Chefs Make the Best Thieves!

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This guest post was written by type 2 diabetic and chef Ward Alper. It originally appeared on his website, The Decadent Diabetic, and was republished on Information About Diabetes with permission.

At 8 years old, I started peeling potatoes at my father’s restaurant. By the time I was 12, I was the weekend prep chef (illegal for my father to take me out of school at such a young age). By age 14, I was the weekend sous chef. My career in cooking was well on its way. The problem was I hated it. You all know the expression "If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." For reasons too complicated to explain here, I got out of the kitchen, hopefully never to return.

It wasn’t until the late '70s that I went back into the restaurant business I hated as a kid – this time as a manager and nowhere near the kitchen, or so I thought. I was out front, dealing with food as a product to be romanced and sold, not unlike a pair of slacks. For any of you who have worked in a restaurant, you know that like it or not, the kitchen calls – no, it screams. It is one of the businesses sure to have a new disaster each week. Often it is the chef going AWOL or just plain nuts. So cooking again once in a while became part of my job. Once in a while, was OK. Not what I had planned, but OK. It had to get done, but there was no joy in it for me.

Drawing Inspiration from Celebrity Chefs

Weird as it may seem for someone who is in the food business, I found myself watching cooking shows for relaxation. Hey, they were doing all the work, and I was sitting, watching with my cup of coffee in hand. If it was hot, an iced tea.

Then there was Mrs. Julia Child. Her show was part extreme cooking, part just plain fun. (The peep of raw chickens is indelibly imprinted on my brain.) From Julia Child, I picked up many new techniques and a few great recipes. There are no better thieves than chefs. But also a little touch of joy in what cooking was about. Today there are dozens of television chefs. I still watch some of them. I tip my hat to them for what they do and what they teach me:

  • Tyler Florence: His simple technique frothing hot milk with an immersion blender and spooning over your coffee, thus turning a good cup into something special and indulgent. True, I only do this on the weekend when I really need to indulge myself.
  • Giada de Laurentis: Her straightforward approach to cooking. She adds her style and memories of eating to everything she does by using ingredients that have an Italian flair and using the memories of childhood to make things uniquely her own. Her Ricotta Cappuccino cups were the inspiration for my Double Chocolate Ricotta Crème. I played on her idea and made it a sumptuous, diabetic-compatible dessert. The experience of my time in Cannes with this bowl of chocolate mousse added my memories and style to her dish. Heck, I even stole from myself taking MY chocolate recipe and making it in vanilla-almond and this last week a raspberry crème.
  • Pierre Franey: This great chef from New York City’s fabulous Le Pavilion did a weekly New York Times food column called The 30-minute Gourmet. His simple and flavorful method for preparing rice in 17 minutes flat forever changed the way I cooked rice, but also the way I looked at rice as a side dish. My memories from childhood were this thick “glumpy” stuff on the plate meant solely to sop up any gravy. After Pierre, rice became my go-to, lighter-than-air accompaniment to most of my dishes. It is this rice that I miss so much (but "riced" cauliflower is a great replacement). Although for a treat, I do a very small amount of real rice and wish for more.
  • Ina Garten: Here is this lady with a similar family food heritage as mine (was she 17 before she saw her first fresh broccoli?) using everything she learned by doing and thinking on her feet, while running an already established food business. She kept making new and fabulous foods, while not losing touch with the favorite flavors of her husband she loves. She has taken her husband’s palate and expanded it (and ours) to new heights. But she is a realist too. She will tell you, as I do, to find a couple of recipes and learn to make them well. After that, apply them to other foods. What you do for steak, you can do for chicken or lamb and sometimes even fish.

So to Julia Child, Tyler Florence, Giada de Laurentis, Pierre Franey, and Ina Garten, I tip my hat in gratitude and hope that as you inspired me and brought joy back into my kitchen, I can inspire some people with diabetes to be better, more adventurous cooks and bring some joy back to their kitchen and their tables, and if food is love, back into their lives.

Enjoy, be happy, be Healthy, BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's Simply Decadent Weekend Coffee recipe!

Get more nutrition tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.

Photo credit: K.I.T. on Flickr