I have been involved in food and cooking most of my life! I’ve walked many paths during this culinary journey. I transformed myself from being an interested amateur ‘foodie’ to a professional chef. I’ve explored different food cultures. I’ve ate and cooked a lot of meat and fish. I’ve grown my own vegetables and fruit. I’ve been a vegetarian, carnivore, omnivore, fish-eating vegan, and a more traditional plant-based vegan. I’ve worked for some talented and knowledgeable Chefs in high-end restaurants in Switzerland, Italy, and France. I’ve taught about cooking. I’ve written about food. And throughout this fascinating journey, I feel essentially the same about cooking; it should provide an endless source of pleasure that sustains the mind, body, and spirit. Cooking and food is my life and my craft. It is how I express myself to the world.
This electronic cookbook project represents my newest stop on this culinary journey. It provides me with a platform from which I can enthusiastically share what I’ve learned. It is how I want to honestly express myself to you. It’s me – and all I’ve learned and experienced – sharing with you! But, I don’t want this project to reflect me. I want the spotlight to shine on the food, the cooking techniques, and the beautiful ingredients filling our natural world. I want to embrace a new era in how we collectively eat and think about our food…and perhaps play a small role in helping you obtain a fresh attitude in food and cooking.
A Brief Look at the Past…
My history is mostly rooted in memories from my childhood. My Moroccan mother clearly influenced me in terms of food and cooking. I was lucky to experience different food and flavors at such an early age. I’m sure most of my friends never ate a proper couscous (or even knew what it was), köfte fresh off the grill, or freshly baked brik wrapped in crispy thin phyllo dough. I’m certain I was the only one in my class who looked forward to coming home and attacking a loaf of freshly baked bread. My father even taught me how to plant seeds in a small strip of our backyard…and who can forget the taste of a fresh radish grown from a seed you planted? But, these early food experiences weren’t the most important lessons I absorbed. I learned about the culture of eating during celebrations and holidays. We had feasts! I recall a household full of people and food, and my mother being at the center of it all. I witnessed the power of food and how it brings people together. I learned how the simple act of cooking what you have and sharing it with others filled the house with happiness. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, a seed was planted deep inside my soul. Eventually, that seed would germinate and grow and I would pursue a professional career in cooking – and hopefully fill my life with happiness!
I spent many years pursuing a career in telecommunications before that seed deep inside of me finally germinated. But during that time, my interest in food and cooking continued to evolve. I was lucky enough to witness first-hand the ‘California Cuisine’ revolution originating out of Berkeley, California. I started to pay attention to food trends and that led me to my first brush with vegetarianism. Cutting meat out of my diet was a huge thing back then, and most of my friends and family mocked my decision. But, I remained committed to the diet for 2 years. The experience gave me a new appreciation for vegetables and fresh food.
I finally had enough of corporate life after 10 years. It was now time for me to throw some water on that seed and let it grow. So, I sold everything I owned and headed off to culinary school on the other side of the States. The two-year program I attended was an intense period of learning about food, cooking professionally in a restaurant environment, and seeing up close and personal how the professional world worked. It wasn’t always positive. I quickly discovered not everyone shared my passion for food. I also learned this was not a world for vegans. Fat – mostly butter – was a good thing. More fat, was even better. Huge portions of expensive meat or fish were lathered in fat and alternatives were rarely discussed. That’s just how it was if you wanted to get a classic culinary education.
With my culinary degree sorted, it was time to head off to Europe and get some professional restaurant experience. When I think about that period in my life, I realize I headed off into a world I was not fully prepared to enter. I never considered what I wanted to do with my degree and experience – I just knew I wanted to cook and make people happy when they tasted my food. What I failed to realize is how seldom you get to see customers when you are working in a professional kitchen. But, not all was lost during my times cooking in Switzerland, France, and Italy. I worked for an amazing chef in Zürich who taught me about seasonality – he even embraced vegetarians (vegans were another story)! Working in Italy taught me more about ingredients. I learned how to prepare elegantly-simple food – food that spoke louder than the chef. My French experience was short-lived. I only worked in one restaurant, but I saw the ugly side of top end restaurants. I started to think this was not the business I wanted to pursue.
It took me a year or two, but I finally made another transition and opened a business with my wife and partner. Silvia encouraged me to begin teaching others about cooking and food, something I never really considered. I quickly learned this was something I enjoyed…a lot as it turned out. But most importantly, teaching reminded me of how food can bring people together.
Then life threw me a curveball…and everything changed in the blink of an eye during a warm summer day. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few weeks later, which was, of course, terrifying. I initially thought this was a huge problem, but my research immediately changed my perspective and I realized I had an adventure. I discovered Dr. Roy Swank’s work and suddenly a lightbulb went off inside my head. His work basically told me diet could change the progression of MS by eliminating most saturated fats. Then, I came across the work of Professor George Jelinek – an emergency medicine doctor and expert researcher who also has MS. His work took Dr. Swank’s earlier work and went a bit further by eliminating harmful fats, adding daily doses of Omega 3 fatty acids, and including other lifestyle changes. This all made sense to me and I was quickly on board. Suddenly, having MS gave me a new purpose in cooking and I dedicated myself to learning all I could about healthy eating habits (supported by science). I studied experts like Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Michael Greger. I read as much as I could to understand the health benefits of a plant-based diet. And, I started experimenting with my own cooking. I converted favorite recipes of mine from the past – and that was fun and satisfying. I developed new recipes as I began to learn new ideas in cooking. I even earned a professional certificate in plant-based cooking.
So now I think I have gathered enough insight, knowledge, and experience to confidently share what I know with you in this electronic cookbook format. Taking on this project represents a great personal challenge…something I am eager to embrace.
As you go through this electronic cookbook and try out some of the recipes, I hope the ideas in your own head will inspire you and allow those thoughts to blossom in relation to your own tastes. I hope your confidence will grow as you gather new ideas in techniques and become comfortable in your knowledge of ingredients. Most of all, I hope this project will bring lasting joy to you…
Now…let’s get cooking!