Dining with Dosher

Eating healthy needn't herald the end of scrumptious food

Eating healthy needn’t herald the end of scrumptious food, and Dosher Memorial Hospital’s Guest Chef Program intends to prove it. The program, which is open to all community members, teaches participants how to make dishes, even the decadent ones, delicious and nutritious. It also encourages local chefs to offer healthy dishes at their restaurants.

“We wanted to bring together the chefs and the community and have the chefs buy into providing healthier cuisine,” says Vicki Allen, director of the hospital’s Diabetes Education and Weight Management Program.

The program, which started two years ago, was an outgrowth of Allen’s classes for patients working to reverse diabetes, lose weight, or decrease cardiac issues. However, Allen saw that many outpatients also were looking for ways to improve their eating habits, and she knew the area has a lot of retirees who have health problems and need to adhere to dietary restrictions.

Given the wide need for healthy eating options, Allen decided to provide a solution for the entire city, and she put out a call to local chefs. The chef from Oliver’s on the Cape Fear responded immediately. Then chefs from other favorite restaurants, including Moorestreet Oyster Bar, Kai-Joe’s, and Café Koa, soon followed; and the Guest Chef Program was born.

“These are young chefs who are interested in providing healthier renditions of classically high-fat, -sugar, or -salt cuisine,” Allen says. “They’re the chefs of some very unique restaurants that have new kinds of dishes, and they can make changes because they make things from scratch.”

While the chefs eagerly joined the Guest Chef Program, making healthy renditions of their favorite recipes requires some finesse and negotiation. When a recipe calls for cream, Allen suggests whole milk. Instead of sugar, she recommends Stevia. Rather than salt, she pulls out low-sodium products or spices.

“We really bump up the herbs and spices, using fresh when we can,” says Allen.

When the chefs’ recipes meet the two gold standards – they’re healthy and tasty, too – they’re deemed ready for inclusion in the Guest Chef Program.

Those who attend the Guest Chef classes are treated to a cooking demonstration, where they can see exactly how to prepare a dish. They also learn how to buy, prepare, and store different foods as well as how the dish’s ingredients impact health. In addition, participants receive a copy of the recipe, its nutritional analysis, and suggestions for foods to pair with it. Best of all, everyone gets a taste of that class’s dish de jour.

Those dishes range from comfort foods to fancy, company-worthy entrees to irresistible desserts. Just a sample of the dishes participants have learned to make: stuffed turkey roll with a berry compost topping, chowder, mint sweet pea and spinach soup, fall salad with Hoisin vinaigrette, gluten-free pizza crust, chocolate cake, and pumpkin spice latte.

To the chefs’ surprise, those attending the Guest Chef classes often prefer the modified recipes. It’s not unusual for participants to tell the chefs they’ve had the original dish at his or her restaurant, and they like the modified version just as well or better. Or, they ask if the modified version is available at the restaurant, Allen says.

The program has made a lasting impression on participants, who become health-savvy cooks and diners, as well as the chefs. In fact, the chefs have undergone a transformation, Allen says. They find themselves automatically changing recipes so they are healthier, and they have made a commitment to offering healthy options in their restaurants.

“The chefs have found they want to cater to the individual needs of their patrons,” she says. “They realize many of them are dealing with health issues, and they want to provide a cuisine that takes those needs into consideration. It’s really exciting.”

The Chef Guest Program has steadily grown in popularity. Everyone from singles to couples attends the classes, and their influence is spreading.

“We’re changing the culture of the community,” Allen says. “Participants are so grateful to have a live cooking demonstration and are more comfortable about asking for meals that meet their specific needs. And, restaurants are more willing to provide those dishes, because they recognize that there is a demand for healthy food. It works out well for everybody.”

The Guest Chef classes are free, but reservations are required. For information or to make a reservation, call 454-4731. Also, chefs from the entire Cape Fear region are invited to participate in the Guest Chef Program. Those interested should contact Vicki Allen at 454-4731 or vickiallen@dosher.org.


To view more of photographer River Bondurant’s work, go to autumnrivermedia.mypixieset.com.

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Categories: Taste