Part I: Del Sroufe
Plant-based chefs are no longer a novelty – there are lots of people who have learned to make fabulous vegan dishes – and many are so good that most people don’t notice that the food is prepared differently. The problem is that many of the dishes produced by these chefs, while made with plant foods, are unhealthy because of the fat content. Del Sroufe is the best chef in the U.S. at creating dishes that are not only plant-based, but low-fat and oil-free; most are compliant with programs like the McDougall Program, Dr. Esselstyn’s program and many of the other plant-based gurus who are achieving incredible results with their patients. Del has mastered the art of captivating the new convert to a plant-based diet with mouth-watering dishes that seem like they are just too good to be healthy. But they are! Additionally, he has developed a diverse repertoire of hundreds of recipes that guarantee that no one will ever get bored with or tired of the food. Let’s face it – humans spend a lot of time eating, and eating should be enjoyed. Converting to a program of dietary excellence with Del’s help means that you are not giving up anything – in fact you’re going to have a culinary experience better than you ever imagined!
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and it’s time for It’s All About Food. It’s September 4th, it’s a Tuesday in this year of 2012, and we’ve moved, and it was easy, no sweat or anything! We just changed days, so instead of Wednesdays from 3 to 4, we are now every Tuesday from 4 to 5. And I am really honored to be in this part of the schedule, following Dr. Helen Caldicott, and she is a really an amazing individual, and it’s really quite an honor to follow her today. I am going to be looking forward to listening to her show just before I start mine.
Okay, so I’m Caryn Hartglass and I have a nonprofit called Responsible Eating and Living, which you can find at ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com. I know it’s a mouthful, but it’s a delicious one, believe me. Just go there and visit. There’s lots of wonderful videos and recipes and you can find the archives to this show, lots of information there. And if you want to send me a message, comments, questions, my email is, are you ready? Its firstname.lastname@example.org and if for some reason you are inspired during this hour and you absolutely have to ask us something right away, you can call at 188-887-4488. Very good.
And before I bring up my first guest, I wanted to talk about one of last week’s guests, which was Zel Allen, and she was talking about her cookbook Vegan For The Holidays. And it’s a little early to be talking about Christmas and Kwanza and Hanukkah, but it got me thinking about Hanukkah in particular, because one of the things that drives me crazy, I love holidays and I love traditional foods, but one of the traditional foods for Hanukkah is the potato pancake, the potato latke. And the holiday is all about celebrating this magical oil that was used in a lamp and it lasted for eight days instead of one day. And as result, the tradition is we celebrate the oil by eating lots of it. And especially potatoes fried in lots of it. And it’s really rough eating all of these oil laden potatoes. And yet I like to keep the tradition going so years ago I came up with a potato pancake recipe that was vegan it had no eggs in it but it did use a lot of oil. It’s been driving me nutty, and I finally came up with a wonderful recipe. It’s potato pancakes, tastes great and you can make it with next to no oil or no oil at all. Still delicious, so visit responsibleeatingandliving.com and click on the recipes over on the left hand column, just real recipes or sides, you’ll find it, it’s great. And I have included lots of variations where you can add kasha to it, buckwheat, spinach, carrots, onions; I’m so excited about this recipe! But I’ll remind you about it when the holidays come around. It’s also a great party food.
Okay, I’m excited about food! Can you tell that? Because it’s all about food and there are lots of fun things to talk about when we talk about food and we’re going to jump right in and talk about healthy, delicious food, my favorite subject, with Chef Del Sroufe. He has worked for six years as chef and co-owner of Wellness Form Foods, a plant-based meal delivery and catering service that emphasizes healthy, minimally processed foods, produces a line of in-the-bag mixes and offers cooking classes to the public. He has worked in vegan and vegetarian kitchens for twenty-two years, including spending time as a vegan personal chef. He lives, works, and cooks in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Chef Del.
Del Sroufe: Thank you so much, glad to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you’re all part of the Forks Over Knives brand, which is a very exciting thing in the vegan world.
Del Sroufe: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: So I talked about the video when it came out and had Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn and your producer Brian Wendel. And then we had Gene Stone on the show, he lives in Manhattan here so it was easy for him to come into the studio, and we talked about the book Forks Over Knives, and now the natural progression is to have the cookbook. And I want to tell you, I’ve been carrying it around today and it’s heavy.
Del Sroufe: There’s a lot of recipes in there.
Caryn Hartglass: This is one heavy book, over 300 recipes and you could get a workout. Workouts are important so it’s a good book to carry around and build bones.
Del Sroufe: A new use if you don’t like to cook.
Caryn Hartglass: Right! Okay, so before we dive into all the wonderful recipes in this book, you have a story and I want you to share it with the listeners because people love to hear individual stories. They resonate mostly with them, rather than all the facts and numbers and reasons to eat a certain way. People like to hear individual stories and you have a good one.
Del Sroufe: Sure. I’ll go back to when I was eight years old, but I’ll skip ahead some, so bear with me. When I was eight years old, I was put on my first diet. It was an 800 calorie restricted diet, it wasn’t plant based or anything like that, but it was significant because it set off what I call a career of yo-yo dieting, one where I would gain weight and loose weight and all using this restricted calorie method, assuming it was the way to do it. In 1997 I opened a vegan bakery, became vegan, and spent the next four years not only trying to grow my business but gaining over 200 pounds myself on a vegan diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Can we just stop there for a minute? Why did you become vegan?
Del Sroufe: All of my cooking experience has been in vegetarian and vegan kitchens. The eight and a half years prior to that, I worked for a vegetarian restaurant and it sort of happened naturally. I was meeting a lot of people who were vegetarian and vegan and working with people who were vegan. They had very convincing arguments for why vegan was a smart way to go. Of course there are the natural reasons we talk about, and for some it was spirituality and for some it was for the environment health and the health of the animals as well. And some of these resonated for me and it seemed like a smart thing to do. I was cooking this way even before I was eating this way. Eventually the cooking won out and there I was.
So anyway, over the course of the first 2 or 3 years of running my own bakery, I gained 200 pounds and I did it eating not only a vegan diet, but a vegan diet that was full of processed foods. As I heard you mention earlier, a lot of oil, white flour, processed sugars, and the like. It was very easy and it happened without me really paying much attention to it.
Caryn Hartglass: Enjoying every bite I imagine!
Del Sroufe: Oh yeah, I’m a baker and I hate to say it, but a good baker. I spent the next four or five years close to 500 pounds. It wasn’t until I fell one day, twisted an ankle, and tore a tendon in my foot that I had a wake-up call. In 2005 I actually came to Wellness Forum as a client because nothing I was doing was working. I wasn’t exercising because my foot hurt, I was working all the time, and I was still eating. I closed the bakery by this time and opened a meal-delivery service, but it was still a lot of oil and a lot more of the processed foods. I went to the Wellness Forum and I said I need some help. I became a client and a member, adopted a low-fat, plant-based diet, and spent the next several years regaining my health, which I am still doing. I have lost over 200 pounds.
Caryn Hartglass: Good for you!
Del Sroufe: I am a much better, much happier, much healthier person today than I was six years ago so I am very happy.
Caryn Hartglass: I think we’re all on a path when it comes to vegan and vegetarian diets. I think that all of our culture is on a path where we’re learning about health and nutrition. We didn’t really know much about health and nutrition with regards to food over a hundred years ago and it’s just all starting to come out. We’re discovering what the nutrients are in food and what they can do for us, so it’s all new. Some people romanticize and fantasize about going back to the way things were and I don’t know if that’s entirely ideal because we didn’t really know what the right foods were to eat back then.
Del Sroufe: And actually I won’t disagree with you, I agree in a lot of ways. I think that we have a fantasy of what the way things were. I think that there’s a reality that’s out there too and we see that in populations who still eat the way that our ancestors really ate. In other words, if you go back 200 years or 300 years, and in civilizations around the world you’ll see plenty of populations who do not have processed foods in their diets. They don’t have oils and they don’t have sugar and white flour. They don’t have potato chips and they don’t have those kinds of foods. Not only that, they don’t have a lot of meat in their diet because they can’t afford it, it’s expensive. So they eat a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet that’s based primarily on starches like potatoes and beans and grains and vegetables. The rest of it comes just sort of as condiments, they eat meat when they can afford it, but you don’t see 32 ounce steaks on a plate. So that’s the way that we really ate and there’s a lot of science that shows that. We can look at populations around the world that don’t have our health conditions that show it as well. So it’s fantasy versus the reality of the way that our lives used to be that we want. But even my grandparents ate less processed foods than I did.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh sure, it started really after World War II when we had the chemical explosion with pesticides and herbicides and then the manufacturing, the industrialization, and the food system totally changed.
Okay, so we’re getting back to where we belong and fortunately more and more people are getting on this path and we have the whole “Forks Over Knives” package and now we have over 300 recipes to try! Let’s jump into the cookbook. You’ve got everything in here.
Del Sroufe: Oh yeah, the goal is that you can start with breakfast and go through dinner and even have an occasional dessert as a treat.
Caryn Hartglass: I talk a lot about not using oil and salt. When we cook at home we rarely use oil. I will admit that occasionally I do use oil in food, but it’s really a rare event and I rarely use salt as well. You’ve probably seen this, but people’s reaction to that is “What? No oil? What? No salt?” They just don’t know and can’t imagine it. Yet you talk about a lot of things in here, I’m looking at the Nitter Kibbeh recipe for example, and it’s easy to sauté onions and caramelize them and have them be loaded with flavor without oil.
Del Sroufe: As a matter of fact, when I came to the Wellness Forum, my business partner said to me, “Get rid of the oil from your foods.” I spent two or three weeks in my own kitchen going, “How the heck does that happen?” But once I figured it out and developed the technique for doing it, it’s the easiest thing you’ve ever seen, whether its sautéing and caramelizing onions or whether it’s doing a stir fry. We think of stir fries as definitely needing oil because every time we go to the Chinese restaurant it’s loaded with oil. But you can do stir fries and there are several recipes in the book that show you oil-free stir fries that are full of flavor.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Now the other thing people are confused about is when you talk about not eating oil, they equate that to fat, and we need fat.
Del Sroufe: Right, we need some fat. We don’t need a lot and I know that USDA recommendations are higher than you’ll hear us talk about, especially the experts at Forks Over Knives. There’s a difference between getting your fat from oil and getting it from whole food and the biggest difference is we’ve removed the fiber and we’ve removed most of the nutrients from our fat so that when we buy oils, we’re buying oils that have had the nutrients added back in and let me tell you, the humans are never as good as putting nutrients in the food as nature is.
Caryn Hartglass: Now not because we don’t know what all those nutrients are.
Del Sroufe: We’ve barely begun to identify the micronutrients in our food, but nature has done a really good job of it and we need to let nature run its course with our food and get back to eating that way. There are plenty of ways to get fat, the little fat that you need, flaxseed is one of the ways I get mine, or a few nuts and seeds. I talk about this all the time when I teach my cooking classes, that there’s a difference between garnishing a dish with a couple tablespoons full of cashews and then eating a jar of cashews. That’s what Americans tend to do, and I’ve been that person, we tend to go all out on our consumption. It’s okay to have nuts and seeds because they’re healthy nuts and seeds. Well, they’re healthy in the right quantities.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what’s great about them is when you garnish a dish or meal with it, it brings out all the flavor and so you get these lovely taste sensations, these tickles of wonderful flavors, and the nuts and seeds will do that. They can perk up a salad or any kind of dish, it doesn’t take much.
Del Sroufe: Yeah, it doesn’t take much. If you find yourself eating a whole jar of cashews, if you ever really look at why it is you’re doing that and start to ask that kind of a question, if you can eat just that garnish on a salad or something, you’re eating more in balance, and anything else, there’s a question that you’ve got to be asking yourself about why you’re doing that.
Caryn Hartglass: So the other thing is a lot of creamy sauces are used in restaurants and French food, and I’m looking right across the page from the Nitter Kibbeh, I mean, I haven’t even barely gotten into the book here yet, but I’m stuck on one page! The cauliflower Béchamel, I think it’s really an important concept because it gives you the look, the feel, almost a mouth feel of a really creamy sauce, it has a lot of flavor and when you blend things up together, you don’t know what’s in them, you just have flavor.
Del Sroufe: Right, right, you can fool the mouth, if you will, in a lot of different ways. I’ll tell you, the idea for that cauliflower Béchamel came from a soup that I used to make, which was a roasted cauliflower bisque, and the original recipe had oil in it, but even taking the oil out of that one, I would make that soup and puree it and everyone loves that soup. It took on the flavor of whatever I did with it, as do a lot of foods, so I used that sauce in a curried pasta sauce, you can use it as a traditional Béchamel sauce, as a topping for lasagna, as a white sauce, anywhere where you can use a traditional Béchamel you can use this sauce and that’s what makes it exciting. The cool part is, especially if you’re doing what I call health by deception at home, you’re putting another serving of vegetables into the mouths of those who you feed and they don’t have to know it.
Caryn Hartglass: Especially children and probably my father! When he sees something like a stack of greens or something he’ll usually say “What’s that?” and it’s just so much easier to blend it all up and make it taste good. “It’s white sauce!”
Del Sroufe: I highly suggest it with family members who are a little bit hesitant to change the way that they think about food. Be deceptive, you’re doing it in a loving and caring way and that’s okay.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. You’ve got a lot of recipes for one of my favorite ingredients, fava beans. I never see them in anything.
Del Sroufe: Well, Americans eat an average of six to ten different food items a day; we’re not very good about variety in our food. One of the goals of this cookbook was to make sure that there were a lot of different kinds of foods in there for people to sort of try and to expand their horizons with. I love fava beans and I have two Middle Eastern food restaurants near my house, Columbus is a great city for Middle Eastern food, and one of them has an amazing fava bean dip which is pretty similar to hummus. It has a lot of oil in it but the oil isn’t what gives it its flavor, the fava beans themselves are delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: Fava beans, garlic, lemon. Period. So good!
Del Sroufe: That’s all you need! It’s delicious so I had to include some recipes in there because it’s one of my favorite beans.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re not that easy to find, but if you look, they’re there.
Del Sroufe: I think if you really want to be a food explorer and if you live in a small town where you’re not going to be able to find fava beans, I think that there are great places online where you can order food now as we’ve changed the way that we can buy our food. There are some good options out there so don’t let that stop you. I hear this criticism a little bit from time to time that fava beans are a definitely one kind of bean in front of a book but there are plenty of other beans that you’ll find in your regular grocery store too and that’s important. Most of the food in this book you can make by shopping in traditional grocery stores.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s another thing I really like in here. I started my vegetarian path a long time ago and I used to enjoy going to Indian food restaurants a lot because they had a lot of options and lots of flavor. I’ve been going to Indian restaurants less and less because it’s oil and salt, but you’ve got some great recipes in here that are the traditional dishes that have all the right seasonings and vegetables without the oil and salt.
Del Sroufe: My first vegetarian experience was from one of my closest friends, I’ve known her for thirty some years, and she lived in India for several years. She cooks a delicious Indian meal and she at this point in time doesn’t use oil in her food. I learned the flavorings a lot from her as well as my own love of Indian food. And again, Indian food is something you can find in abundance here in Columbus.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s the climate like in Columbus, Ohio in terms of health?
Del Sroufe: Well, Columbus is kind of the test market for the country for a lot of things. Fast food is abundant here and there are plenty of fast food options and there are plenty of unhealthy foods here. But its changing as it is everywhere. As you know, the Wellness Forum has been here for fifteen years, we have several hundred members in our program and several thousand have gone through the program locally. So there’s awareness of health but like in a lot of places, there’s some resistance to change our ways and to see new ways of thinking. So we’ve had and I’ve worked at some of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town so there are veg and vegan options. Most restaurants now offer vegan options where you can go in and even it it’s not on the menu, you can talk to the chef or talk to the waiter and say, “What can you do for me?” and when you say vegan, people know what it means.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, isn’t it nice?
Del Sroufe: The harder part is the oil-free thing, and it’s getting better, but you still have to say no oil. And I hate to say it but again, it’s the health by deception by sometimes saying, “I have a cardiovascular condition, I’m really trying to be careful with my heart here, so could you steam my vegetables?” I always look at it as the thing to do is to call ahead. Call the restaurant and say, “I’m coming in, here’s how I eat, what can you fix for me?” and a lot of chefs love to do something special for things like that. So the climate’s changing as it is everywhere, but there’s a lot of health industry here. Cardinal health, Ohio health and all those others are all here so when you go to health fairs, you still get some of the traditional screenings and people telling you to eat heart healthy oils which drive you crazy, but what do you do?
Caryn Hartglass: You just keep on keeping on. So the Wellness Forum’s website is wellnessforum.com and what is it?
Del Sroufe: The Wellness Forum has been helping people to improve, in other words to achieve optimal health and to reverse degenerative diseases for 15 years. The diet that we teach in the program is very much like what you’ll see in The China Study and programs like Dr. John McDougall‘s, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, so a low-fat, plant-based foods diet. We teach people through a ten hour course how to eat, and the importance of exercise, proper hydration, and stress reduction. What I think makes our program different from a lot programs that you’ll find like ours is that you become a member for a year. Over the course of that year, we offer on-going support so we have a monthly call that you can do with both Dr. Popper the founder and me. Her call is going to be on a different health topic and then it goes to a Q&A format, and mine’s the same way with cooking. So we spend ten minutes talking about fall fruits and vegetables and the rest of the hour answering your general questions about cooking. We have cooking classes once a month, we bring in guest speakers, we have an annual conference, and we have a members-only portion of the website where you can find a lot of archive information. All of this is part of the goal of being able to say that you can do this course and go off on your own and do it really well, but for a lot of people it’s nice to get that ongoing support that helps you stay in tune and stay on track.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely! I have a friend that’s trying again to go vegan and he called me to let me know what he ate last night at a Mexican restaurant. He was at a party and he had the power to forgo the cheese and the sour cream. Just for somebody to say, “Good for you! You’re on the right track!” and people need that support.
Del Sroufe: And you have to remember that a lot of people go home to what I call a hostile environment where nobody else wants to eat that way. That’s hard to deal with every day and every night, to know that you’re the only one who thinks the way you do. We have monthly dinners that people come to, the different events and the calls let them talk to like-minded people, which really help them a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s get back to what we were talking about in the beginning which was your story. My partner had a similar path when he was young. He was always overweight and his mom was putting him on all kinds of crazy diets like the egg and grapefruit diet.
Del Sroufe: Oh yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, do you know that one?
Del Sroufe: Not the egg and grapefruit diet, I went on the grapefruit diet.
Caryn Hartglass: It wasn’t until he came to this vegan lifestyle that he finally made peace with his food, which is what he talks about. Before he went vegan, he did this seven month performance piece called Eating Dis Order, Eating Dat Order when he talked about all these different diets he that had been on. How do you feel now about your food?
Del Sroufe: Part of making changes to eating a different way is dealing with the reasons why we eat. We can teach you how to eat and what to eat, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with some of the triggers for why we eat bad foods. I’ve been dealing with this in the last couple of years with some great success. For me, bad foods used to be meat, cheese, and such, but now the bad foods might be potato chips and some of those processed foods. I don’t fight myself with food the way that I used to and I really look forward to eating. I cook really good food so I’m a really lucky person.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that could be lucky or it could go against you. If you can cook, you can make anything you want and then you’re in danger.
Del Sroufe: Right, but having this conversation is about choosing the healthier path so I have to look beyond the individual meal to the goals that I’m trying to achieve. I still have twenty to thirty pounds that I need to lose and I still have the rest of my life to live which means I don’t want cardiovascular disease, I don’t want diabetes or any of those other degenerate diseases. I don’t want medication to be my course of life and living my life in doctor’s offices so I have to make choices that help me achieve that goal. That’s part of what drives my eating decisions every day. Now one of the things that I do is sanitize my house. You won’t go into my house and find potato chips, oil, sugar, white flour and any of those things that would tempt me. As a baker, the flour especially is an easy one when I can have pancakes in ten minutes. So you don’t find those things that tempt me, I have to leave the house to go get them if I want them. That allows me to have time to have that conversation with myself. If I’m going to get in a car at ten at night and go get even vegan ice cream, there’s plenty of time to talk myself out of it and to have a conversation about what it is I’m even doing here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s really important to buy only the healthy food in your house, which can be really be a challenge when you’re living with other people who aren’t in line with what you’re doing.
Del Sroufe: I don’t know that I could do this if I had to live in a house that had cookies, potato chips, and that kind of food. It’d be really hard for me.
Caryn Hartglass: But I make some pancakes that are healthy. My pancakes are just like a bowl of oatmeal all whirred up and cooked.
Del Sroufe: I’m not saying that I would never ever eat pancakes. I’m saying that to have them available all the time is not a smart thing for me. So when I choose to have them, that’s one thing. If I have company coming over and we’re going to have Sunday brunch, then I might have pancakes or I might have a scone, but I don’t make that something that’s available to me every day.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a thing that we’ve kind of fallen out of, making special food, food that’s a treat, fruit that’s a luxury.
Del Sroufe: We want the treat all the time. That’s where we’ve gotten to and I think that’s what we need to get away from.
Caryn Hartglass: So do you have a comfort food that you like to go to that’s within the regimen?
Del Sroufe: I do, I love pasta and I make a pasta stir fry that’s very healthy. When you’re trying to lose weight, pasta can be a healthy food, but it’s a very concentrate calorie. The difference is that a cup of grain, like a whole grain like a wheat berry, is about a hundred calories where a cup of flour has four hundred calories. So it’s that caloric density that I kind of balance out in my life, but every now in then a nice pasta stir fry dish makes me very happy.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well let’s just underline, in these last few minutes, the importance of what we’ve been talking about. We’re talking about food that’s delicious and good for you, but thing is over six hundred thousand Americans today die every year from cardiovascular disease. It’s reversible and preventable, and that’s shown by lot of great work by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn in his book Prevent Heart Disease. We know this now and we need to do be doing more about it so this definitely a good step in the right direction.
Del Sroufe: Yeah, I think so too. I’d like to see some scared straight programs where we show people what they go through when they have cardiovascular disease and having your chest ripped open to have a stint put in there and what’s that’s like. I have a friend that’s has a heart replacement done and he says that the pain was the most unbearable thing you can think of for months.
Caryn Hartglass: Well it’s just interesting what people think of as extreme. People will say eating plants is extreme but cracking your sternum open is normal.
Del Sroufe: Yeah, that’s a normal thing. That amazes me all the time that you’d rather spend your life navigating doctor’s offices and visits and navigating the nine medications that you’re on, each one a response to the side effects of another and feeling like crap all the time. I have energy that I have not had most of my life.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s amazing isn’t it?
Del Sroufe: I look forward to that every day.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well Del, thank you so much for joining me today on It’s All About Food. Thanks for creating this very heavy book. I look forward to carrying it around the rest of the day.
Del Sroufe: Thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: And wellnessforum.com is where we find you and all that you do. Okay, thank you so much.
Del Sroufe: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. We’re going to take a very quick break. In the meanwhile you can go to ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com, that’s where I live. When we come back, we’re going to be talking about sustainable biodynamic farming with Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Flannery Cash, 2/7/2013