by Patty Seebeck

As a dietitian," I often tell my students at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy, "I lead a mentally tortured life." Let me explain: I walk into a grocery store and see the marketing within the store design. Pop and chips do not just "happen" to be side by side. Deli counters ask if you'd like potato salad with your roasted chicken. Walking down the streets of any town in America, I see the national average: five out of any 10 people are overweight. Attempting to enjoy a dinner out, I can't help but see the extra calories of sauces and dressings, the portions large enough to easily feed two, and my appetite wanes.

For 10 years, I have nudged, bugged and prodded the region's chefs to think differently about food. I have tried to inspire them to showcase their talent in heart-healthy cooking. I have seen them marvel at each other's creativity, and then consume those creations with great pleasure. At times I feel very small -- after all, I am battling against our national food industry, which spends $33 million a year in marketing. Their goal is to get Americans to order larger portions, more often and with quicker delivery. But as my dear friend Chef Graham Kerr has reminded me many times, "Our efforts will begin like a small trickle down a hillside, but eventually that steady stream will make an effect and we will blast through that fat-laden mountain!"

So I threw my chef friends a pop quiz: "How do you make food fun, creative and heart-healthy, even at home?" Here's a sampling of ideas from some of the stellar chefs in our region.

Chef Char Zyskowski

Chef and Owner of Apple Charlotte Cooking Company

I try to integrate ways of decreasing the fat; for example, by substituting fabulous things to make an otherwise meat dish into a vegetarian dish. Any soup can be made with a vegetable stock instead of a meat-based stock -- and a vegetable stock only takes 45 minutes to cook! I call soup "fast food." To decrease fat, saute the mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots used at the beginning of many braised and soup recipes) in a little stock or wine; otherwise, use heart-healthy olive oil.

Chef Doug Fisher

Instructor at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy

I look for complex carbohydrates like rice, beans, pasta and lentils to complement the entree. To make things flavorful using less or no salt, I utilize fresh or dry herbs, fresh fruit salsas, fresh vegetable chutneys. Pick a low-fat cooking method such as steaming, roasting or grilling.

Chef Curtis Smith

Executive Pastry Chef of the Coeur d'Alene Resort

Using citrus juices in dressings and sautes adds tremendous flavor and allows the home cook to use less artery-clogging fat.

Jim Barrett

Executive Chef of Beverly's

Heart Healthy cooking has become a way of life for our family. Some techniques I use are:

* Using olive oil in a small spray bottle to season and saute with;

* Switching to nonfat milk;

* For scrambled eggs and omelets, we use a ratio of one whole egg to six egg whites;

* We eat a lot of chicken and fish to lower our fat intake;

* I have taught my kids to read nutrition labels and know how to spot unhealthy foods;

* We have switched to baked chips, pretzels and other snacks with no trans fats;

* I hunt and fish. My kids love smoked fish, venison jerky and other foods I make with these types of lean protein;

* I try to encourage an active lifestyle for our family;

* And I'm really into grilling meat and vegetables. I love the flavor without having to add a lot of sauces, plus the lack of fat that frying creates.

Chef Brett Fontana

Hayden Lake Country Club

Vinegars are generally under-used by home cooks and yet they can add enormous flavor. Try them splashed over vegetables. Replace butter and margarine by mixing balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil, then dip some great bread into it.

Chef Jim Wolters

Manito Country Club

Many Americans eat protein as the center of the plate, meaning it is the main thing on the plate. Mediterranean countries use combinations of grains, pastas and vegetables as the center of the plate. And smaller protein portions means lower grocery bills!

Chef Adam Hegsted


I like to use juice (cider, carrot, beet), wine or vinegar (balsamic, cider) reductions or a vinaigrette instead of heavy gravies or sauces. For lean meat, such as turkey, pork, chicken or beef, use simple flavorful brines with fresh herbs and spices to moisten the meat instead of fat. Use rice or bread crumbs to thicken soup instead of roux or cream.

Chef Ray Delfino

The Spokane Athletic Club

The last couple years, my lovely spouse has changed her eating habits through weight loss. This has changed how she shops and stocks the pantry and refrigerator at home. She has brought to our home the idea of smaller portions, healthier food and snack items. She also has started an earlier eating schedule, so that we aren't eating one or two hours prior to retiring for sleep.

Janice Maas

Owner of Europa Pizzeria & amp; Bakery

My girls and I make wraps; we used to call them "burritos" before wraps became chic. Use diced, cooked potatoes, refried black beans, cooked brown rice, sauteed onions and carrots, gently mixed together and heated. We top them with sliced tomatoes, salsa and low-fat cottage cheese. The rice gives a bit of the same texture as ground beef, and the cottage cheese adds the same cool creamy texture of sour cream.

Chef Pete Tobin

Executive Chef for the Seahawks Training

Camp and Instructor at the Inland

Northwest Culinary Academy

When working with the Seattle Seahawks in Cheney, I am blessed to be able to prepare anything I want. We buy all our meat from a sustainable, hormone-free production plant on the Vashon Island. I work hard to bring more whole grains and leafy greens into the menus. Most of the players don't really know the effort I put into thinking of items that will satisfy them and be healthy. To me, that's the way it should be. They have commented on the food tasting good. In fact, "the best in the NFL," one coach says. That's what they should care about. Four years ago, we would go through 12 half-gallons of heavy cream a week and pounds and pounds of butter. This past year we only used one half-gallon a week!

The last thing is the consumer's job. I think we need to continue to teach people how important it is to eat less. We have to get over the over-portioning problem that is in our restaurants. People equate value with full plates. At the end of a meal, I want people to feel satisfied and full -- not guilty and full.

Chef Duane Sunwold

Chairman of the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy

I have been blessed with a job that has allowed me to fan the flame in these creative artists. They are so capable of creating exciting, full-flavored culinary cuisine. But here is were the rubber meets the road: it will come down to demand from you and me in the marketplace. As consumers, we must put a deaf ear to the marketing schemes that tell us to eat larger portions, in shorter amounts of time and more often.

Patty Seebeck is a registered dietitian at the Heart Institute of Spokane.

Publication date: 10/14/04

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