Chef Cary Neff's been on Oprah, the Today show, and Food Network and appeared in the pages of the New York Times, Bon Appetit, and Gourmet. And on Monday and Tuesday, he'll be in Memphis for cooking demonstrations at the newly renovated cafe at Methodist University Hospital.
Methodist University Hospital is teaming up with Atlanta-based Morrison Healthcare Food Services to completely renovate its main hospital cafeteria and menu. Neff came on board to help create a brand new line of healthy hospital meals, called Flavors 450. All the meals are under 450 calories and comprised of no more than 35% calories from fat.
Chef Neff took a moment out of his busy touring schedule to answer some questions about his philosophy on food.
Your philosophy on food is very health-oriented. Have you always believed in cooking food that is healthy and delicious?
No, I began cooking 32 years ago and for years it was all about flavor and creating memorable dining experiences. I began to focus my energies on cooking foods that are both delicious and healthy about 15 years ago when I took note of the added and unnecessary fats and calories that I routinely added to foods to achieve great flavors. I then made a more conscious effort to 1) carefully choose seasonal whole foods and locally produced foods, consciously selecting whole foods/least processed foods; 2) to serve foods that provide balanced nutrition and responsible portion sizes; and 3) most importantly, to consciously choose ingredients that delivered on their promise of delicious flavor while beaming with nutritional attributes. This created a new food style that excites the senses with fresh clean foods that I entitled “Conscious Cuisine.”
What is the key to cooking food that is healthy, but not boring?
Healthy food is NEVER boring because the basis of healthy cooking should always be focused on highlighting ever-changing fresh seasonal produce and intriguing whole grains that are complimented with quality lean proteins and legumes. The key to great tasting healthy cooking is to celebrate the season’s best. Think of summer berries, ripe peaches and tomatoes and springtime wild mushrooms, asparagus, and winter parsnips and squash — they are all bursting with flavor and nutritional goodness.
What are some easy ways people can introduce more healthy meals into their busy lives?
Healthy eating does require one to return to the kitchen to prepare whole foods over fast and highly processed foods. One of the most helpful tips to save time is to plan meals ahead and cook ahead whenever possible: Roasting a whole chicken and carving the meat from the bone and freezing the bones to make a hearty chicken and vegetable soup later. Quick and easy vegetable stir fries, cooking whole grains like quinoa to make a salad or breakfast cereal on another day. Re-think breakfast. Blend fruits, juices and/or yogurt to make smoothies, or choose whole grain cereal.
What is more important when cooking/eating: calorie count or balanced nutrition?
It’s immensely more important to seek foods that offer an abundance of great vitamins and nutrients and to cook nutritionally balanced meals rather than merely counting calories. There are a number of high fat and high calorie foods that are incredibly good for you — avocados, quinoa, olive oil — but balancing foods’ flavors and nutrients is real cooking! Counting calories can easily become a chore and an unsatisfying way to eat and enjoy foods!
Why is it important to offer healthy food at a hospital?
Hospitals are a place for healing and obtaining tools to promote good health. For far too long, foods were regulated to focus only on the nutrients of what the patient needed to recover and be discharged, while its cafes offered fast food trends and mammoth portions of home-style favorites. Morrison Healthcare Food Services created Flavors 450 to help complete the circle of wellness that hospitals provide. It’s very important for hospitals to offer healthy choices to everyone it reaches, including the caregivers, clinicians, family members, supporting hospital staff, and the surrounding community.
Chef Cary Neff will give cooking demonstrations at Methodist University Hospital's Cafe University, from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, August 10th and 11th.
(Image: Ann States)