Thursday, August 9, 2012
Cookbook author Rebecca Katz wants to shake up the seating chart at dinner.
“Great taste and great nutrition don’t sit at opposite sides of the table,” she says. “That’s the power of yum.”
The chef behind Cancer-Fighting Kitchen wants every morsel of her delicious dishes – like her cooling cucumber avocado soup or poached salmon with Moroccan pesto – to work for good.
“Nutrient dense,” she says. “Every ingredient counts and is doing something for your cells.”
And she wants to take what she learned as a private chef cooking for folks with chronic disease, then perfected at her Inner Cook culinary practice in the Bay Area – “I could see the effects that really good food was having on people I worked with” – and share it.
“I feel like a wizard,” she says. “I want to give everybody the power, the wand, the whatever! Look what it can do for our bodies. It’s amazing. I never get tired of this.”
If you’ve surmised this Marin-based chef has an extra helping of energy in her anatomy, you’re correct. Over the course of a couple of conversations, she squeals with delight at the thought that food is rooted in philosophy as much as nutrition (“It is an outlook! Food is our connection to life, right?!”). She swoons infectiously at the mention of her triple-citrus ginger black cod recipe (“Ooohhh – that’s one of my favorites – great with salmon too”). When CHOMP welcomes her to Monterey Peninsula College for two Saturday talks (and a whole mini-health festival) designed to show cancer survivors and their support circles the infinite ways food can help heal, that means audiences can expect her to put on an entertaining offensive against chronic disease.
“When we have a healthy connection to food, it really helps,” she says. “There’s a lot of joy in it – and when we’re dealing with something like cancer, which can rob us of taste, and rob us of healthy connections, the challenge becomes even greater as a cook. I take it really seriously, which is why I talk about yum and not just nutrition… At a time in your life when everything is upside down, one thing we have control over is what we eat and how it’s prepared.”
Not that she doesn’t have the scientific skills. She’s pored over a library’s worth of studies, building from them in each of her three books and through her work as a senior chef at Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Marin County. In 2007, she earned a master’s of science in nutrition.
“I did it to become a better culinary translator,” she says.
That features prominently in sections like Cancer-Fighting’s “Culinary Pharmacy,” where she lists healing properties of everything from anise and apples to walnuts and yogurt. Cinnamon acts as an appetite stimulant, digestion aid and anti-bacterial agent. Fennel inhibits the Nf-kBs that come with stress, radiation and antigens. And in case you needed another reason to love asparagus, it’s an anti-inflammatory rich in cancer-fighting nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin K and folic acid.
But even science as well-sourced and savvy as Katz’s can seem secondary when recipes like the curry cauliflower soup and stuffed acorn squash with quinoa and cranberries fill the imagination.
“I have the science, but the thing that happens when I do these books, when I’m at the stove,” she says, “is that I’m not thinking science. I’m using the right side of brain, looking at color, texture and taste.”
Her Cancer-Fighting chapters include “Nourishing Soups and Broths,” “Vital Vegetables,” “Protein-Building Foods,” “Tonics and Elixirs” and “Dollops of Yum!”; the tastes therein touch on velvety red lentil dahl, lemon mustard salmon salad, orange ginger roasted chicken and Wendy’s date nut truffles. (Visit www.mcweekly.com/edible for three recipes.)
The Saturday “Power of Yum” talks take place at 11am and 2pm (the 11am is full), with a noon picnic lunch in between, at Monterey Peninsula College’s Lecture Forum near the library, and include a rich slate of music, education, Hands of Hope and therapy dogs demos, patient art displays and a picnic lunch plus ice cream served by CHOMP physicians. The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen ($32.50) will be available there, and on Amazon.com and most bookstores.
Registration is required at www.chomp.org or 622-2844 – and there’s bad news and bad-and-good news with that. The bad news: Only cancer survivors and their supporters can attend. The bad-and-good news: In this day and age, that means just about everyone.
But there’s at least one non-negotiable good: the power of yum.
“People get so inundated with science and what they read, so much conflicting information,” Katz says. “There’s a lot of tension around food. I have to bring them back to the joy.”
•Fresh & Easy? More like Fresh & Teasy. After pulling out of the City Center in Seaside, the grocery chain is postponing its Monterey project on Del Monte Avenue in the old roller rink… indefinitely.
•Custom House Plaza, 1992. Those that showed for the first Monterey County Vintners & Growers Winemakers’ Celebration – Monterey County enjoyed maybe a third of the glorious grape juiciness that it does today – had to haul their own tables. Plenty has changed since then. What hasn’t changed between’92 and Saturday’s 20th annual, now at the Barnyard: The quality of the largely boutique wineries present: De Tierra, Paraiso, Pelerin, Morgan, Michaud, Figge, Puma Road and 33 others. The event runs 1-4pm ($35 in advance; $45 day of; $15 designated drivers); get more at 375-9400, www.montereywines.org.
• The Ice Box (622-9192) is now chillin’ across from the Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company at the Mid Valley Shopping Center 11am-6pm Monday through Saturday. They specialize in creative smoothies, like the ginger-heavy “Fruitilicious” strawberry-cantelope-banana number I had, and fruit juices like the earthy “Sweet Beet” beet-apple-carrot ($5/large). Frozen yogurt in three flavors too, and around 15 toppings ($3.50-$5.50 with unlimited toppers). The Box is brought to you by the same people behind nearby Athena Café (624-3056), where three new English Ales taps provide tasty accompaniment to the spanakopita ($10.95), falafels ($9.95) and moussaka ($14.95).
•Whole Foods Market Monterey (333-1600) celebrates the re-swanked hot food, bakery and cheese sections, among other evolutions, 10am-3pm Saturday, Aug. 11, with a free-sample-laden vendor fair, live music, MHS marching band and giant scissors cutting ribbon.
• As I reported last week, The Bench (800-654-9300) presents a beautiful space in the former Club XIX in Pebble Beach – the bar, the patio, the dining room and the open kitchen are all spectacular. Hopefully the food finds its way to a comparable place, because the dishes I tried at the soft opening ranged from the bizarre (a beautiful piece of wild salmon over torn-bread-and-heirloom-tomato salad with… a big lump of horseradish on top, $27) to the burnt (“charred” octopus, $15) to the biffed (a steak with a sweet sauce that dominated). But the burrata plate ($17), tomato-braised eggplant ($11), crafted cocktails ($12) and wines-from-the-tap ($10/glass) were excellent.
•Hyatt just announced they’re introducing an Alice Waters‘ kids menu.
• Great news from my top spot for authentic tacos (and queso Oaxaqueño), Taqueria Mi Tierra (394-0198), tucked discreetly in the back of the landmark Latino grocery in Seaside. In addition to the tastiest al pastor and chorizo tacos south of Salinas (and great super burritos, goat tacos and lengua tacos too), they’re now doing basa fish tacos ($1.50) and milanesa tortas ($4.99).
•Abalonetti Bar & Grill (373-1851) now offers its locals menu ($8.95) all day every day.
• Nothing like ordering heroin in front of out-of-town friends and your folks – “a small, please,” I added, so they wouldn’t worry too much. As it turned out, it was so damn good – thanks to ideal searing and a mulberry sauce to swear by – I had to have them try it too. As titles go, it’s a pretty good one for the addictive and illicit liver ($10-$16 “service fee”) Chef Michael Jones is doing at never-better Cachagua General Store (659-1857) Monday Night dinners. While somm Lee Lightfoot entertained, the braised-lamb-neck-stuffed peppers ($8), Syrah-braised short ribs ($18) and diver scallops with red-chile linguini amazed. Now to find the fucker who shot Jones’ dog.
• On the way out to CGS, the gang stopped by Cima Collina’s gorgeously redone milk barn tasting room (620-0645) in the former Carmel Valley Fish House. The wines still shine; the patio presents a prime summertime setting underneath the noble oak, and the $5 or $10 tastings are open for sippers’ selection – which means I got to try four different single-vineyard Pinots for a five-spot. Also grabbed a Howlin’ Good Red to take home (and boost the local SPCA) for $20.
•Weekly contributor Marielle Argueza shares insider Pizza My Way (643-1111) tips on the blog (www.mcweekly.com/edible). Two of the five: PMW now does bake-at-home, and the special zatar spread is incredible on pizza dough.
• Pints in the air: the Brewers Association that keeps an eye on the U.S.’s beer market reports small and independent craft brewers have seen a 14 percent lift in sales over the first half of 2012 and more breweries open than anytime since the early 1900s.
• My Tweepsies traveled with me in real time to The Bench, Mi Tierra and Bistro Moulin (333-1200) in the last few days. Follow along @MontereyMCA on Twitter for words and pics as I head south to L.A. Food & Wine this weekend to track local chefs, Monterey-based organizers Coastal Luxury Management and caviar calorie levels.
• Provence Bakery (521-9459), the superlative spot that gave Prunedale a patch of France – and inspired Weekly contributor Ulia Zettie to proclaim, “The almond croissant was to die for, a light, golden brown color that was dark and crisp around the edges due to the crystallization of the marzipan” – now has an outpost in Del Monte Center next to Subway near Victoria’s Secret. Seems the almond crossaint ($3) and the triple chocolate mousse ($3.50) are the best sellers so far, according to owner Greg Dangio.
• Moorish proverb: “He who fears something gives it power over him.”