Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Top 10 Things I Learned Spending 72 Hours Straight with Chef AJ in LA

Well guys, I'm sort of recovered from my weekend trip to LA. I'm excited about sharing what I've learned about food and a little bit about the experience of making healthy cooking television with you.

To tell you the truth, you'd have to be sitting right here in front of me for me to tell you EVERYTHING, every last crazy thing, that I experienced this weekend.

But unfortunately, that's not possible, so I've broken my memories down into the ten most important ones that I want to remember.

1. I NEED a mezzaluna to make chopped salads. All. The. Time.

What the eff is a mezzaluna you ask? And why would any of us want one?

Because I never feel like I eat enough raw vegetables. And I'm guessing there are a lot of you out there that share that same thought.

When AJ showed me how quick and easy it was to make a big, delicious chopped salad at dinner time, even after a long, hard day of work, I just knew that I'd be incorporating this habit into my real life as soon as I could get my hands on a mezzaluna!

So I ordered a mezzaluna from Alaska (through Amazon of course). The brand everybody loves is Ulu. "Alaskan Ulu, Legendary Knife of the Arctic" is the tag line. Well, I'm not moving to The Arctic, but I want my darned chopped salads!

I ordered this as soon as my plane landed in Cleveland!

These knives do not need to be expensive, but they sure do the trick. Here's the process that Chef AJ taught me, with some additions for my personal preferences:
  1. Grab a very large plastic bowl and the mezzaluna (aka Ulu knife).
  2. Throw the following into your bowl: lettuce (start with cut but not already chopped lettuce or spring mix or baby spinach leaves or any mix of lettuces that you have around), shredded vegetables like carrots or cabbage or Brussels sprouts (sold conveniently in bags these days at your grocery store), chunks of raw onion (if you like that kinda thing) of any variety, plus a cooked grain or potato (a MUST for satiety; any variety, you should always have some ready to defrost in your freezer!).
  3. Chop finely with your new fancy yet inexpensive knife.
  4. Stir in any other ingredients like beans or anything else that you don't want chopped. If you are at a healthy weight, a little dried fruit would give your chopped salad a real kick.
  5. Add the dressing of your choice or any aged balsamic vinegar (see the second thing I learned).
  6. Stir.
  7. Plate.
  8. Enjoy loads of raw vegetables without your jaw getting tired!

2. I need more aged balsamic vinegars in my life!

AJ had quite the selection of aged balsamics in her pantry. I never even knew that most of this stuff existed. The great thing about aged balsamic is that it is a complete salad dressing in-and-of-itself. It needs no other ingredients to make you and your salad very happy. And that's a really great thing for beginners and very busy folks. And who these days isn't really busy?

This magical stuff also happens to be amazing on banana soft serve and just about any food you can stuff in your pie hole.

It really is.

Here's a line-up of some amazing brands that are out there. 

When I'm done writing this post, I'm gonna order me some!

3. Vegetables do taste good with absolutely nothing on them.

Given that I was staying with AJ, and that we had little time to fuss about breakfast, I was introduced to eating my VFB (veggies for breakfast) with no seasoning. 

And do you know what?

I lived!

And I even liked it.

Especially AJ's Oven Roasted Ratatouille. That is amazing. And it needs no spice at all. It's all in the technique. Simple ingredients prepared right. Amazing!

4. I need to be spiralizing more zucchini.

I purchased a spiralizer years ago and I am embarrassed to say that I hardly every use it. I was reminded of how amazing it is when I tasted AJ's raw marinara sauce from her book Unprocessed. I'm gonna make me some for dinner tonight!

5. Making a television cooking show is anything but glamorous.

Holy shizz, I had NO IDEA what I had signed up for. Producing a television show is a highly stressful, yet very fun, environment. There was a ton of schlepping, a lot of high pressure work preparing the food for each segment, cleaning up over and over and over, and long hours in extreme heat (the lights, the ovens, oh my!). And that doesn't even cover all of the advance work that was done by Chef AJ to design all of the episodes and recipes.

If there is one person that literally deserves a standing ovation, it is Rebecca Martinez. She has lost over 200 pounds on The Ultimate Weight Loss Program and become Chef AJ's right hand woman in the kitchen. She is dedicated, organized and incredibly hard working. I loved working side by side with her--we were like two peas in our little pod. I miss you Rebecca! Had I know what the heck I was doing, I swear I would have helped you more. There's always next time . . .

6. Healthy Living with Chef AJ could never have been possible without the generosity of our entire community.

Did you know that the first six episodes of Healthy Living were funded by Chef AJ's personal savings? It's not like there are companies that want shows like this on the air. Big food doesn't exactly want people to eat a whole food plant based diet. So finding companies to fund healthy programming for television is near impossible!

Hats off to The Instant Pot Company for being the big corporate sponsor. The rest of the funding came from all of us! Chef AJ did an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the money to film these seven episodes. It really does take a village to get healthy programming on TV.

If anyone out there from The Vitamix Company is reading this blog posting, give me a call! We used your blender in every episode of the show and would love your support in making future episodes.

Chef AJ after one of the long days of shooting. 

We are all greatly in debt to Chef AJ for putting herself out there, spending her own time and money to educate the public about these issues and sharing her genius WFPB, SOS free recipes with all of us. She gets nothing but the personal satisfaction of a job well done for all of her efforts in the making of this show.

7. Healthy Living with Chef AJ could never have been possible without the generosity of all of the guest stars.

That's AJ with Sista Shayda. Shayda has lost over 100 pounds on UWL.

Each person who guest starred on an episode took time out of their busy work schedules to be there, travelling and flying in at their own expense and putting themselves up in hotels with no compensation. That is dedication to a cause. Feeling the passion that we all shared for spreading the word about the health benefits of a whole food plant based diet was awe inspiring.

Chef AJ with Dr. Roy Artal

The following is a list of folks who appeared in the episodes that we filmed:

Dr. Roy Artal, triple board certified plant based physician
Robert Cheeke, Vegan Body Builder
Ananda May Prohs, Fourth Degree Reiki Master
Lindsay Nixon of MealMentor, cookbook author and blogger at Happy Herbivore
Dr. Hans Diehl, founder of the CHIP program
Shayda Solemani who lost over 100 pounds on The Ultimate Weight Loss Program
Dr. Joel Kahn, America's Holistic Heart Doctor and he's opening up a WFPB restaurant in suburban Detroit next month!
Chef Eric LeChasseur owner of LA's Seed Kitchen (YUM!!!)
Linda Middlesworth of Vegan Mentor and owner of V-Dog
101 year old Dr. Ellsworth Wareham, who retired at age 95 from his career as a cardiothorasic surgeon
Dr. Alona Pulde, author of The Forks over Knives Plan, and her daughter Kylie

These ladies need no introduction.

8. A house without a pet is not a home.

I met a lot of cool people on the set of Healthy Living with Chef AJ, but perhaps my most memorable new relationship is with Bailey, AJ and Charles' new dog. The minute I arrived, it was like I was an old best friend. She even slept with me each night. AJ was so jealous!

9. I'll never take the red-eye home again.

This needs absolutely no explanation. I thought I could sleep sitting up in an uncomfortable chair simply because I brought a travel pillow with me? Why the heck did I do this to myself?

10. I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Like I mentioned, it wasn't glamorous. It was a lot of hard work, in the heat, with long hours. But I loved every last minute of it, and if given the opportunity to do it again I'd be jumping for joy.

I tasted the most delicious WFPB, SOS free recipes all weekend long. How do you beat that? 

But even more important was connecting with so many people who share the same passion as we all do--healthy eating and healthy living!

That's me all dolled up and ready to film my episode. 

Well, that's pretty much all I've got for today folks! I need a nap. And I've gotta run out and get the ingredients for that raw marinara I'm now craving . . .

Up next on HGK: Details on our next Ultimate Weight Loss (aka the fat sucking time machine) Challenge. (There might just be another giveaway.) Heal your brain and your body will follow!
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