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Atlanta chef Joe Truex offers healthy versions of the holiday dishes he grew up with.

Hosting loved ones during the hubbub of the holidays can be a challenge, even for professional chefs. Taking a lighthearted approach and letting good ingredients shine is the answer, says Joe Truex, executive chef at Watershed on Peachtree in Atlanta. "When I'm cooking at home, I want to make it fun and enjoy myself. I've learned to keep my menus simple -- and definitely seasonal."

Truex started cooking at an early age. Growing up in Louisiana influenced him. "There's such a rich food culture there, and I was always exposed to people who were interested in food."

Truex's mother, "a teacher and a wonderful cook," was one of those people. "I also had a well-off, retired aunt who lived in a house on our property in rural Louisiana," Truex says. "I was her favorite. She'd give me money to make her things like French toast and eggs."

After training at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and working in restaurants in Europe and across the U.S., Truex was ready to come home. "I saw the world," he says. "As a chef, I'm ready to embrace my roots and my heritage."

But he's a changed man (and chef), thanks to his experiences. "The first part of my life was traveling and being exposed to different cultures and points of view. As a chef, I like to reflect that experience in my cooking." As a result, his personal signature is giving familiar ingredients a creative twist. "And preparing them in a lighter way," he adds. "I don't eat the same way I used to, and cooking lighter is also important to me as a chef."

For the holidays, Truex offers a simple yet special menu, ideal for entertaining. "Pork is something that's familiar, and the brining process is easy but adds flavor. The mushroom fricassee is basically a stew that cooks along with the pork, and the pan drippings make the sauce," Truex says. Just pull it out of the oven and enjoy time with your guests, he says. That's what the holidays are all about.

"Roast pork is very classic and Southern. I love mushrooms with pork: The flavors complement each other so well," Truex says. "Brining the pork increases its flavor and moisture retention. I love that this dish has deep flavors but a light feel."

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