And I’m glad I decided to cut my time there in half.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place with top tier talent. The systems are excellent and their standards are high. I learned a lot and in the fullness of time, I may realize that I learned even more. But it just wasn’t me. I never quite felt like I fit the mold of the prototypical Uchiko staff member and although I love Asian food and LOVE Uchiko as a customer, it wasn’t quite my style of cooking. And I kind of knew it before starting.

Part of it was I was fairly intimidated to be among the best. And living up to the (sometimes confusing) standards was difficult. And I am too ponderous and insecure for my own good sometimes. But in retrospect I would have been more motivated had I felt the environment were more applicable to my needs and interests. But when was I going to get a chance to work with people at this level? Never. And even though I didn’t really enjoy myself, I suppose I can’t regret it either. I worked with ingredients I never would have seen otherwise. I got to experience a pressure I’ve never had before. I got some good advice on how to work more quickly, which is good for any cook. I got exposure to recipes which will be useful to me.

For future culinary students, I say go with your gut. Go to the place that excites you. Where you will be hungry to learn. Go to the place where you will impress them with your desire and inquisitiveness. And if you go somewhere and realize it isn’t right, that’s okay. Move on to the next thing. Just like Grant Achatz left Charlie Trotter’s and found The French Laundry, you will find a place to thrive.

Below: The original Uchiko-meter.

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Below: One guess as to what’s in this box. Hint – you won’t see it on display at Whole Foods.

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Below: Frozen balls of some kind of confection concocted by Philip Speer, the dessert/pastry mastermind of the Uchi/Uchiko enterprise.

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Below: Huckleberry glass.

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Below: Not sure what this is, but I cut them up.

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Catering Job

I catered a small party tonight. Time was tight but got the food on the table with help from my client and his friends. Also had my friend Amy assisting.

I was worried about having enough food but it worked out fine, although some people brought in more food.

I used a recipe for making feta “cheese” using tofu and it was awesome. It’s my new favorite. All it takes is a cubed block of tofu, a quarter cups of oil, some miso, and Italian herbs.

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News of the Week (2012-02-13)

A few news tidbits from the recent past:

Parade of studies linking processed meat to negative health outcomes continues (Medical News Today). Processed meat would be bacon, lunch meat, smoked meats and similar products.

Interesting clarification of the process by which salt causes hypertension (not by affecting blood volume, but by causing the body to constrict arteries – Medical News Today)

What the heck are chia seeds?

Marketing junk food to kids gets increasing scrutiny (Marion Nestle)

University of Texas San Antonio and Aramark promote healthful food to students

Diabetic chef pursues a life change (hint, it’s NOT Paula Deen)

Macrobiotic Expert William Spear On Healing from Trauma

I went to the second of a series of talks to be presented by William Spear at Casa de Luz here in Austin (read about the first talk here). Spear is a longtime macrobiotics and Feng Shui expert, and he seems to have a good deal of experience in the area of counseling and coaching. Recently, Spear has been involved in counseling people immediately after traumatic disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes. He spoke last night about his theories and methods regarding counseling people after traumatic experiences.

Trauma, Emotion, and the Body

For Spears, a trauma is an event that presents actual or perceived mortal danger in a context in which we have no control. The core of Spear’s idea is that the body stores emotional traumas unless we have a chance to physically discharge the experience. The effects of storing such trauma in our bodily tissues are seen in negative health outcomes. I don’t remember specific outcomes he purported would arise from undischarged trauma, but imagine any way that your body might malfunction at the cellular and tissue levels.

An experience of profound fear is discharged by moving the body, and discharging grief is done by wailing and crying. Spears and his son, Jonah, with a group of volunteers approach communities impacted by trauma and Continue reading

Thai Fish Soup

I saw a recipe for Thai fish soup in the local food co-op circular and gave it a whirl.

Below: If you saw these ingredients, you’d just have to know that whatever you were about to eat was going to be good.

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Below: The recipe called for a good amount of fresh lime juice.

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Below: A lovely cross-section of a lemongrass stalk.

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Below: Another look at the lemongrass.

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The final product was very good, although it was a bit heavy with the lime flavor.

Your Salt or Your Life

Salt makes food taste better. But we also know salt can be really harmful. It’s estimated that half of all heart attacks and two-thirds of strokes are caused by high blood pressure (1). Cutting your salt intake will prolong your life and possibly save you from having to take powerful, expensive drugs every day with possibly undesirable side effects. Everything I’ve read indicates that salt overconsumption is a major killer.

Disease Process

Salt increases the amount of fluid carried in your blood vessels, narrows them, and reduces their ability to carry beneficial substances to the cells (1). Your heart, kidneys, and brain are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon and the results are commonly heart attack, kidney disease, or stroke (2).

Hidden Danger

According to this New York Times article, 75% of the salt we ingest is from processed foods. And salt can be hidden in surprising places (see image below). Pretty much anything that comes in a wrapper is a major offender, as well as anything you consume from a restaurant. The top salty foods are bread, processed meats, cheese, salad dressings, and cakes/cookies/doughnuts (1). These foods are not all considered “salty.”

(Image: New York Times)

Salt Guidelines

According to choosemyplate.gov, we should be consuming fewer than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. According to mayoclinic.com, this is equivalent to a teaspoon of table salt. I took a photo of a teaspoon of salt and, as you can see, it looks like a heck of a lot! There is no way I would put this much salt on my food throughout the day if I controlled the salt usage. At the very least, this amount would be adequate to season my cooking during a day. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a terrific nutrition information outlet whose newsletter I subscribe to (and blogged about), says that average sodium intake is around 4,000 mg per day. Wow! Keep in mind that the body only needs about 180 mg of sodium per day.

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Conflicting Information

You may have heard about a study that was released earlier in 2011 which reportedly minimized the danger of salt intake (3). The study has received a fair share of criticism from the Centers for Disease Control and the head of Harvard’s School of Public Health based on it’s questionable design (4, 5). Of course, the media jumped on the research report like bees on honey. The fact is that the study was flawed and should not affect your goal of moderate sodium consumption.

Food Politics

Why is there so much salt in processed foods? Because it makes bland, highly refined food more palatable. Salt also helps preserve processed foods – it helps the food be more stable on the shelf, where it needs to sit for days and weeks. Stable food is easier to make, store and sell because it minimizes waste and so it is relatively cheap. Fresh food spoils fairly quickly and is therefore less convenient. It’s also vastly, vastly more healthful. The desire for cheaper, more convenient food to accommodate our increasingly time and cash strapped lives increases the demand for this health-sapping food. The stress we experience further increases our desire for comforting foods, raising the demand further. Profit-driven corporations are more than happy to supply the object of our desire: fast, cheap calories.

Recommendations

  • Cook at home more than you eat out. It’s almost impossible to stay within salt intake limits when you eat out. This is the main recommendation.
  • When you eat out, try to go for whole, unprocessed foods.
  • When you cook at home, be sure to actually cook and not just heat up something that was in a wrapper (e.g., a TV dinner).
  • Know your enemy: the top salty offenders are bread, processed meats, cheese, salad dressings, and cakes/cookies/doughnuts (1)

References

(1) http://cspinet.org/salt/saltreport.pdf
(2) http://www.bpassoc.org.uk/microsites/salt/Home/Whysaltisbad/Saltseffects
(3) http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/05/04/135983232/study-muddies-water-on-health-effects-of-salt
(4) http://singularityhub.com/2011/05/11/new-european-study-not-worth-its-salt/
(5) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/health/research/04salt.html