America Cooks With Chefs – our partnership with the James Beard Foundation – is a health and wellness movement connecting Americans with celebrity chefs. The six pairs of celebrity chefs and contestants came together at the Health Matters Annual Activation Summit in January 2015 where they tested their healthy cooking skills in a live tasting challenge. Health Matters Summit conference attendees voted on their favorite dish and selected Victoria Phillips and Chef Tony Mantuano as the winners. Victoria reflects on her experience below.
As a working mom of two small children, I often find the evening hours to be a busier time of day than the entire workday! Get home, get the kids fed, homework, bath, bedtime – it’s a jam-packed routine that has to be finished in just a couple of hours. Add picky eaters to the mix and the nightly routine just got tougher. To make it work, I had been preparing two dinners every night – a quick one for the kids that includes foods I know they will eat, such as pizza, mac and cheese, frozen chicken nuggets and then a more interesting meal for my husband and I to eat after the kids are in bed. This double dinner service every night was exhausting, my kids weren’t eating enough healthy foods and we weren’t eating together as a family.
This past fall, I was able to meet and spend a day with Chef Tony Mantuano at his restaurant Spiaggia in Chicago. I described my situation to Tony, who taught me how to create a weeknight meal that is quick and simple to cook, balanced, healthy and incredibly delicious. We made seared salmon on a warm pasta salad of Barilla® orecchiette, fresh zucchini, cherry tomatoes and basil. This was such a fantastic opportunity – how often do you get to learn healthy and family-friendly cooking tips from a master chef?
Here are just a few of the things I learned:
Using a non-stick pan means you can use less oil. Put a little oil directly on the fish instead of swirling oil in the pan.
Keep the skin on the fish while cooking for maximum flavor – put it in a pan with a tight-fitting lid (skin side up) and when it’s done cooking, the skin will peel off effortlessly.
Toss out your cooking oils after three months – they will go rancid!
Involve your kids in the cooking process – let them tear the basil or smash the garlic with a spoon – little ones will think this is super fun! Older kids can help chop veggies.
Build a meal around something you know your kids will like (pasta, in this case) and add new ingredients to it to ease them into trying something different.
Tony and I met up again in Palm Springs, California, for the 2015 Clinton Foundation Health Matters Activation Summit last week, where we shared our dish with the event attendees. Among the six other chef-contestant pairs of competitors, our dish was chosen as the favorite! We were thrilled to be crowned the winners. It is so great to know that fresh, healthy ingredients can really shine in a quick and simple dish that people enjoy.
Not only was this competition an amazing experience, it also signaled a change for my family. We are now developing weekly meal plans with the goal of eating together as a family 3 to 4 nights a week. The meals we choose follow the basic idea of building a dish around an ingredient that the kids love and then adding new things to it. This has been working really well for us. And as for the salmon and pasta dish? It is now in regular rotation at our house!
Check out the America Cooks With Chefs Chicago episode with Victoria: