Archive for the ‘what our grads are doing’ Category

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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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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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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Heads up, vegans (and food expo habitués). Here comes The Seed Experience. On June 16 and 17 at 82Mercer in Soho, there will be a multi-media vegan event that includes speakers, film screenings, food tastings, demos, workshops, and more.

Speakers will include Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Kathy Freston, Nick Cooney, our friend and blogger JL Fields, and many more. Check out film screenings including Vegucated, Forks Over Knives, Lunch Hour, and Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead. Tastings will be provided by Cinnamon Snail, Pure Food and Wine, Candle Cafe, Blossom, Cafe Terri, among others.

Most importantly, look for demonstrations by NGI’s Olivia Roszkowski and Fran Costigan. Olivia will prepare Spring Shoots with Asparagus, Miso-Spiced Eggplant, Adzuki Beans, Edamame, & Black Sesame Seeds in a Ginger Dressing at 4:00 on the 16th (Stage B). Fran will prepare Irresistible Chocolate Vegan Desserts for Everyone on the 17th at 2:00 (Stage B).

Follow the event on Twitter @theseedexp. Also, rumor has it there’s a 50% off Groupon waiting for you.

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NGI President Jenny Matthau, Chef Rich LaMarita, and grad Colin Zhu

Our Chef’s Training grad Colin Zhu was kind enough to report to us on NGI’s recent collaboration to teach a nutrition class with NY Coalition for Health School Food at PS 184 in Chinatown . . . 

On Friday, May 25, the Natural Gourmet Institute had the good fortune to do cooking demonstrations at P.S. 184, Shuang Wen Elementary School in Chinatown. The NGI team consisted of Chef Instructor Rich LaMarita, Chef’s Training Graduate Colin Zhu, Chef’s Training student Steven Stewart and NGI President Jenny Matthau.

NGI collaborated with Healthy School Food in teaching nutrition to two 5th grade classes. As each nutrition class ended, Colin and Steven assisted Chef Rich in the set-up of the food demonstration. As enthusiastic as the students were with each nutritional class, they could not help being totally enticed by what the chefs were preparing.

The NGI team made three dishes for the students: sticky brown rice cooked with coconut milk and star anise; black beans with onions, tomatoes, toasted cumin and oregano; and a hearty guacamole made with red onions, chopped Beefsteak tomatoes, cumin and cilantro served with crisp sticks of jicama.

During the presentation, Chef Rich displayed all the ingredients, talked about the unique origins of each food item, showed how to sauté the toppings for the black beans and how to make guacamole.

The students were eager to try each dish. Having just learned about macronutrients the class before, they were excited to have their senses amused by an actual cooking demo right in their own classrooms. The combination of nutrition class and a fantastic cooking demonstration created the perfect recipe for each student’s culinary curiosity.

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On May 25, I again had the pleasure of joining Wellness in the Schools and New York School Food staff and interns to prepare food for Cafe Day. Both organizations work hard to bring healthier, balanced, and more whole foods to students throughout New York City.

Natural Gourmet partners with PS 89 in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, and our Wellness in the Schools liaison there is one of our graduates, Chef Annie Morgan. Annie cooks 2 days a week at PS 89, and 3 days at another school nearby. I joined Annie in the morning on Cafe Day to help prepare the menu and was given free rein to make the day’s massaged kale salad.

Cafe Days are an opportunity for students to try newly developed menu items, attend “labs” about healthy eating, and to mingle with guest chefs as well as Wellness in the Schools and School Food interns. It’s also an opportunity for partners like Natural Gourmet to see the incredible work that goes on day-to-day.

PS 89, from everything I saw, is a happy, healthy place to be. The energy of the kitchen staff, the spotless kitchen, the students, the teachers, the cheery lunch room, the colorful salad bar are all  disarmingly infectious (in a good way). Most importantly, the food served is of a quality and freshness not seen in most American schools in years, if ever.

In addition to the daily selection of salads, marinated chicken,  roasted potatoes, herbed whole wheat flatbreads and fresh fruit, Cafe Day introduced 2 new items for tasting (as demo’d by Chef Annie) – pickled cucumbers and a salad of fresh corn and peppers in orange vinaigrette. The corn salad had the added benefit of using peppers grown in the school’s greenhouse. Yes, PS 89 has a beautiful state-of-the-art greenhouse growing herbs, vegetables, and tilapia. Thanks to a knowledgeable and proud student named Brittany,  I got the VIP tour.

Wellness in the Schools currently focuses on schools with a 70% or higher poverty rate and is already serving over 20,000 students in NYC. With continued support, hopefully their imperative mission can extend to every school and student in the city.

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Our third contest winner, Debbie Rosmarin, graduated from our Chef’s Training Program earlier this year. Debbie shares an insightful and empowering story about her newly-adopted health-supportive lifestyle.

Debbie writes:

I am a graduate of Natural Gourmet Institute’s Chef’s Training Program. The education I received has completely changed how I feel about food in relation to the earth, cooking, and overall health.  I was never someone who noticed plants or liked to be outside, but getting on the path to eating natural foods made me feel more connected to the earth.  I can go to the farmers market and really think about the path that the animal, vegetable, or grain came from before it got to my plate. When eating from a can or package, it is difficult to make a direct connection, making food seem so far removed from us.

This newfound adoration of nature has also influenced my life in other ways. My father is a dermatologist and I always feared the sun. Granted, I still don’t sunbathe and won’t be out for longer than a certain period of time without putting on sunscreen. However, I can appreciate the sun more, knowing that it provides me with Vitamin D and that it helps the plants on my windowsill grow. In general, being outside in the fresh air makes me feel more rejuvenated and happy.

This connection to the earth has also affected products I buy other than food.  I try to buy clothing that is as natural as possible, too. I also think about the beauty products I use and the effect that an external lotion can have internally. The fake chocolatey smell of products previously bought from chain stores like Bath & Body Works pale in comparison to using pure cocoa butter. As Paulo Coelho said, “It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary.”

The culinary aspect of Natural Gourmet changed how I feel about food. Cooking was a skill that I did not learn while growing up, but after Natural Gourmet, I find it extremely empower edtaking control of my own health and not feeling dependent on restaurants and prepackaged foods from the grocery store.  Cooking with wholesome ingredients makes me feel like I am treating my body the best way I can and provides me a sense of peace and control in a chaotic world.

What I love most about my newfound knowledge is that it also helps me to nourish those I love. My husband suffered from Crohns Disease for many years and mainly ate a Standard American Diet. With my influence he now looks at ingredients as much as I do and always makes sure he has an abundance of vegetables with every meal. His stomach rarely bothers him, and he now prefers coffee without artificial sweeteners, grass-fed beef, fresh organic vegetables, and foods that are unprocessed.  Seeing my husband’s health improve has made me feel humbled by the power of healing foods and in complete awe of the powerful effects it can have on one’s life.

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