Healthy Cooking Secrets from Celebrity Chefs

Star chefs share cooking tips and healthy recipes.

From the WebMD Archives

It seems the latest category of superstar in America is the celebrity chef. The popularity of food shows, restaurants, and cookbooks masterminded by our favorite celebrity chefs shows no sign of waning.

With that in mind, WebMD took this question to several star chefs: Do you have any secrets to pass on to those of us at home hoping to cook and eat more healthy foods?

The good news, experts say, is that one of the easiest ways to change your eating habits is to start cooking more at home. Healthier eating starts in the kitchen, where you control the ingredients, the preparation, and the serving size.

In fact, one celebrity chef -- Ellie Krieger, host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite -- has made healthy and delicious cooking her life's work.

"As you become more adventurous in the kitchen, you will quickly learn that healthy food can be delicious once you master simple techniques and become more familiar with testing recipes and ingredients," she says.

Here are tips from several celebrity chefs to demystify cooking and help you become a healthier cook.

Celebrity Chef Tip No. 1: Look for Inspiration

Emeril Lagasse, famed for his restaurants, cookbooks, and cooking shows, attributes his success to his mentors.

"Throughout my career, there have been so many people who have inspired me, such as chefs Alice Waters, Charlie Trotter, and Mario Batali. But beyond chefs, restaurateur Ella Brennan taught me how to lead by talent and hard work, leaving my ego behind," he says. "If you find someone or something that inspires you, it will give you the support to be adventurous and bring your culinary skills to another level."

Your own inspiration might come from cooking shows, cookbooks, or great cooks you know personally.

Anne Quatrano, chef and co-owner of three restaurants, including the top-rated Bacchanalia in Atlanta, says she drew inspiration for her culinary skills from her grandmother and great-aunt.

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Celebrity Chef Tip No. 2: Choose Great Ingredients

Great ingredients make great food. Your ingredients don't have to be expensive, just fresh and of good quality, says Lagasse.

Quatrano creates dishes that star local, organic produce because, she says, "fresh ingredients need less manipulation."

At the renowned Blackberry Farm retreat in Tennessee, chef Josh Feathers credits the award-winning cuisine to the organization's commitment to sustainable, local, and fresh foods.

"We plan our menus farm-to-table around what we can grow seasonally on the property and the end product is incredibly delicious," says Feathers.

Celebrity Chef Tip No. 3: Be Passionate About Food

"When you have passion for food, you can take it to the next level of 'wow' food," Lagasse says.

Celebrity Chef Tip No. 4: Stock Your Kitchen with Essential Ingredients and Tools

Great chefs can make a meal out of almost anything. Witness the Iron Chef TV show, in which chefs are given a group of ingredients to prepare without the help of recipes.

If you want to be creative, start by having good, basic ingredients on hand in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.

You also need the right tools, including a good set of pots, pans, knives, and cutting boards, say the experts.

Celebrity Chef Tip No. 5: Keep it Simple

Some of the best dishes are made up of just a few well-prepared ingredients.

"Don’t be apprehensive about trying simple preparations that let the ingredients shine, especially if you buy what is local and fresh," says Quatrano, who with her husband, Clifford Harrison, won "best new chefs" honors from Food and Wine magazine.

Krieger’s suggestion: "Select five dinner meals that look appealing, doable, and simple to get started. Once you've mastered these, add in another recipe to start to build a repertoire of recipes you love."

Celebrity Chef Tip No. 6: Make it Your Own

Individualize your recipes and meals to suit your palate. For example, there are a hundred ways to make onion soup; you can experiment with stocks, herbs, types of onions, and cooking techniques to make it your own.

Rich Tromonto, the Chicago restaurateur who is a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef show, says he takes great pride in developing new recipes, and making sure his staff can duplicate them consistently.

Remember, cooking is all about experimenting, so don’t get discouraged if your recipe is not up to par the first time around. Just step back and think how you could make it better next time, say the experts.

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Celebrity Chefs’ Recipes

Ready to hit the kitchen? Lagasse and Krieger shared three easy-to-prepare recipes with gourmet results.

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)

Two 14.5-ounce cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with their juices

1⁄4 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon finely minced fresh dill

11/4 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 3 ounces)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Heat the oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 minutes, until the tomato juices thicken.
  4. Remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, and shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the feta over the top. Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and the cheese melts, about 12 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal one serving as "1 frozen dinner light".

Nutrition Information: Per serving: 295 calories, 10.5 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 34 g protein, 12 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 235 mg cholesterol, 645 m sodium.

Recipe from The Food You Crave (Taunton, 2008). Republished with permission.

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Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan Curls

Ingredients:

1 spaghetti squash

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved with vegetable peeler

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Drizzle cut side with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Place squash, cut side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Remove squash from oven and cool slightly, to handle. Into a bowl, shred the inside of the squash with fork to resemble spaghetti. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and top with curls of Parmesan cheese. Serve warm.

Yield: 2 entrée or 4 side servings

Nutrition Information: Per serving: 184 calories, 4 g protein, 8.5 g carbohydrate, 16 g fat, 3.4 g saturated fat, 7.5 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 113 mg sodium.

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 serving vegetables with sauce, gratin or fried +1 serving vegetables without fat.

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Republished with permission.

Grilled Peaches with Red Wine Syrup

Ingredients:

1 750 ml Sangiovese or other dry red wine

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped (beans reserved)

1/3 cup sugar

6 large ripe peaches, halved and pits removed

Vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

  1. Preheat a grill to medium high.
  2. Place the peaches, skin-side down, onto the grill and cook until lightly charred, 5-7 minutes, depending on the grill. Turn peaches over and continue to grill for and additional 2 minutes.
  3. Combine wine, rosemary, vanilla bean and seeds and sugar in a 2 quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes, until slightly reduced and the flavors combine. Transfer the peaches to saucepan and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Let peaches cool in wine syrup.
  4. Serve in a bowl with strained syrup and ice cream if desired.

Yield: 6 servings

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 3 servings fresh fruit.

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Nutrition information: Per serving (not including ice cream): 217 calories, 2 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, .4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 5 mg sodium.

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc . Republished with permission.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 02, 2009

Sources

SOURCES:

Rick Tromonto, chef; owner, Cenitare restaurants, Chicago.

Emeril Lagasse, chef; owner, Emeril’s restaurants; author, From Emeril's Kitchens: Favorite Recipes from Emeril's Restaurant, New Orleans.

Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, host, Food Network’s Healthy Appetite; author, Foods you Crave.

Josh Feathers, executive chef, Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.

Anne Quatrano, co-chef and co-owner, Bacchanalia, Quinones, Star Provisions, and Floataway Cafe, Atlanta.

Rick Tromonto, chef; judge, Top Chef TV show; owner, Cenitare restaurants, Chicago.

© 2009 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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