Chefs' Secrets for Healthier Cooking
4 top chefs share tips and recipes for lighter dishes that don't scrimp on taste and style.
'Such a Pretty Face'
From the time she was old enough to stand on a chair and touch a bowl, Devin
Alexander knew she loved to cook. She also knew she loved to eat. And by the
time she was teenager, she was packing on the pounds.
"I was the one who always heard 'You have such a pretty face – if only
you weren't so fat,' ", says Alexander, now a slim and celebrated Los
Angeles healthy eating chef and author of the new book Fast Food Fix.
It wasn't until she became an adult that healthy cooking entered her life.
"I decided there had to be a way I could enjoy food and not keep
gaining," she says.
After a stint in culinary school, she found it: A style of low-fat cooking
that not only helped her shed 55 pounds and keep it off for 12 years, but, as
executive chef of Café Renee Catering in Los Angeles, help others do the
The most important lesson she learned: That how you cook is as
important as what you cook.
"If you sprinkle a chicken breast with herbs and sear it in a pan on
medium heat, it's going to taste blah; take that same chicken breast and cook
it at high heat, and you'll seal in the flavors and bring out the spices, and
you'll end up with a dish that tastes entirely different and very
enjoyable," says Alexander.
She has a similar rule about cooking burgers: "People always say that
extra-lean burgers taste dry – so they don't eat them," she says. The
mistake here: "Squishing" the burger with a spatula to push out the
"You think you are squishing out the excess fat, but what you are really
squishing out is all the flavor and juices -- that's why it's dry and
tasteless," she says. Instead, let the burger cook naturally, and leave the
And yes, she says, buying extra-lean instead of lean makes a difference.
"One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is buying lean ground
turkey instead of extra lean -- the packages say 7% fat vs. 1% and
they think 6% can't be all that much difference, but it is," says
Alexander. Flip the package over, she says, and you'll see that extra-lean
turkey has 15 calories from fat, while the lean has 90 calories from fat.
That's almost half the calories in a serving.
Another tip: Get the right tools for the best healthy cooking job.
"Invest in an ultrafine shredder and you'll find you can cover more
surface with less cheese. You'll get flavor in every bite, but far fewer
calories," she says.
Other healthy kitchen essentials, she says, include a food scale (so you
know how big your portions really are); an olive oil sprayer, to add flavor
with minimum calories; and a mallet to tenderize low-fat meats.