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Our grad Colin Zhu serving up omega-rich food at WellBeingMD Center

Our grad Dr. Colin Zhu serving up omega-rich food at WellBeingMD Center

“Alignment” can be defined as an “integration or harmonization of aims.” I use the term here more specifically to describe an interconnection of events that could not have happened to me otherwise, if I was not honest, open, aware and – most importantly – authentic with myself.

The series of events I refer to led up to my experience with Dr. John Principe, the creator and founder of WellBeingMD Center for Life in Palos Heights, Illinois.

Some doctors’ offices have nutritionists on board, some have chiropractors and physical therapists for rehabilitating patients, and some alternative practices work with an acupuncturist. However, few doctors’ offices, if any, boast what Dr. Principe’s office has – a professional teaching kitchen with hands-on cooking and demonstration classes, complete trainer-guided exercise programs ranging from Zumba to Tai Chi, as well as acupuncture, chiropractic and massage.

Did I mention the other side of this coin is a full medical practice? The two approaches, like Yin and Yang, form a unique recipe called the Roadmap to Wellness program, whose main goal is to help patients take back control of their health.

I had the distinct pleasure of working with Dr. Principe for four days at the end of November, after hearing about his unique practice in a New York Times article in April of this year.

Aware that I was a resident physician and a Natural Gourmet Chef’s Training graduate, Dr. Principe put me to work the very first day! I saw patients in the morning and, by the afternoon, I was making french omelets for the employee staff for lunch. This was a unique experience because I saw patients with chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, which could be prevented by preparing health-supportive meals.

By the second day, I was sautéing and roasting locally grown carrots and peppers in preparation for a Teach & Learn class on omega fatty acids. For this class, we prepared wild-caught Alaskan salmon and carrot bisque with kale-chia seed pesto on extra virgin olive oil-laced whole wheat baguette.

By the fourth night, we prepared and served a meal to the Emergency Medicine Journal Club of Christ Hospital. While it is certainly a privilege to teach patients the importance of healthy eating and living, it’s likewise an honor to share those concepts with colleagues as well. The menu:

  • Dr. P’s homemade marinated black olives with fresh bruschetta
  • Wild-caught, grilled Alaskan salmon with roasted whole wheat couscous on balsamic-glazed mixed greens
  • Red wine-poached pears with whipped ricotta cheese



Dr. Principe’s mission at WellBeingMD is to promote and educate about healthy and sustainable living so patients can take back their health. I was very blessed and fortunate to work and learn from him for that short time, and I know his pioneering vision is shared by many and is just the beginning. To learn more about Dr. Principe’s work and related topics:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtT6_1vtjzQ (Dr. Principe’s TEDx Talk)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2RNTsJpDfM (Kale-Chia Pesto Demonstration)


Colin Zhu with Dr. Principe (left)

Colin Zhu with Dr. Principe (left)

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Natural Gourmet Institute CEO and founder, Annemarie Colbin

November 9 marked another milestone for Natural Gourmet Institute – 35 years since our founder Annemarie Colbin anticipated  the current trend by starting a cooking school in her home that emphasized the connection between food and healing.

While “whole,” “local,” “seasonal,” “organic,” and “sustainable” are the watchwords of the day, they’ve been a way of life and a commitment for NGI instructors, students, and graduates for over three decades. 2500 Chef’s Training and several thousand public class students later, we’re still at it and growing stronger.

The anniversary celebration was held at the school with NGI staff, instructors, graduates, and students in attendance. Kudos and thanks go out to NGI staffers Mollie Berliss, Mark Mace, Brandon Reichert, Sue Baldassano, Jeri Rostron, and Merle Brown, who worked together to create a warm, memorable, and festive evening.

The evening kicked off with a reception featuring elegant seasonal appetizers prepared by Chefs Jay Weinstein and Olivia Roszkowski, with the help and talent of Chef’s Training Program students. While guests feasted, schmoozed, and reminisced, they were entertained by the quartet Violet (featuring our own Assistant Director of Admissions Meredith Minogue) and classical guitarist Rudolph Vernaz-Colas.

The evening was also an occasion for recognition. The Natural Gourmet Institute Award for Excellence in Health-Supportive Education went to two outstanding people in our field – NGI grad, chef and author Louisa Shafia and whole foods chef, author, teacher, and media personality Andrea Beaman.

Our founder, Annemarie Colbin, of course, was our other honoree. Check out our tribute video where colleagues, students, and instructors share their thoughts and feelings about Annemarie’s contribution,  foresight and leadership in the field of health-supportive eating.

The evening’s festivities were capped by raffle prizes, courtesy of our friends at Maimonide of Brooklyn, Dirt Candy, Pure Food and Wine/Lucky Duck, Fort Reno, Palo Santo, and Chef Rich LaMarita. A gong ritual finished the ceremonial portion of the evening, followed by champagne and celebratory cupcakes topped with the stunning fondant creations of our graduate Sachiko Windbeil of Mimicafe Union. All in all, a good way to kick off the next 35 years.

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The fly guys of our Stewarding Dept.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy continue to be far-reaching for everyone in the Tri-State area. Our thoughts are with those who still have no home, power, food, or heat.

In our case, we were lucky, even though the storm closed the school for a full week. We returned yesterday, and everything’s back in full swing, thanks to our dedicated staff, students and adminstration.

NGI was without electricity after the storm, so a lot of food had to be re-purchased before we could resume our programs. Still, everything’s running smoothly now. You can almost tell from these pictures how happy everyone is to be back again.

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So, just a few weeks ago, our grad Nancy Ligouri asked me – NGI’s social media guy – if she could start a Facebook page for grads and current students. I told her that it was a great idea. Several people had offered to do it before, but never got around to it. It seemed like a project that should come from a student or grad, so I never interfered.

To my surprise, Nancy had the page up and running in about 2 seconds flat. Within a day, it had about 1,000 members (at current, 1,037). I could put an exclamation point following that, but I never use them.

More to my surprise: the page rapidly took on a life of its own – or maybe more accurate to say the life of its members. Dialogue of all kinds proliferated, and members were talking about all sorts of things I’d never imagined the page would host.

To me the page is very exciting. You could almost say “organic.” It truly expresses what our students do, think, want.

Some members use it for sharing tech info . . .

Some for braggin’ rights . . .

Some share their own social media . . .


Members have been sharing news about upcoming events . . .



Have a question about culinary zeitgeist?


How about advice for upcoming exams . . .


Did ya hear about that field trip with Chef Rich?





and JOBS . . .


This is just a sampling of what the page is doing. If you’re a future, current, or former student, join up. You’ll learn something.


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One of the important rites of passage in Chef’s Training is each group’s buffet class. In one day (part-time) or two days (full-time), students with their instructor prepare a lavish and healthy buffet for friends, family, and staff.

CTP 214 with their instructor Jay Weinstein

The spread usually includes whole poached wild salmon, tempeh kebabs, and curried or garlic chicken at its center surrounded by a colorful, copious and seasonal array of salads, vegetables, grains, beans, and desserts – all made from scratch right down to the bread. There are always a generous amount of vegetarian and vegan options. Frequently, there are also improvised dishes made from seasonal, organic vegetables we have in-house.

Buffet Class is a great opportunity for Chef’s Training students to show off what they do, and for guests to experience – for a mere $10 – a delicious, balanced, health-supportive meal Natural-Gourmet-style.

Here we have pictures of the sumptuous buffet prepared by the small but mighty Chef’s Training Group 214. While the group has only six members, they’ve learned to do the same work in the same time as groups with the customary 16 students. You go, 214.

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The future home (tall building in background) of vegan restaurant Marcus in Asbury Park, NJ

Recently, I had a chat with our grad Mark Hinchcliffe about some exciting news: the firm he works for will be opening a vegan restaurant named Marcus in Asbury Park, New Jersey, early in 2013. There’s a vibrant dining scene developing over the past few years in Asbury Park, and Mark’s firm has a lot to do with it. Here he gives us some details of what’s to come:

Tell us something about the firm or collective behind this project and what you have to do with it.

I work for a firm called Knockout as a copywriter and overall strategist. We all wear many hats at Knockout, so we don’t have official titles. We’re basically a collective of creators, movers, and thinkers intent on razing old conversations and raising new ones. Our home is Asbury Park. Our work is everywhere. We believe that great design cannot happen without integrity, great ideas do not necessarily require time, and greatness isn’t always so great.

It’s very familial. We share office space with Watt Architects, an architectural firm led by Jim Watt. His brother, Jason, is a partner in Knockout, along with founders Meg Brunette and Kyle LePree. Together we are known simply as Smith. Smith is behind all of the big visions we are currently creating.

What other notable projects is your firm the creative force behind?

In terms of projects that we’ve birthed, funded and designed on our own, there are several. Brickwall was our first project of this kind. It was the first bar to open up in the slowly-getting-back-on-its-feet Asbury. That was in 2006. We just celebrated our 6th anniversary. It’s that place where everyone knows your name; where you can find the best beers on tap anywhere around here – rare stuff that no one else is pouring. And the food is comfort food. Quality fare at really reasonable prices.

Then there’s Porta, our authentic Neapolitan pizza restaurant. The story behind Porta would take up your entire blog, but I’ll make it short.

We decided we wanted to build this amazing pizza place. Fredrica Vilardi (our creative director at Knockout), decided she would learn how to make pizza. Like I said, we wear many hats. So she went and got trained by Roberto Caporuscio, who you may know as the man behind NYC’s Kesté and most recently, Don Antonio. Then we ordered two wood-fired ovens from Italy. They took months to build and ship over here.

We opened at the end of July last year. Somehow between then and now, Porta has become a food and dance hall mecca. We’ve got lines around the block to eat our pizza and party. Come check it out!

What is the property in question? I know it’s the tallest building in Asbury Park. Does it have any other significance?

It’s the tallest in the downtown, and one of the oldest, built in 1927. A beautiful, 11-story Art Deco building with sweeping views of the Atlantic and downtown Asbury.

What or who was the genesis of this idea to open a vegan restaurant?

I can’t say it was any one person. Everything is collaboration here. We don’t take personal credit for creation.

Is Asbury Park ripe for a vegan restaurant? How did you determine that?

We believe it is ripe for a vegan restaurant. But it’s not like we’re doing focus groups. Everything for us starts with a vision. We look at what we want to create, and then we create it. Our projects come from something very passionate and personal within all of us.

But you’ve got to design on a high level. Communication is everything. Because it’s one thing to have a great idea. It’s quite another to say, “This will be so by this time.” We put something at stake. We get our skin in the game. That’s how we go about making things happen. It’s about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Getting outside of our comfort zones to create things that we didn’t know we could create.

Is Asbury Park ripe for a vegan restaurant? Yes. Because we say it is.

How big will the restaurant be? How many seats?

We’re still in the design phase of all of this, so I can’t tell you for sure. But it’s not a hole in the wall. Probably around 25 seats. We want this to be a very immersive experience for the diner.

What elements do you think this concept will need to make it, as you say, the “most well-known vegan restaurant on the East Coast and to take away some vegan bragging rights from our West Coast counterparts?”

It’s all about approaching things differently.

 What do you think, if anything, is missing from the East Coast vegan scene?

I’m not sure anything is missing from the East Coast vegan scene. It is its own thing, humming along. We’re more interested in creating a new context, rather than shuffling around the pieces or bringing that “missing” piece into the current context.

As much as I am a vegan, I don’t believe in the word. It’s just another way to create separation, to say to someone else, “I’m not like you.” When you start calling yourself “vegan” or “meat-eater” or whatever, you’re just judging others. You’re removing yourself from their circle. It’s all very righteous and a load of bullshit. The sooner we can all give up our stories about who’s right and who’s wrong about their eating habits, the sooner we can solve our problems of obesity and diabetes and environmental destruction.

I know you’re searching for a chef. Have you found one yet?

Not yet. We’re still in the creation stage of the project. We have an executive chef team that will be overseeing all of our restaurants, but we’ll be looking for a Chef de Cuisine and all other positions. Both BOH and FOH.

If you haven’t found a chef yet, what skill set do you envision this person having?

Someone who’s an experimenter. Someone who might not come from the vegan world. We’re looking to do something different, which means that we’re not necessarily looking for someone from the vegan scene. Maybe they have a background in charcuterie or molecular gastronomy. It’s about someone approaching this food from a very humble place, a place where they know nothing. We’re daring to be naive.

Does the restaurant have a name? Can you share it yet?

Marcus. It’s going to be a dark, cave-like place. Very sexy. Very carnal. To juxtapose the non-meat dishes. Early-60s inspired – a time of decadence in all things.

When are you planning to open?

February 2013.

Will this be a place where Natural Gourmet students can intern?

Sure. Let’s see what they’ve got.

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A bowl of magic on Converting day: miso soup with vegetables, seaweed, tofu, and shitakes

A few days ago, at the request of students, I posted on Facebook a recipe for miso soup I always make during a baking class.

The class, Converting Practicum (about which I’ve written before), is an all-day laboratory for our Chef’s Training students. Working in pairs, students take a conventional baking recipe (with white sugar, refined flour, and processed ingredients) and convert it step-by-step to a more whole, vegan alternative. It’s a brilliant exercise in how minimally refined sweeteners, whole grain flours, and natural additives work.

Each student group makes 6-8 batches of their cookie, cake, or muffin recipe in the course of a day. By a rough, conservative estimate, we make 700 portions of dessert. Heaven knows the students try their best to taste judiciously, but all that sugar and flour (even the “healthier” choices) eventually gets to them. Imagine the challenge of remaining intellectually focused with starches and sugars as your mind’s only fuel.

The Converting day process

That’s where the miso soup comes in. Making a big pot of this Asian elixir is – and has always been – an integral part of the Converting class. It’s our chosen antidote to expansive, acid-forming sugar and flour. A bowl of alkalizing miso soup, chock-full of vegetables, live with digestive enzymes and rich in minerals from seaweed, is the perfect balance for a sugar high. When the students eat it, I actually see them “come down” almost immediately and re-focus on the task at hand. And they consume the soup greedily throughout the day.

So when a student asked for the recipe last week I decided to post it on Facebook for other students who asked too. I was more than a little surprised when 62 people quickly “liked” it and 26 people enthusiastically commented on it. There was a lot of waxing sentimental over some simple miso soup among those comments.

Now I didn’t invent miso soup – and I didn’t even re-invent it. Students remember my recipe fondly, yes. And yes, I’ve gladly accepted the unstinting praise it garnered. But I rather think what students really remember is how the soup worked its magic to soothe sugar-induced nausea and confusion.

This reminded me of a simple, profound truth that is the foundation of our work at NGI: whole foods have a power to restore balance, to heal – if we know how to use them. Ask any Chef’s Training student how to cure an upset stomach, nausea, bloating, a headache, a hangover, insomnia, a sugar binge, and they can give you an effective food remedy. Food and healing – it’s our thing.

Elliott’s Miso Soup Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons sesame oil (NOT toasted)

1 onion, saute slice

1 carrot, matchstick

2 ribs (pieces) celery, diagonal slice

8-10 shitake mushrooms, sliced

6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 piece of kombu

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup wakame, soaked 15 minutes and drained

¼ cup arame, soaked 15 minutes and drained

½ lb. tofu, diced

2 quarts (8 cups) water

ginger juice to taste

lemon juice, to taste (not traditional) (a student of mine suggested rice vinegar – awesome too)

1 cup (or more) miso of choice scallions, sliced, for garnish

1. Heat oil in a 3-quart pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, shitakes, garlic, kombu, and salt. Sweat for approximately 15 minutes on low heat, covered.

2. Add wakame, arame, and tofu. Continue to sweat for another 10 minutes.

3. Add water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Let broth stand for 5-10 minutes. Add ginger and lemon juice.

4. Temper miso mixing with 2 cups of the broth. Add tempered miso back into the soup. Serve, garnished with scallions.

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Our grad, Colin Zhu (left) with another meditator dude

Colin Zhu recently graduated our Chef’s Training Program. If you’re talking about an integrative approach to health, he’s one of those people who walks the walk. Along with his Natural Gourmet credentials, Colin is a Doctor of Osteopathy (now in his residency), a certified health coach, and a competitive runner. Colin’s latest foray took him into the realm of meditation. He recently spent 10 days at the Vipassana Meditation Center where meditation, nature, and healthy food provided the ultimate mind-body-spirit experience. Here he shares his experiences with us . . .

Shelbourne, Massachusetts

June 19th, 2012

I had the good fortune to attend a 10-day meditation course at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelbourne, Massachusetts this past week. This retreat was located on a beautiful and serene ranch enveloped by thick brush (think of the movie Bambi and you’ll know what I mean). With its aesthetic lodging, echoing meditation halls and a newly constructed pagoda, this luscious locale invites the most dedicated meditators all year round.

Nineteen-hour days are filled with ten and a half hours of pure meditation. Interspersed throughout are two meal breaks and a tea break during the dinner hour. Because not much energy is expended during meditation; there is no necessity to eat in the evening.

In addition to sitting in one place, some light walking is encouraged but that is as much you are allowed to do. “Silence is golden” is finally understood as one finds no communication from the outside world is allowed, nor between each meditator, 24/7, for ten days straight. Mental silence is dependent on this.

The all-vegan meals (with optional dairy) were what I looked forward to. For breakfast, they had oatmeal served with stewed prunes, oranges and cinnamon; Chinese congee (porridge) with marinated tamari, seaweed and Chinese pickles; assorted local and seasonal fruits; sprouted breads; and my favorite . . . millet bread topped with apricot spread.

For lunch, there were tantalizing meals, including hearty miso soup with carrots and spinach; baked marinated tempeh with tamari, ginger and cilantro; red lentil dhal and curried vegetables; and non-dairy mac and cheese with nutritional yeast, to name a few. Each meal always had a raw item; a large bowl of organic mixed romaine and red lettuce serve with chickpeas, shredded carrots and shredded beets; and homemade dressings like lemon-tahini and sunflower-tamari – everything to satisfy even the most anxious meat eater. There were also atypical condiments such as miso, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, tumeric, daikon pickles and ground flax seeds.

The kitchen, where the magic happens

Interviewing the kitchen staff, I discovered the wondrous dedication of these volunteers, who simply gave their time to serve the meditators for each of these 10-day retreats. I was surprised there was no head chef, only volunteers with mixed, sometimes limited culinary backgrounds. According to staff, the original recipes followed Ayruvedic principles, wherein the four elements of earth, air, water and fire and their energies are absorbed in the act of eating, thus nourishing the meditator. Baking, steaming, sautéing were the cooking methods most commonly used; frying was the least used. Labels properly indicated the ingredients of each dish to cater to those with allergies and food sensitivities.

Attending a course like this, and having no previous experience in meditation, was like diving into Niagara Falls without knowing how to swim. However, as challenging as it was mentally, it instilled in me a sense of awareness and understanding of practical wisdom. For those who have not meditated, in its truest meaning it is mental training for the mind, especially living in today’s society. I came out wiser with the understanding of what love and compassion actually mean and the necessity to spread them to others.

Bhavatu Sabtu Mangalam (May all being be happy) – S.N. Goenkaiji

For more information on Vipassana meditation, visit: http://www.dhamma.org

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As we mentioned yesterday, the results of our contest “How did the Natural Gourmet Institute change your life?” are in! Meet our second winner, Carolyn Gilles, who graduated from our Chef’s Training Program in 2005. It’s an inspirational and heartwarming story . . .

Carolyn writes:

In 2004, I was living in Savannah, Georgia and had begun to cook for clients and parties. I felt I had finally found something I was interested in enough to start a career. (Until that point, I had collected a lot of “jobs.”)  Being vegetarian at the time, I had zero interest in learning to cook meat, so upon searching for a culinary school, my primary criteria was that it be vegetarian (at least mostly). Much to my surprise, I found the Natural Gourmet Institute via Google. I researched the school, got a few recommendations, and took the biggest and most rewarding leap of my life to that point.

I blindly rented an apartment in Murray Hill that was available for the exact 4 months I needed it with an unknown roommate, signed up for the Chef’s Training Program, and was on my way in only a matter of a couple months. (Ya gotta follow your gut!) My program (CTP 119) started on February 1, 2005. I was 24 years old and excited about everything the world had to offer: I was truly soaking it all up.

The instructors and fellow students made the Natural Gourmet everything amazing that it was for me. The support and general sense of care was evident in every classroom and office. I never felt intimidated or scared, only supported and encouraged to try new things and push myself to grow and learn. Being a young woman, alone in a new city, I also really appreciated the weekend field trips some of the instructors would organize. It was a safe way to get to know the city and all it had to offer.

I came to the school thinking I knew healthy food . . . and that was turned upside down. I learned more than I had ever known about industrial agriculture and Annemarie Colbin’s wisdom shared in “Food and Healing.” I remember the excitement of learning all of this new information and knowing very clearly that my life would never be the same.

After graduation, I was not ready to go back to my life in Savannah. Not only did I know I had more to experience and learn in NYC, I had fallen in love with one of my CTP cohorts, Schot Hannan. We lived in Brooklyn together for 4 years after the program and in 2009 we moved to my home state of Kentucky, where he could attend medical school and get a taste of life as I knew it . . . a little bit slower paced.

With Schot finishing up his 3rd year at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine hoping to pursue a career in endocrinology and pediatrics (addressing childhood obesity), we recently got engaged and hope to be married later this year. In May 2011, I opened a small teaching kitchen here in Lexington, KY called The Wholesome Chef. I am teaching average everyday people here what real food is and how to prepare it. It is the most rewarding career I could have imagined for myself, and every day I am grateful for the experience I had at NGI and in NYC in general. Perhaps someday Schot and I will be business partners, treating his patients with good food and teaching them the skills they need to empower positive change in their own lives.

Should Schot and I find our wedding happening in New York, I’ve always dreamed of buying all the FND seats and having our rehearsal dinner there . . . back to the place that brought us together and changed our lives for the better!

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Kiwi-orange-red grape compote with toasted almonds

After 2 intense weeks of health-supportive baking, with gluten-full  and gluten-free flours flying in all directions (and more to come), CTP 211 took a pause to refresh by preparing all flourless and frozen desserts today.
On the menu: puddings (rice, mango-banana, mocha, tapioca, chocolate, almond), ice creams and sorbets (orange, raspberry, French vanilla, vegan vanilla-almond, and chocolate), and a variety of fruit compotes.

Most of the offerings were vegan, and all were undeniably delicious. Take a look.

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