Walnut Week: Google Chef Charlie Ayers Talks Healthy Cooking

All this week, I’m dedicating my blogs to walnuts. If you’ve missed the content so far, be sure to catch up. You can find out what fitness guru Petra Kolber thinks you should do to stay energized this summer, and read about the latest research on the health benefits of walnuts.

This interview is with chef Charlie Ayers, former chef at Google, author of the book “Food 2.0” and member of the California Walnuts Chefs Council, a group working to make restaurant meals healthy and delicious at the same time. Read what he has to say about healthy cooking and check out his healthy recipe using walnuts: Walnutty Egg and Bell Pepper Gratin.

1. As a restaurant chef, what is essential for creating healthier menu options? Whether it is swapping out butter for a healthier oil, or lower fat dairy, etc., how do you keep high-taste intact while still offering healthful options?

It is important to give your guests compelling flavor profiles, so that they are satisfied and not missing the added fats that are normally associated with restaurant foods. We tend to use a lot of ingredients that are versatile and can be either applied to Latin American or Asian cuisines. We make all of our own dressings; our ketchup is made in-house with no high fructose corn syrup, and instead use an organic brown sugar in small amounts as a sweetener. I try not to use added fats when working with product that already has a naturally high fat content, and I try and bring out the flavors of the foods with the combination of using fruit and vegetable juices instead of adding additional fats.

2. In regards to restaurant health, taking healthy foods into the restaurants, what would be the essential first steps to going towards a healthier menu?

By using more grains, legumes, leafy greens and nuts, versus always getting proteins from animals.

3. In regards to ingredient choice, portion control and nutrition—relying on high-quality, great tasting ingredients such as seasonal produce, whole grains, lean meats and pantry staples such as walnuts and olive oil is important. What are some concepts applicable to the industry that are useful for food service and home cooks?

Using flavorful spices that you might not normally pick up and use, for example curries, celery root, saffron, creating your own peppercorn blend and/or herbed salts. Using proteins such as nuts, legumes and quinoa.

4.What would you consider the largest mistake consumers make when ordering food at a restaurant and cooking at home?

At restaurants, it’s not reading the menu properly and realizing that spicy really is spicy, or that tempura is fried. When cooking at home, it’s not seasoning their food properly, you can do wonders with a little salt and pepper.

5. What is one thing consumers can do to make eating and cooking choices healthier?

By being a little bit more adventurous when it comes to trying different flavor profiles, you can have flavor without having to add fat.

What is one ingredient that can help?

A little salt.

7.  From the institutional perspective, how are healthy menu options offered, and which are the most well-received?

When I was at Google, two of the most popular healthful dishes were the mahogany salmon and tofu lentil loaf, which we serve at Calafia today.

8. What are some of the flavor profiles which people are most attracted to?

At Google the most popular flavors were the east Asian and Asian flavors, this is true at Calafia as well. People also love Latin flavor dishes, as well as our vegan and vegetarian dishes.

Also read:

Walnuts Pack a Nutritional Punch

Walnut Week: Energizing Tips for Exercisers

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