I was flicking through the Coles catalogue today and all of a sudden it dawned on me. We are surrounded by chefs and celebrities, local and abroad, who claim to be experts on all things nutrition. Many of these 'sudden experts' quickly capitalise on their popularity to sell their newfound knowledge via commercial avenues. There seems to be a lot of negativity, and downright nasty attacks, towards some of these individuals selling their nutrition message, but the thing that dawned on me was the fact that there is one famous chef who has been promoting the virtues of seasonal and fresh food for years. All this time we could have just been reading the Coles catalogue weekly to help us learn about how to eat and cook. Or watching repeats of Surfing the Menu.
Yes, most of us have heard of Jamie Oliver and his passion for healthy fresh food. I think he does a wonderful job spreading his messages - not necessarily telling people what to do, but promoting fresh, wholesome eating and inspiring young people to learn about food and where it comes from. But I think we sometimes forget that we have our own ambassador in Australia for local, seasonal, sustainable eating. He doesn't promote himself as a nutrition or health guru, but his subtle messages and actions are just as powerful as those of others around him who sell themselves as health ambassadors.
Curtis Stone has been promoting the virtues of local, seasonal produce and an active lifestyle for well over ten years. Back in 2003 he and fellow world-class chef Ben O'Donoghue filmed the food and travel series Surfing the Menu for ABC in Australia. Most of the food preparation and cooking was done outdoors, relying on locally grown or available produce, with a surf always included at some part of the show. The program was not advertised as a 'health' program as such, more a showcase of Australia and the wonderful food experiences and lifestyle on offer.
Curtis Stone's values when it comes to food and nutrition are solid and have not changed over time. The title of his latest book, Good Food, Good Life sums up his simple and sensible approach. Have a read of the 'About Curtis' page on his website, and particularly the section on 'My Cooking Philosophy'. In Curtis' words: 'When Mother Nature worked out what we should be eating at different times of the year, she did a pretty good job, so listen to her. Food that is in season just tastes better and you really don’t have to do a whole lot to it to make it taste great! It is always less expensive, and chances are it hasn’t been artificially treated or travelled halfway across the world to reach your kitchen'. Pretty simple really.
Eating well does not have to be complicated and often the most nutritious way to eat is to keep things simple, but not boring! Curtis Stone's three words to live by - Cook, Create, Celebrate. This is also the the title of his blog http://www.cookcreatecelebrate.com/ and is a wonderful way to think about nutrition and eating and the enjoyment of food.
Looking at Curtis' website you won't find any mention of sugar-free, low-fat or Paleo. You will find gluten-free, but many people have to avoid gluten for medical reasons. Otherwise there is nothing else that alludes to the restriction of any other foods or food groups. Foods are not categorized, ranked or banished in terms of nutrition, rather all foods and ingredients are embraced and respected for the flavours, textures and experiences they can provide. Have a look at the recipes on the Curtis Stone website. Some are in fact sugar-free, low-fat or Paleo but are not labelled as such, and there is not a nutrition table to be found. I have a book coming out soon that contains about 40 recipes and I too have avoided including nutrition tables. Some people might not be happy with the lack of nutritional info, but I think it is important to not always base food choices on the numbers.
Curtis Stone believes in seasonal, local, sustainable eating and is obviously aware of nutrition but should be respected for not trying to push, preach or be something or someone that he is not. He sticks to his beliefs and admits on his website to enjoying the good life as well. Not all of his recipes would be considered 'healthy', although many are, and this reflects reality and the importance of variety and enjoyment. If you eat fresh, seasonal, nutritious food a lot of the time, there is room for desserts and sweet foods here and there. I really don't like the word 'balanced', it makes food and nutrition sound so dull, but having a mix of mostly nutritious foods and 'balancing' it out in combination with richer foods that we love now and then helps to make life fun. The effects on your body from feeling stressed about your kilojoules or grams of carbohydrate are potentially far more negative than relaxing a little about intake and enjoying foods and flavours without deprivation.
Anyway, my message is, if you are looking for a celebrity chef role-model among the vast array of self proclaimed nutrition experts, look no further than Curtis Stone. His philosophies are great, he won't suggest you avoid any particular food if you don't have to, and his website has an unexpectedly large number of his recipes available to the public, as well as a range of recipes that he has developed for Coles. Sure, if you only eat his desserts then you may be needing an appointment with me in the near future, but if you scan through his recipes you will find most are based on fresh ingredients and are not overly complicated. Or you may just find a Curtis Stone recipe in a Coles catalogue or store near you.
* After I wrote this post, media coverage was released about comments that Curtis Stone made about the food his children eat, and his thoughts on kids nutrition in general, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3052145/My-kid-never-eaten-hot-dog-s-s-Celebrity-chef-Curtis-Stone-makes-clear-s-healthy-food-children.html . There was much criticism of his comments about restriction of 'junk' foods and how to manage fussy eaters. The problem was that many people did not read the full article, and just read bits and pieces printed in other articles or social media posts that were taken out of context. If you read the whole article, it is clear that his approach is to offer your children nutritious options most of the time, but that it's ok to eat 'occasional' foods too eg. parties. His comments about kids eating healthy food if it is put in front of them regularly were a little misplaced, as it is not that easy and I can guarantee that as a dietitian and mother of two young boys myself. But I don't think Curtis Stone's overall messages were misplaced at all, keep offering healthy options at home and don't just give them a hot dog instead! Yes, this involves restriction to a degree but not complete avoidance - children need adults to provide some guidance and boundaries in all areas of life, and as many dietitians say 'the parents decide what to offer, the child can decide what and how much they eat'.
Disclaimer - I do not have any association with Curtis Stone or Coles supermarkets. However my son's name is Curtis and that may make me unknowingly biased! Before you ask, no, my son was not named after Curtis Stone!