You’ve probably noticed it in grocery stores and restaurants…a trend toward healthier food offerings with fewer calories, less fat and less sugar. As part of the changing food scene in America, chefs in training are learning how to make dishes that are good for you taste good.
One of the first things you notice when you walk into San Antonio’s Culinary Institute of America is the smell.
It’s a fantastic odor of mouth-watering dishes concocted by chefs in training.
The 130 students from all across America and all over the world spend 21 months learning the basics and the finer points of creating edible delights.
"We look at different ways to manipulate food," explained Chef Howie Velie, Director of Education at the CIA campus at the Pearl.
He said healthy cooking used to come and go as food trends changed. Now, though, he thinks it’s here to stay. "People are more conscious about organics, sort of, where your food comes from," Velie stated. "More and more it’s less trendy and more a part of the mainstream."
On the day Texas Public Radio visited, students were running raw meat through a grinder, prepping the beef for a recipe. Chef Velie says other countries in Asia and South America don’t rely as much on meat as the centerpiece of their meals. And, he says, many people in those parts of the world are thinner and healthier for it.
"Meat plays a lot less of a role," Velie said. "It’s more a bit player in the orchestra of food than a soloist. In the U.S., it’s more of a soloist."
Chef-in-training Sofia Sada from Monterrey, Mexico, says her home country’s most famous dishes boast a lot of calories. "Everything is lard," Sada emphasized, "a lot of frying."
But Sada said she’s learning to cook up traditional meals with replacements, like substituting a different kind of oil for animal fat. "
You can even make tamales with coconut oil instead of using lard," she said. "And they come out pretty good, pretty tropical."
"Everyone’s dream is to run a restaurant," commented Army Staff Sergeant Adam Berry. Before he pursues his dream, he’s part of a military program that trains chefs at the CIA and then sends them to Fort Lee Virginia where they spread their knowledge to other Army cooks.
"We have to be fit to fight," Berry said. "We do a lot of exercising, a lot of running, a lot of push-ups and sit-ups. And we need healthy food to refuel."
In the school run restaurant called NAO – Latin for current – a budding chef was making up a Mojo marinade, a citrus mixture of lemons, oranges and limes.
As part of their rotation through the program, students learn to serve authentic Latin cuisine with changing seasonal offerings.
But it’s not just future chefs training at the CIA. The school hosts food enthusiast classes and healthy cooking boot camps anyone can attend. The CIA helped build teaching kitchens at the Children’s Hospital and the Botanical Gardens. Plus, the Institute publishes Healthy Eating Cookbooks.
Chef Velie said in a culture where family recipes aren’t often passed down anymore and eating fast, processed food is the norm, improving the quality of chef-cooked meals is important. "If you can make people happy and also make them feel good physically, that’s a wonderful thing," he stated.
With Americans spending more money dining out than buying groceries, catering to a craving for healthier options is good business.