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Ask a Chef
Join cooks with Books in March when we will be cooking the whole foods way. Make a dish to share, bring the recipe, and then ask questions fo our guest chef, Alex Russell.
About Cooks With Books
Cooks with Books is for people who enjoy researching, creating and sharing food. This book discussion group meets once a month and is facilitated by Bud Werner Library's Circulation Services Manager, Michelle Dover. Participants prepare a dish based on the month's theme and share it with the group. The group is open to anyone interested in participating, but is limited to 15 participants per meeting.
Ask a Chef Q and A
What are a few of your latest ingredient obsessions?
Ginger, I love ginger. It makes everything better with its spicy mouth coating zing its great in tea, soup, stir fry, yogurt, and just about anything you want to put it in including ginger coconut milk ice cream. Recently I made traditionally fermented sauerkraut. Half of the batch was flavored with ginger and the other half was flavored with turmeric and garlic. I haven't tasted it yet because it’s still fermenting but I'm sure it will be great balance of sour and spice. Not only does it taste awesome but ginger can help with a variety of health issues from the simple motion sickness to serious problems caused by inflammation like rheumatoid arthritis.
Swiss chard, I use daily in the winter due to its availability. It’s cheap; it’s got a lot of flavor and can be used in so many ways. I like to pull out the stems, and save them of course, and cut the greens up into 1 inch wide strips for salads with a strong flavor. If you cut the stem off at the bottom of the leaf and blanch it for ten seconds it will makes a great substitute for a tortilla when making for a grain free wrap. Of course you can always lightly steam it and put some coconut oil and lemon or ginger juice on there for a simple easy side dish. I eat heaps of this in the winter because it’s rich in carotenes that the body converts to vitamin A, a major determinant of immune function.
Coconuts, this isn't really that recent of an obsession it just has gotten stronger lately. There are so many products that are made from coconuts that are awesome: coconut milk, oil, butter, vinegar, meat and flakes, sugar, raw kefir, coconut water. I use coconut oil for everything in and outside the kitchen, from frying eggs and sautéing vegetables to covering cuts and scrapes and moisturizing my skin. For any one who doesn't do dairy, coconut milk is my absolute milk of choice and is not altered or damaged unlike other milks when exposed to heat. I will use at least one if not more coconut products every day; easily it is my favorite nut.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I am first and foremost a lover of happiness and I love, love, love to make others happy. If I can make people happy and improve their health all in one blow by making them delicious, health supportive meals then I’ll be smiling all day and night. Not only that but as Whole Foods Natural Chef and Nutrition Educator, I really get a kick out of teaching people how to better themselves through food and natural living. With all the misinformation that is out there on the web and in the media I take solace in the fact that I am providing people with science based methods to improve their health with nutrition.
What is your favorite meal to prepare that gets the approval of a diverse group?
Wow that’s tough, people can be so picky about what they eat these days with vegetarian and paleo diets so popular it’s hard to pinpoint on meal that works well for everyone. One meal that I have had enormous success with from SSHS students to New York City foodies is my spin on a classic Middle Eastern dinner consisting of spiced tomato red lentils, brown rice pilaf, and a green salad with a lemon citronette. It’s a simple meal that covers a wide variety of flavors and textures from spicy with the lentils to savory with the rice and bitter and crunchy with the salad greens and vegetables. Honestly my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
What are a few unexpected ingredients that you use to add more pizzazz salads and vegetable dishes?
First of all pizzazz what a funny word, its like pizza that just keeps going. But seriously, I think cayenne pepper can really heat up a salad, not a lot, just a pinch in the dressing or sprinkled on the greens to round out the flavors of the salad can give it that absent Je ne sais quoi. Nutritional yeast is must for any salad I make for vegans; it adds a great nutty and cheesy flavor and is basically B vitamins and protein. I think it goes well on vegetable dishes like ratatouille, sautés, and steamed vegetables as well. Arame, a sea vegetable, dried and ground makes a great salt substitute and can really enhance starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squashes as well as other vegetables.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
When I found out that cooking was way more fun that washing dishes, but really it was an evolution. I started cooking in restaurants at 15 and was ready to stop cooking after working in a pastry shop; I just had burnt out on the modern cuisine of highly processed foods. It wasn't until I went to Bauman College that I fell back in love with food, whole foods, and with cooking for people. It really helped me remember why I was doing it in the first place, to make people feel good, nurture them, and enhance their lives.