There's an incredible nutrition and cooking school in Manhattan called Natural Gourmet Institute, whose NYC-based program teaches students to craft culinary masterpiece out of real, wholesome, nourishing food. We're talking sustainable, organic, local ingredients arranged into balanced meals that not only please but heal the body. NGI speaks to me on so many levels. It takes some of the terror out of cooking and the confusion out of nutrition. It encourages using whole ingredients. It promotes the benefits of food as medicine, preemptively and proactively. It sources its ingredients from local farms with an emphasis on seasonality. In short, I'd move in in a second if I could. :)
As part of their course work, students present dinners to the public each week, hosting a few dozen guests at NGI for a carefully crafted vegetarian meal. The menu changes each week and is accompanied by a Q&A from the chefs following the meal. Last week, Michael and I were lucky enough to attend one of these Friday Night Dinners. We sat with the CEO of the Institute, Anthony Fassio, also the Chair of Slow Food NYC, a culinary expert and a real proponent of shifting Americas food culture to one focused on long term human and environmental health. We also chatted with Susan Baldassano, the Director of the Chef's Training Program. She, too, has a keen sense of how these chefs are training to change lives. "They're not just in this to make pretty food," she told me. "They come here because they want to help heal people."
Friday evening, we were treated to a summertime feast, featuring gorgeous veggies from local farms. Much of what NGI sources comes from small farms and the NYC Greenmarkets, so it's nice to know its trip to the table was a short one. (Lowering carbon footprints one bite at a time!) The entire three-course meal was also vegan and gluten free, which I appreciated.
As an appetizer, we were tested to freshly made gluten free baguette toasts with cashew cream and fresh peas, alongside a chilled cucumber gazpacho. The addition of little bits of apple to the gazpacho was genius: such a yummy way to add texture without having to go the crouton route.
The entree featured kebabs with crispy and aged tofu, summer veggies (peppers, mushrooms and onion) with a homemade cherry chipotle barbecue sauce, quinoa pilaf with fresh corn and a ridiculously yummy kale salad with avocado dressing. I'm not sure how they got the kale so silky smooth, but it was amazing.
For dessert, a rare occurrence in my I Quit Sugar-y lifestyle (but one I figured I could justify at this particular dinner because of the great quality and the intentionality of the sugar included. (I didn't doubt that unnecessary sweetness would be avoided or that unbalancing white sugar would be used; the founder's books (see below) focus on natural sweeteners like brown rice syrup, honey and maple syrup.) We indulged in coconut ice cream sandwiched in cardamom cookies with peach and apricot compote and mint sauce. It was heavenly.
What I found most wonderful about this meal - carefully planned, cooked and constructed by a small group of chefs in the professional program - was that it was so perfectly balanced, I walked away feeling entirely satisfied. There is some definite magic to crafting a meal that comprises a little of everything the body needs in beautifully laid out proportions. We left feeling comfortable, not overstuffed. The palate, and by proxy, the body, gets a taste of everything it needs: and a body that feels like food is abundant and nutrients are available is a body that can be calm, functioning and free of tell-tale imbalanced signs like cravings, fatigue and discomfort. Score. A delicious, well-balanced gourmet meal?
Seriously. When can I move in?
Natural Gourmet Institute was founded in 1977 by Dr. Anne Marie Colbin, author of numerous works on using food to heal the body. One of her most popular, Food and Healing, takes a prominent spot on my bookshelf at home; I reference it often in coaching because I so respect her stance on the role of food in our ability to thrive. As our dining companions pointed out, the work Dr. Colbin began in the 70s is now just gaining mainstream momentum. What tenacity to hold out for a cause you know will one day be incredibly necessary. I'd say that day is now. We need real food as medicine more than ever, wouldn't you agree?
For more information on Natural Gourmet Institute, their Friday Night Dinners, Chef Training Program and Public Classes, check out www.naturalgourmetinstitute.com.