For Marnie Melsted, learning to eat right isn't about picking up the latest trendy recipe book from your local Chapters, or mimicking your favourite celebrity chef on some overproduced Food Network show.
Nope, for the personal chef, registered dietician and caterer, the only way to show someone how to eat a healthy and delicious diet is for them experience it with each of their senses.
"I'm really into hands-on cooking courses. That's really what it's all about," said Melsted. "You can talk to people up the ying-yang about food, but it's not until they see it, taste it and touch it that it actually clicks."
Coming up through the culinary management program at George Brown Culinary Institute in Toronto, Melsted would eventually go on to complete her four-year degree in food nutrition at UBC, a time that helped forge her current approach to cooking.
"I always come with a healthy perspective on what I'm doing," she said. "Lots of fruits and vegetables, and everything starts from whole, fresh foods. Of course I use organic as much as I can, and definitely local as well."
Melsted is something of a culinary jack-of-all-trades, whether she's crafting a customized menu for one of her clients, or cooking three meals a day for 150 famished skiers. But one constant in Melsted's eclectic career is her constant fight against the misperception that you have to sacrifice flavour when eating healthy, nourishing food.
"I prove people wrong with this all the time because I start with really simple ingredients and I'm able to make them taste really good, and most people really love it," she said. "All it comes down to is using lots of fresh herbs and citrus, nice oils, like avocado oils and walnut oils, and just keeping things simple."
Most home cooks have a tendency to overcomplicate things, Melsted said, but a quick dash of fresh herbs such as parsley or chives is often all you need to give a dish the vibrancy and flavour it needs.
"People ask, 'Oh, what's in this? It tastes so good and fresh.' But it's just lemon and parsley — that's my secret ingredient. Keep it simple, keep it fresh," she added.
Underseasoning is another all-too common problem Melsted has encountered, often because people are afraid to add too much sodium to their diets. But if you're staying away from processed food and using only fresh, whole ingredients, then you shouldn't be afraid to break out the salt shaker if need be.
"Even though we're really health conscious right now, with heart-healthy (diets) and sodium use, you still need to add salt just to give something flavour," she explained. "We know that 75 per cent of Canadians' salt intake comes from processed foods, so the other 25 per cent is just the stuff you're adding to fresh, whole ingredients. It's really not a problem when you're just sprinkling it on or adding it to your cooking."
On top of Melsted's personal chef and nutritional consulting work, she regularly feeds some of Canada's top winter athletes at the Whistler Athletes Centre. What that means is she has to be acutely aware of the rigorous demands of various sports, ensuring she's providing athletes with the fuel they need to train and compete at the highest levels.
"(My approach) depends on the type of sport these athletes are doing," said Melsted. "Say for instance, I'm serving a Nordic cross-country skier; they expend a lot of energy, so they're more into a carbohydrate-heavy meal with lots of calories. Then of course, some of the stronger athletes, like the men's freestyle ski team or the Canadian bobsled team, they're big guys and they eat a lot of protein. So they're eating like three or four times more protein than the average person. Their menu would be super heavy protein with lots of high fibre and fruits and vegetables."
So, whether you're a 250-pound bobsleigh driver, or a busy Whistler local without the time to cook nutritious meals on your own, Melsted can help. Beyond catering for all event types, Melsted offers personal chef services and nutritional consulting across the Sea to Sky, as well as meal deliveries straight from her kitchen to your front door. Visit www.marniescooking.com for more information.
Organic Chicken Liver Pate with Chanterelles
Prep time: 30min Makes 2 ½ cups
2 cups fresh Chanterelle mushrooms roughly chopped (substitute Chanterelles with any of your favorite mushroom)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole large shallots, diced
2 teaspoon fresh thyme, leaves
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound organic chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed (Nesters often carries organic livers)
1 cup white wine
In a large skillet (preferably a nicely seasoned cast iron pan), heat 1 1/2 teaspoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil over medium. Add mushrooms 1 cup at a time, and cook until browned. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft (10 minutes). Add thyme, salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes. (If mixture is dry or begins to overbrown, add up to 2 tablespoons water). Transfer mixture into a food processor.
Return skillet to medium-high, add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons butter and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Pat livers dry with paper towels. Season livers with salt and pepper and add to skillet. Cook until golden brown on all sides (6 minutes). Add wine and reduce by half. Transfer livers to processor and pulse, scraping down sides as needed until mixture is mostly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and let cool. Transfer pate to a small bowl and serve at room temperature with a fresh sliced Pure Bread baguette.
This recipe is super easy and sure to please — it works great as an appetizer or sandwich spread. Don't be afraid of chicken liver! It is mild but still offers a nice rich flavour in this dish. Liver is super healthy, providing 100% of your daily folate and B12 needs, in just 3 tablespoons. It's also high in Vitamin A, C, Iron and Selenium. Chicken liver is often called Nature's Multivitamin.
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