Sunday, October 24, 2010
A Culinary Class with Chef AJ
Former professional stand-up comedienne Chef AJ now channels her vivacious sense of humor into her entertaining and informative healthy food preparation classes. She is currently the Consulting Chef at Exsalus Health & Wellness Center (featured in the upcoming documentary, Forks Over Knives) and the pastry chef at Sante La Brea. Using only vegan whole foods, she teaches people how to healthfully incorporate more vegetables and fruit into their diets. When she invited me to attend one of her classes at the end of September, I happily accepted her offer.
Chef AJ conducts her cooking classes in her colorfully-decorated home, arranging a demonstration table complete with a BlendTec high-speed blender and a heat source in her living room while busy assistants prep in the kitchen. The dining room table is covered with healthful ingredients ready to be added to recipes while students gather round, seated with a pamphlet of recipes. She peppers her lessons with silly, catchy songs about eating well, but more importantly sits down for a serious half-hour lecture about preventing, fighting, and curing disease through proper nutrition. Her main points are to eat a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet and to avoid the "evil trilogy" of oil, sugar, and salt (Lest you think differently, Chef AJ's recipes are not completely low fat. Many of her recipes contain nuts or nut butter. As she said herself, "This way of eating will not keep me skinny, but it will keep me healthy."). The four-hour class included the following recipes:
It's Easy Being Green Smoothie (see link for video of a similar Chef AJ recipe)
Nutrient Rich Chocolate Smoothie (see link for video with recipe)
Fresh Almond Milk (see link for video and recipe)
Nutrient Rich Smoky Black Bean Soup
Dream of Tomato Soup (see link for video and recipe)
Hail to the Kale Salad
Caramel Fakiatto (see link for video and recipe)
Fresh Banana Ice Cream
Chocolate Peanut Truffles
I was the only vegan in the class, as well as seemingly the only healthful eater. It was so exciting to see an entire room full of people who probably don't even know the definition of vegan being educated about the merits of a whole foods vegan diet. Chef AJ shared her own journey to health and even discussed issues such as eating when not hungry (her favorite motto on the subject: "If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not hungry.").
She also provided an ingenious depiction of calorie density using a chip and dip tray. In each cubby, she portioned out 140 calories of junk food (M&Ms, licorice ropes, potato chips, caramel popcorn, a candy bar, commercial salad dressing) and then unveiled a tray of 140-calorie whole foods, showing how much more whole food you get for 140 calories (a whole box of fresh strawberries or two large bananas or a huge bowl of fresh spinach, etc.). For a group of people who likely think those minuscule 100 calorie snack packs are a good idea and who think Greek yoghurt is healthy simply because the colloquial "they" says so, I found this comparison to be a brilliant educational tool.
I highly recommend Chef AJ's classes if you are looking for more information about transitioning to a whole foods vegan diet and if you would like to encourage your loved ones to do the same. Chef AJ makes the information accessible and understandable, so people who might be nervous about a new lifestyle will be comfortable with her. Her last class of 2010 will be December 5 and she will resume classes in early 2011. For more information and to register, visit her website.
Chef AJ has also organized a plant-based food festival to take place in Redondo Beach on November 7. Healthy Taste of LA will feature "the finest plant-based cuisine from the best restaurant chefs in the Los Angeles area," complete with cooking demonstrations and nutritional science lectures. It promises to be a wonderful celebration of health and plant-based nutrition!
For more reading on the subject of whole foods, plant-based nutrition, I strongly recommend reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard's books, and Dr. McDougall's books. For true beginners, I like to suggest The Engine 2 Diet.