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Sam Kass Speaks on White House Cooking

Sam Kass Speaks on White House Cooking


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Not much news on the campaign front today, but in a bout of good PR, White House chef Sam Kass spoke with TIME about the Obama's diet. Although favorite meals are "top-secret information," Kass said, in general, meals are balanced. "The first lady practices what she preaches," Kass said, "which is moderation. When we put out the MyPlate guide, she came in and said, 'We're cooking the MyPlate.' That's what we're doing."

As for what's growing in the garden, the White House is picking the last of the watermelons. "Our tomatoes are still doing great. We have a lot of peppers, our zucchinis and yellow squash are just finishing up. We have a bunch of beans right now. And of course, pumpkins," Kass said.

On the actual campagin trail, however, small towns are getting overrun by politics. Residents of Wolfeboro, N.H., are reportedly dividing their restaurants and hotels on partisan lines. And what happens when the candidates come through town to speak? "My sales were down all summer," one merchant said. "Other merchants I know say the same. The Secret Service may have taken all the hotel rooms and given business to the restaurants, but they kept the tourists away. People hate seeing those big black cars. It is a very cold presence."


A Conversation with White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass

W e here at Epicurious think there are few people as important in the food world as Sam Kass, assistant chef and senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives at the White House. Working in close collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama, Kass has helped lead the charge to address our health as a nation, specifically as it relates to children𠅊 third of whom are overweight or obese. In early 2010, the First Lady launched Let&aposs Move!, a comprehensive initiative tasking all of us to eat better, exercise more, and help children in our community take positive steps toward good health. Epicurious caught up with Kass recently to hear how Let&aposs Move! has grown in its first year.

Epicurious: Why is healthy eating and increased exercise so important to the future of our country?
Sam Kass: Today, one in three children is overweight or obese. Many of these children will face chronic obesity-related health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. Nearly one third is projected to have diabetes in their lifetime. This impacts their ability to perform, and how they feel about themselves. If we want to win the future, we must ensure that the youngest generation grows up healthy and can thrive in the years ahead.

We owe it to our children to provide them with better food options and opportunities for increased physical activity. We cannot ignore this problem, and that&aposs why the Let&aposs Move! initiative is committed to solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation, so kids born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.

Epi: Now that Let&aposs Move! is one year old, how would you characterize its progress? Are you pleased with the accomplishments so far?
SK: I continue to be amazed by the outpouring of support we&aposve received over the last year. All across the country, mayors, chefs, schools, community groups, and more have stepped up to solve the problem of childhood obesity. Together, we&aposve accomplished a great deal to provide healthier food to children, increase physical activity, share better information about health and nutrition to families, and improve access in local communities to healthy, affordable food.

One of the big highlights of the year for me was when the President signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act [in December 2010], which will improve the nutritional value of school meals and expand access to these meals for needy children. But everyone has a role to play in ending childhood obesity. Over the last year, private sector companies have responded to the demand of parents for better food choices, sports leagues have pledged to expand their youth programs, and I&aposm particularly proud of the number of chefs around the country who&aposve joined Chefs Move to Schools to help engage kids about food and healthy food choices.

Epi: In the coming year, what do you hope to accomplish as senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives? Will you be pushing for more national policy changes, such as the recently passed food-safety bill, or seeking to grow grassroots movements?
SK: The past year has given us hope that we can turn the tide on childhood obesity and achieve fundamental change. We will continue to work together to keep the momentum going and build on the success of the last year. There isn&apost a single solution to solving childhood obesity, so we will need to continue pursuing strategies at every level, in every sector, with health experts, local leaders and policy makers, schools, private companies, and community groups. We also will continue to provide communities with the tools they need to develop unique solutions at the local level.

But the short answer is, more of what you saw this year.

Epi: Healthy food advocates and chefs had long campaigned for a produce garden at the White House. How important to Let&aposs Move! was creating the first-ever Oval Office produce garden?
SK: Two years ago, the First Lady began a national conversation about childhood obesity when she broke ground on the White House Kitchen Garden with children from a local elementary school. This national conversation grew into the Let&aposs Move! initiative. I&aposm tremendously proud of how the garden has engaged children and inspired communities and schools all across the country to create their very own gardens.

Over the last two years, hundreds of children have visited the White House garden. Some have helped plant fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and others have helped harvest the bounty. I will never grow tired of their curiosity and sense of wonderment when they see where food comes from, what a sweet potato looks like when it comes out of the ground, or what a fresh sprig of rosemary smells like. By engaging kids with food, they&aposre more likely to try new fruits and vegetables, and that&aposs a big step forward in helping kids eat healthier food.

Epi: What do you think of the USDA&aposs new dietary guidelines?
SK: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a helpful source of information about making food choices that can help promote good health, lead to a healthy weight, and prevent disease. The Dietary Guidelines form the basis of federal nutrition policy, education, outreach, and food assistance programs used by consumers, industry, nutrition educators, and health professionals.

Epi: It&aposs been reported that you ate junk food as a kid. When did you start eating healthier? In college? While cooking at Avec, in Chicago?
SK: My family always ate dinner as a family and had balanced meals every night. Vegetables were an absolute must with every meal. I do have to admit that I had a sweet tooth and didn&apost always eat so healthy. As an athlete, over time I learned that eating well was critical to my performance. So I started making small changes to how I ate. Although I eat healthy now, I still love a good burger or a great pizza.

Epi: What do you miss most about Chicago, in terms of the food?
SK: D.C. has some tremendous restaurants and some extraordinarily talented chefs. I end up eating out often and admire the work these chefs do in the kitchen and in the schools that they are working with.

Chicago is one the world&aposs greatest food towns. There are a few favorites that I miss𠅊vec, Valois, good Chicago pizza. I am always happy to get home and visit some old favorite restaurants.

Epi: What is the best part of your job?
SK: I have a great job. I meet people from all over the nation who want to help the First Lady&aposs efforts to bring families and communities together to give kids the support they need for a healthy future. Their excitement and dedication to America&aposs kids motivates me every day to do my part to give children healthier food and to get them physically active. I can&apost pick one thing, but I love working with kids in the White House garden and answering their questions about food I have so much fun visiting schools and seeing kids getting engaged in eating better and getting exercise. Their curiosity, excitement, and positive attitude are infectious and keep me working hard every day.


White House chef Sam Kass revels in garden-to-table eating, shares recipes

<!--IPTC: Chefs Kevin Saiyasak and Jeremy Kapper harvest winter greens from the Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House, March 13, 2012. Baby kale and varietals of greens from the garden will be used in the meal served at the State Dinner in honor of Prime Minister David Cameron and Mrs. Samantha Cameron. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.Ê-->

WASHINGTON, D.C. &mdash Step- ping into the garden to pluck a few vegetables doesn’t usually inspire a flurry of snapshots from excited sightseers. But the crowd pressed against the fence along the south lawn of the nation’s most famous home watched every move the tall chef made as he walked through the raised beds of the White House kitchen garden.

Pulling radishes and proudly showing off pods swollen with peas, Sam Kass, executive director of Let’s Move! and senior policy adviser on nutrition for the Obama administration, spoke of the difference a plot of tilled ground can make, even for the country’s first family.

Before he designed the famous food garden, Kass trained with renowned Austrian chef Christian Domschitz in Vienna, then worked at Chicago restaurants 312 and Avec. “I’m from Chicago. When I was there I didn’t have a garden like this. But I definitely bought a huge amount of what I cooked from farmer’s markets. I’ve always valued working closely with them, letting what they had decide the menu. This garden is an extension of that.”

Joining the White House staff in 2009 as assistant chef, he still cooks for the Obamas five nights per week, and he’s able to include freshly picked produce with every meal.

“The garden drives the menu. When you’re able to cook out of a garden like this, you let it decide. Tonight I’m going do some of the Swiss chard. Last night I did spinach. I do a lot of kale. You get to come down here and see what looks good that’s the best way to cook. As chefs this is as good as it gets. We literally pick something and 20 minutes later we’ll be cooking it.”

In its fifth year, the garden produces 1,000 pounds of food annually, portions of which feed the first family while one-third is donated to local soup kitchens to feed those in need. The rest is used in state dinners and special events.

In the garden are two honorary Thomas Jefferson beds, planted with seeds the devoted gardener and founding father grew at Monticello. The first lady and Kass honor him by planting his varieties each season, plus nurture a Marseilles Fig tree grafted from original stock.

The beds are wall to wall with Jefferson’s Brown Dutch, Paris White, Spotted Aleppo, and Tennis Ball lettuces, Bloomsdale spinach, Early Curled Siberian kale, and carrots. Tapping the blue-green lobed leaf of a plant at the edge of the bed, Kass said “this is called sea kale, very old, like collards, and over there are mustard greens.”

Sea kale, a cousin of broccoli, was one of Jefferson’s favorites, according to Pat Brodowski, vegetable gardener at the historic Monticello site. Bitter if left to grow naturally, the secret to sweet leaves is blanching them by placing clay pots over them as they grow. “Jefferson noted that they taste like a cross between asparagus and cauliflower. One year he planted 500 in the fall and 600 in the spring. He loved asparagus, so anything that tasted like it he grew,” she said.

White House chefs preserve harvested produce through canning chutneys, sauces, and fresh vegetables, plus pickling. Enjoying the preserved bounty is a thrill for Kass, who grinned as he spoke of his current obsession.

“I’ve been addicted to these peppers. We pickled a bunch of our spicy peppers, and I’ve been making a sauce out of them that I can’t get enough of. We grow jalapeño, habanero, and the Thomas Jefferson fish peppers.”

African-American heirlooms dating back to the mid-1800s in the U.S., the green and yellow striped Fish peppers pack moderate heat and ripen to scarlet red. Popular as a secret ingredient of fish dishes, the trick is harvesting the spicy peppers when they’re young. They start out with white or light yellow flesh that doesn’t discolor cream sauces.

“The first lady’s hope is that people would see this garden and try to grow their own food to become more conscious about the food that they’re eating, what they’re feeding their families and their children. Try to take strides in putting healthier, more nutritious food on our plates,” said the nutrition guru.

When asked how we can improve our diets, Kass suggested starting with c hoosemyplate.gov for tips on eating healthy.

“What we’ve learned is that simple, small changes can have an extraordinary impact. One thing to try and do as often as possible is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. If you do that you’re well on your way.” Make the grains you eat whole grains by choosing whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, or brown rice instead of white. Control portion sizes by eating a little less, and choose water instead of sugary drinks.

“If you just did that, did those four things, everybody &mdash the country &mdash would be well on our way to living a much healthier life. And cooking &mdash I encourage cooking. The more we cook the healthier we’re gonna be.” Gazing across the garden where two other chefs were busy harvesting, Kass grew thoughtful.

“We firmly believe that the future of our country, our prosperity, our vibrancy as a nation depends on us improving how we eat. This garden is a real testament to that, an ode to that and I think it’s helped spark a national dialogue that’s having a transformative impact on our country, due to the first lady’s leadership,” he said, brushing soil from the clump of freshly pulled French Breakfast radishes. “We hope its happening. We have a long, long way to go. There’s only so much one garden can do. But we’re seeing leadership from communities all over the country that’s truly inspiring to us. We’re hopeful, and we’re determined.”

Read Denver freelance writer Carol O’Meara’s blog at gardeningafterfive. wordpress.com.

White House Grilled Garden Pizza

From obamafoodorama.blogspot.com, serves 4.

Ingredients

1 eggplant, cut into coins, ½-inch thick

1 red pepper, sliced, ¼-inch thick

1 12-inch whole wheat pizza dough (it’s okay to use frozen dough)

6 ounces tomato sauce, your favorite brand

6 ounces shredded mozzarella, lowfat

Chopped fresh basil, for garnish

Toss the vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill until softened but still a bit crunchy. Set aside.

Flatten the pizza dough. Brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Grill on both sides for about 2 minutes per side.

Top with the tomato sauce, mozzarella and grilled vegetables.

White House Kale Salad

From obamafoodorama.blogspot.com, serves 4-6. Photo by Chuck Kennedy, provided by The White House

Ingredients

Juice of 2 medium lemons, about 6 tablespoons

Freshly ground black pepper

2 bunches young kale, washed and spun dry, stacked and cut into thin slices

1 bulb fennel (fronds, stems and outer layer removed or reserved for another use), cored and thinly sliced

2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced

1 scallion, white and light-green parts, trimmed and thinly sliced

4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved or cut into slivers

4 ounces spiced Marcona almonds, about 1 cup (see note below)

Make the dressing: Combine the vinegar, lemon juice and shallot in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad: Place the kale in a large serving bowl. About 10 minutes before serving, add the dressing to taste and toss to coat evenly.

Add the fennel, radishes, jalapeños, scallion, cheese and almonds, tossing to incorporate.

Note: Marcona almonds can be purchased with a similar coating, or made at home: Whisk one egg white in a medium bowl, add 1 cup of Marcona almonds and toss to coat. Combine 1 teaspoon brown sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground cumin and ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika in a separate medium bowl. Add almonds and toss to coat.

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 15 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they don’t burn. Cool before tossing in the salad.

The salad dressing can be made ahead, and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Whisk to recombine before serving.

White House Collard Greens

From “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America” by Michelle Obama, (Crown, $30) . Serves 4-6.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 bunches collard greens (about 2 pounds), well washed, large ribs removed, torn into bite-size pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Apple cider vinegar, for serving

Place the smoked turkey leg, bay leaf, quartered onion and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil reduce heat and allow to simmer for about an hour, uncovered. Strain the stock into a large container and then set the leg aside to cool. Discard the onion and bay leaf.

Drizzle olive oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic, and cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the collard greens and strained stock bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook for about 40 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Remove the meat from the turkey leg and add it to the pot during the last five minutes of cooking. Season with salt and pepper.


White House chef Sam Kass dishes up plates and policy

1 of 8 FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2010, file photo Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass weighs sweet potatoes as he works with first lady Michelle Obama and students on the White House Kitchen Garden Fall Harvest on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. Kass's job as personal chef to the Obama family is probably the least important part of his portfolio. He also is the White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. That's put him out front as the first lady presses her campaign against childhood obesity. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) Charles Dharapak Show More Show Less

2 of 8 FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2012 file, photo, first lady Michelle Obama and White House chef Sam Kass, second from left, participate in a Let's Move event with Dallas Cowboys football wide receiver Miles Austin, center, Bravo's series "Top Chef" Head Judge Tom Colicchio and Trey Payton, right, of Nancy Moseley Elementary School, at Kleberg Rylie Recreation Center in Dallas. Kass's job as personal chef to the Obama family is probably the least important part of his portfolio. He is also the White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. That's put him out front as the first lady presses her campaign against childhood obesity. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) Carolyn Kaster Show More Show Less

4 of 8 FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2010, file photo Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass and first lady Michelle Obama participate in the White House Kitchen Garden Fall Harvest with students on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. Kass's job as personal chef to the Obama family is probably the least important part of his portfolio. He also is the White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) Charles Dharapak Show More Show Less

5 of 8 FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2012, file photo first lady Michelle Obama and White House chef Sam Kass taste food during a Let's Move event with members of Bravo's series "Top Chef" at Kleberg Rylie Recreation Center in Dallas. Kass's job as personal chef to the Obama family is probably the least important part of his portfolio. He is also the White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. That's put him out front as the first lady presses her campaign against childhood obesity. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) Carolyn Kaster Show More Show Less

7 of 8 FILE - In this June 16, 2009, file photo first lady Michelle Obama, left, and Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass, second from left, shell peas with fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in the kitchen of the White House in Washington, after having harvested some of the vegetables they planted in a White House garden. Kass's job as personal chef to the Obama family is probably the least important part of his portfolio. He is also the White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. That's put him out front as the first lady presses her campaign against childhood obesity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) Alex Brandon Show More Show Less

WASHINGTON &mdash Sam Kass has a to-die-for job as personal chef to the Obama family, but whipping up their meals is probably the least important part of his portfolio.

Kass, 31, also has a fancy title as White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. And that's put him out front this month as the first lady marks the second anniversary of her campaign against childhood obesity.

Kass has traveled the country to promote Michelle Obama's eat-right-and-exercise-more message, demonstrating along the way the pivotal role that he's come to play in helping establish policies that affect what millions of school kids consume each day and in trying to influence the American diet.

When Mrs. Obama was asked during a recent interview what was next for her "Let's Move" initiative, she quickly passed the question to Kass.

"What you got?" she demanded.

"We've got stuff," he promised her. "You're going to be busy."

On a recent trip with Mrs. Obama, the assistant White House chef was seemingly everywhere: emceeing a "Top Chef" school lunch competition, moderating a round-table discussion between the first lady and parents, briefing reporters on federal nutrition initiatives, and more.

Kass, with his distinctive shaved head, wears a broad and relentless grin and speaks with an enthusiasm that's infectious as he gives shout-outs to people and programs that are "amazing," "incredible," and "powerful." He has a knack for popping out just the right statistics about obesity, nutrition and exercise.

But no matter what his policy duties may be, five days a week Kass retrieves his chef's coat in the afternoon and heads upstairs to fill the Obamas' plates with healthy and appealing meals at 6:30 p.m., when President Barack Obama cuts short whatever's afoot in the West Wing to head home for dinner.

There's no need to consult with the first family on menu options &mdash Kass knows their likes and dislikes by heart.

Kass is discreet about what he feeds the family, often batting away questions with a "top-secret" dodge. But he says the family "walks the walk" on healthy foods, eating balanced meals often dictated by what's in season in the White House garden. With, of course, the occasional splurge to keep the kids happy.

Mrs. Obama, for her part, says her girls "can't stay out of the kitchen when Sam is cooking."

Among the health-conscious recipes Kass has talked up in recent months: seared tilapia with fried rice and broccoli and carrots, garden herb-roasted chicken with braised greens, broccoli soup, sweet potatoes and greens, and cauliflower gratin. His healthy snack suggestions include warm grapefruit with honey, and banana boats stuffed with raisins, nuts and crushed whole grain cereal.

The star power that comes with his chef's jacket only helps reinforce Kass' message about the importance of eating right. One minute he's demonstrating how to make turkey lasagna with spinach on morning TV or chatting with Elmo about healthy school lunches, and the next he's discussing new standards to improve meals on military bases or working with Wal-Mart to reduce the sodium content in packaged foods.

"We're seeing real changes, both big and small, happening all over the country, and incredible partnerships and people stepping up in ways that we just never could have foreseen," Kass says. "And this kind of effort has just been inspirational and gives us a lot of hope that we can truly overcome these problems in the years to come."

It's a measure of Kass' growing stature that he's gone from People magazine's "most beautiful" list in his first year in Washington to Fast Company's "most creative people in business" list in 2011.

Tom Colicchio, New York restaurateur and co-host of Bravo's "Top Chef," says Kass' passion for healthy eating and knowledge of the issue make him a natural for his dual role."He knows this stuff inside out," Colicchio said. "It's not him latching on to some trend. He's taken the time to learn it and understand it."

When more than 500 chefs gathered on the White House lawn in 2010 to launch the "Chefs Move to School" program, pairing up chefs to work with individual schools, "that came directly from Sam," says Colicchio. "This is something he cares deeply about."


This Former White House Chef Wants You to Stop Stressing About Eating Right

Sam Kass aims to change our health—and with small, conscious choices, maybe save the world.

During Sam Kass’ six years as chef to the first family, he also became an advocate for child nutrition in America. His first book, Eat a Little Better, aims to change our health𠅊nd with small, conscious choices, maybe it&aposll help save the world.

DEBBIE KOENIG: Your Twitter bio says you’re an "investor and strategist for a healthier climate and smart food." That’s a long way from the White House kitchen. How did you end up with this job description?

Struggling to cook healthy? We'll help you prep.

SAM KASS: What motivates me every day is to have an impact, and what I did in the White House was basically figure out where we could make the most progress to move the country forward around health as well as sustainability issues. Over the next 10 years, change will be driven largely by the private sector. So to make change, you have to change the businesses that are producing our food. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.

What does the title of your book, Eat a Little Better, mean?

People get overwhelmed hearing that they have to change their diet and overhaul what they do. We need to try to do just a little better, and step by step, over time, we can fundamentally improve our diets and have an impact on the environment. But it starts with one decision. Then you build on it and make the next decision. Meanwhile, if you eat a Twinkie, I still love you, you know?

We&aposve got to try to eat more vegetables, so my book has a bunch of simple recipes to make more vegetables. We dramatically underconsume whole grains, so here are some really simple recipes so you can take one grain and turn it into a bunch of different dishes. It&aposs a road map for how you can eat a little better and have an impact.

You make an interesting distinction in the book about eating better versus eating right.

I don&apost believe in eating right. There&aposs a million rights, but we all eat junk, too. It’s part of what it means to be an American, and it’s great. I love a Buffalo wing. I can’t not eat one if it’s near me. People get discouraged because they’re given this idyllic vision of what they’re supposed to do, and when they fail, they feel bad. So much of what we focus on is what we should be doing—we should be eating vegetarian or local, yet nobody actually tells us how to accomplish it. The how is a key piece, so that’s what I try to focus on.

Stay low-sodium and high-flavor with these simple, expert-approved tips:

Your book has a lot of recipes, but it’s a call to action as much as a cookbook.

I wanted to write a book that put the basic pieces of change together in a way that people could actually execute. Right now we’re sort of paralyzed by too much information and conflicting information. People want to eat healthier and know what that means on a plate.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your time in Washington, D.C.?

I learned that we have to be relentless in our efforts and not get discouraged by setbacks. Being positive in our outlook is super important. A lot of what informs the book comes from hearing from parents and from kids about their struggles and how we can engage in an inclusive conversation. Hopefully readers feel and hear that and also get a sense of how politics plays in our foods in ways we don’t fully know. One part of the book dives into the white-potato lobby. Because we eat so many potatoes, it translates into a significant political power in Washington. They’ve used it to skew nutrition policies. For instance, fried potato consumption beats out even soda as an indicator of obesity. When we tried to place a twice-a-week limit on French fries in schools, the lobby pushed back, and Congress gave in to Big Potato. Today, lunchrooms can serve French fries every day. I don’t think people are aware of that.

We’re talking a lot about making informed, incremental changes. If someone gets excited to start making changes, what’s their first step?

It starts in the home, setting up your house for success. That’s really ground zero because you want your home to be a place of peace and calm, where you’re not obsessing over every choice. That means putting in plain sight the kinds of foods you want to eat most and putting less healthy options out of sight. Then you’re only eating those things when you really decide, “You know what? I want that.” When you go to the grocery store, that should be when you’re really conscious, really thoughtful about the decisions you’re making. The rest of the week, you want not to worry about it that much— just know that whatever’s around you is OK.

I saw pictures of your adorable baby boy, Cy, on Instagram. How has your eating and cooking changed since becoming a dad?

I still cook a lot. The White House gave me speed: I𠆝 be in a policy meeting and realize I had 20 minutes to get dinner on the table for the president and first lady. That helps when you have a newborn, to be able to whip something up𠅋ut I also keep it really simple. That’s the most important advice I would have for new parents: Keep it simple.

How do you define healthy?

I would say it’s a state of mind. We’re not freaking out about our food. So relax, and eat foods that are largely plant-based, lots of vegetables and whole grains, not a lot of refined starches, some good lean protein, and a lot of water. It’s not some crazy dissection of nutrients. Flavor’s a key part of health. Enjoyment is also key. Eat food cooked with love and ingredients that are good for you. That’s an approach to health that most people can get behind and accomplish in their lives.


White House's Sam Kass, head of Let's Move initiative, moving to NYC

Chef Sam Kass, the Chicago native who became the executive director of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative and the Obama administration's senior policy adviser on nutrition, is leaving Washington at the end of this month and moving to New York City.

Kass, who helped the first lady plant an organic fruit, vegetable and herb garden on the South Lawn of the White House and brewed up a few beers, including a White House Honey Ale and White House Honey Porter, referred all questions about his post-D.C. life to the White House press office.

The move means Kass will no longer head the Let's Move initiative (a successor will be named in the new year), but "will remain engaged with the initiative and the continuing effort to advance childhood nutrition," the White House announced. It's a move that was probably inevitable. According to Politico, insiders have speculated that Kass would leave his post since his August marriage to MSNBC host Alex Wagner, who lives in New York.

Little of this surprised chef Paul Kahan, who has known Kass since the young chef worked at Kahan's Avec restaurant. The two chefs connected this past week at a fundraiser at the Chicago Cultural Center for Pilot Light, a chef-driven effort that uses food to teach Chicago school kids about everyday subjects. Kass was the event's guest of honor.


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‘What you got?’ she demanded.

‘We've got stuff,’ he promised her. ‘You're going to be busy.’

On a recent trip with Mrs. Obama, the assistant White House chef was seemingly everywhere: emceeing a ‘Top Chef’ school lunch competition, moderating a round-table discussion between the first lady and parents, briefing reporters on federal nutrition initiatives, and more.

Helping hand: Mr Kass has travelled the country to promote Michelle Obama's eat-right-and-exercise-more message, one such appearances was on the reality series Top Chef (shown above)

Mr Kass, with his distinctive shaved head, wears a broad and relentless grin and speaks with an enthusiasm that's infectious as he gives shout-outs to people and programs that are ‘amazing,’ 'incredible,’ and ‘powerful.’ He has a knack for popping out just the right statistics about obesity, nutrition and exercise.

Among the health-conscious recipes Mr Kass has talked up in recent months: seared tilapia with fried rice and broccoli and carrots, garden herb-roasted chicken with braised greens, broccoli soup, sweet potatoes and greens, and cauliflower gratin.

But no matter what his policy duties may be, five days a week Mr Kass retrieves his chef's coat in the afternoon and heads upstairs to fill the Obamas' plates with healthy and appealing meals at 6.30pm, when President Barack Obama cuts short whatever's afoot in the West Wing to head home for dinner.

There's no need to consult with the first family on menu options — Mr Kass knows their likes and dislikes by heart.

Mr Kass is discreet about what he feeds the family, often batting away questions with a ‘top-secret’ dodge.

But he says the family ‘walks the walk’ on healthy foods, eating balanced meals often dictated by what's in season in the White House garden. With, of course, the occasional splurge to keep the kids happy.

Feeding the family: Mr Kass (second from left) is discreet about what he feeds the family,but he says the family ¿walks the walk¿ on healthy foods, eating balanced meals often dictated by what's in season in the White House garden

Mrs. Obama, for her part, says her girls ‘can't stay out of the kitchen when Sam is cooking.’

Among the health-conscious recipes Mr Kass has talked up in recent months: seared tilapia with fried rice and broccoli and carrots, garden herb-roasted chicken with braised greens, broccoli soup, sweet potatoes and greens, and cauliflower gratin.

His healthy snack suggestions include warm grapefruit with honey, and banana boats stuffed with raisins, nuts and crushed whole grain cereal.

The star power that comes with his chef's jacket only helps reinforce Mr Kass' message about the importance of eating right.

One minute he's demonstrating how to make turkey lasagna with spinach on morning TV or chatting with Elmo about healthy school lunches, and the next he's discussing new standards to improve meals on military bases or working with Wal-Mart to reduce the sodium content in packaged foods.

Fresh produce: Both Mrs Obama and Mr Kass (pictured) have been scheduling more public appearances of late since the first lady's cook book will be released in April

‘We're seeing real changes, both big and small, happening all over the country, and incredible partnerships and people stepping up in ways that we just never could have foreseen,’ Mr Kass says.

‘And this kind of effort has just been inspirational and gives us a lot of hope that we can truly overcome these problems in the years to come.’

It's a measure of Mr Kass' growing stature that he's gone from People magazine's ‘most beautiful’ list in his first year in Washington to Fast Company's ‘most creative people in business’ list in 2011.

Tom Colicchio, New York restaurateur and co-host of Bravo's ‘Top Chef,’ says Mr Kass' passion for healthy eating and knowledge of the issue make him a natural for his dual role.

‘He knows this stuff inside out,’ Mr Colicchio said. ‘It's not him latching on to some trend. He's taken the time to learn it and understand it.’

When more than 500 chefs gathered on the White House lawn in 2010 to launch the ‘Chefs Move to School’ program, pairing up chefs to work with individual schools, ‘that came directly from Sam,’ says Mr Colicchio. ‘This is something he cares deeply about.’

Walter Scheib, White House chef for 11 years in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, says it's a ‘wonderful thing’ that Mr Kass' cooking has become secondary to his policy work.

‘It's way overdue that chefs be involved in that component,’ says Mr Scheib. While past White House chefs might offer occasional behind-the-scenes advice on nutrition matters, Mr Scheib says, ‘We were always thought of as, 'Go back in the kitchen and be quiet.'‘

Mr Kass' relationship with the Obamas began when he cooked for the family in Chicago before the 2008 elections. He was a history major in college, who discovered a love for cooking during a summer job at a Chicago restaurant. He finished his college years abroad, and ended up training in Vienna with an acclaimed Austrian chef.

Hobnobbing with the stars: Mrs Obama and Mr Kass were featured with Dallas Cowboys football player Miles Austin (centre) when the appeared on Tom Colicchio's reality show Top Chef where they prepared healthy meals for students

Back in Chicago (where his schoolteacher father taught Malia Obama in fifth grade) Mr Kass worked at the Mediterranean restaurant Avec before opening a private chef business, Inevitable Table, that promotes ‘a healthy lifestyle that focuses on the quality and flavour of food to encourage good eating habits.’

These days, Mr Kass mixes plenty of cooking with his advocacy: He's fixed honey crisp apple salad at the Agriculture Department cafeteria, served Elmo a burrito bulging with peppers, lettuce, rice and beans, and prepared Swiss chard frittatas for children on the White House lawn.

He doesn't see much of his basement apartment as he juggles the roles of cook, policy wonk and family friend — even golfing with the president when the family vacations on Martha's Vineyard and in Hawaii.

He's also a big advocate for the White House garden, often helping troupes of schoolchildren harvest its bounty and teaching them about healthy eating.

Encouraging good behaviour: Mrs Obama convinced TV host Jay Leno (who has notoriously bad eating habits) to try a vegetable pizza as a part of her campaign for a healthy eating initiative that she has worked on with Mr Kass

At a child obesity conference last summer in California, Mr Kass told about fretting over nightmare scenarios before hosting a group of schoolchildren for a summer harvest of broccoli, kale and other vegetables — an event that was to be observed by a sizeable press corps. He worried about the fallout if just one child set a vegetables-are-yucky tone that would derail the event.

‘I didn't sleep at all the night before,’ he confessed. ‘One kid with some broccoli that they didn't like would be a national disaster for us. . Everything we're doing would've been set back two years.’

Instead, Mr Kass found himself having to rein in a girl who sneaked off to a back bench to stuff her face with fresh-cut cauliflower.

‘It's the only time in my professional career that I've ever had to ask a child to please put the vegetables back on the plate,’ he recalled to laughter, before turning serious.

‘These kids were engaged in some part of the process of what it meant to grow and eat food,’ he said.

‘And that little thing is absolutely critical to making the connection and having the foundation that kids will build on in the future to live healthier lives.’


The Obamas’ White House chef would have us all ‘Eat a Little Better’

Many good books have great first lines, but they’re mostly novels rather than cookbooks. So when you open the debut cookbook from Sam Kass, out from Clarkson Potter in April, and begin: “The Secret Service hates it when you run in the White House,” you know a few things right up front. First, that you’ll be getting a back story as well as recipes from the six years that Kass spent cooking for the Obamas in the White House, where he was not only their personal chef but senior advisor for nutrition policy, executive director for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative and co-creator of the White House’s landmark vegetable garden. Second, that Kass’ “Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World” is a lot more than its casual, do-gooder title might suggest.

The book takes off from that first line — Kass, who was a Division III baseball player in college, was running to get the first family’s dinner on the table, an event often complicated by his other tasks, not to mention the thousand tasks of his boss — and keeps going. The introduction frontloads the narrative, combining elements of memoir, mission statement and operating manual, so that we’re firmly embedded in the landscape before we get to the cooking. And it’s a pretty great landscape, not only of the White House, with its kitchen and dining room and garden of mustard greens and escarole and lavender, but of the simple yet profound approach that Kass has taken to both making and thinking about food.

“You won’t get any lectures or shaming,” Kass writes in his smart, chatty prose. “Just my no-bull take, plus advice that’ll cut through the information clutter that has complicated our relatively simple task.” Because Kass’ project with this book is not really food policy (that’s apparently his next book), but getting us to the dinner table much as he did the Obamas, to eat good, unintimidating, healthful food — with more vegetables and fruit, less sugar and preservatives and meat, and to make better choices. “Better” is the operative word here, as a recurrent descriptor (it’s a word that occurs almost as much as “awesome”), and it’s the key to Kass’ deeply accessible, slow-pitch approach.

“Eat a Little Better” is a thoroughly disarming book, intentionally so. By the time Kass gets to the more than 90 recipes, he’s grounded us in his homey pragmatism even as he’s managed to slide bits about nutrition labels, GMOs, food additives and fiber (fiber!) over the plate. Kass has a history degree from the University of Chicago (he started cooking for the Obamas before they went to Washington, D.C.) and trained as a chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Mörwald in Vienna. Kass also spent about five years traveling and cooking around the world, and becoming interested in global food systems, long before he found himself in the White House, so his prose and the recipes themselves have both context and the kind of earned simplicity that comes from classical training.

Which gets us to the recipes, which are as disarming and approachable as the rest of the book — and seemingly the chef himself. (Check out his 2015 TED talk, and his Instagram feed.) The first recipe is a primer on how to roast vegetables, and it’s both helpful and emblematic of Kass’ use of technique, utility and flavor. There are sections on meat and fish, and grains and beans, with lovely photographs by Aubrie Pick, and helpful sidebars about making smarter choices. The nearly 300 pages are threaded with personal anecdotes — Kass is married to Alex Wagner, a journalist and author, and the two have a young son — and more fun asides about his culinary life with Michelle and Barack Obama and their own kids.

Kass’s mustard green salad seems deceptively simple. Aubrie Pick / Clarkson Potter/Publishers

So you can organize your pantry like Sasha and Malia did, and get Kass’ recipe for the “lucky pasta” he made the president in the tiny kitchen of Air Force One. The recipes are often purposely simple, but they’re not simplistic. The recipe for mustard green salad, for example, which Kass says came about because of an overabundance of some purple greens in the White House garden, seems ordinary at first but has a deceptive flavor that builds as you fork it up from the bowl until you realize that you’ve eaten the whole thing. Kass’ recipe for roasted sweet potatoes (a favorite vegetable of his), which are similarly addictive, are paired with condiment bowls judiciously loaded with things (brown butter, bacon, sour cream) that remind you that he is hardly an ascetic.

One public service announcement is needed, for a cookbook that is actually loaded with them, albeit with humor and remarkable subtlety: There is not a single recipe for desserts in this book. But if you paid attention to the big bowl of fruit that Kass instituted very early in the Obama kitchen, and repeatedly points out (“we eat what we see”), you’ll know why.

Cookbook of the week: “Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World” by Sam Kass (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)


White House chef Sam Kass dishes up plates and policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sam Kass has a to-die-for job as personal chef to the Obama family but whipping up their meals is probably the least important part of his portfolio.

Kass, 31, also has a fancy title as White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. And that’s put him out front this month as the first lady marks the second anniversary of her campaign against childhood obesity.

Kass has traveled the country to promote Michelle Obama’s eat-right-and-exercise-more message, demonstrating along the way the pivotal role that he’s come to play in helping establish policies that affect what millions of school kids consume each day and in trying to influence the American diet.

When Mrs. Obama was asked during a recent interview what was next for her “Let’s Move” initiative, she quickly passed the question to Kass.

“What you got?” she demanded.

“We’ve got stuff,” he promised her. “You’re going to be busy.”

On a recent trip with Mrs. Obama, the assistant White House chef was seemingly everywhere: emceeing a “Top Chef” school lunch competition, moderating a round-table discussion between the first lady and parents, briefing reporters on federal nutrition initiatives, and more.

Kass, with his distinctive shaved head, wears a broad and relentless grin and speaks with an enthusiasm that’s infectious as he gives shout-outs to people and programs that are “amazing,” ‘’incredible,” and “powerful.” He has a knack for popping out just the right statistics about obesity, nutrition and exercise.

But no matter what his policy duties may be, five days a week Kass retrieves his chef’s coat in the afternoon and heads upstairs to fill the Obamas’ plates with healthy and appealing meals at 6:30 p.m., when President Barack Obama cuts short whatever’s afoot in the West Wing to head home for dinner.

There’s no need to consult with the first family on menu options — Kass knows their likes and dislikes by heart.

Kass is discreet about what he feeds the family, often batting away questions with a “top-secret” dodge. But he says the family “walks the walk” on healthy foods, eating balanced meals often dictated by what’s in season in the White House garden. With, of course, the occasional splurge to keep the kids happy.

Mrs. Obama, for her part, says her girls “can’t stay out of the kitchen when Sam is cooking.”

Among the health-conscious recipes Kass has talked up in recent months: seared tilapia with fried rice and broccoli and carrots, garden herb-roasted chicken with braised greens, broccoli soup, sweet potatoes and greens, and cauliflower gratin. His healthy snack suggestions include warm grapefruit with honey, and banana boats stuffed with raisins, nuts and crushed whole grain cereal.

The star power that comes with his chef’s jacket only helps reinforce Kass’ message about the importance of eating right. One minute he’s demonstrating how to make turkey lasagna with spinach on morning TV or chatting with Elmo about healthy school lunches, and the next he’s discussing new standards to improve meals on military bases or working with Wal-Mart to reduce the sodium content in packaged foods.

“We’re seeing real changes, both big and small, happening all over the country, and incredible partnerships and people stepping up in ways that we just never could have foreseen,” Kass says. “And this kind of effort has just been inspirational and gives us a lot of hope that we can truly overcome these problems in the years to come.”

It’s a measure of Kass’ growing stature that he’s gone from People magazine’s “most beautiful” list in his first year in Washington to Fast Company’s “most creative people in business” list in 2011.

Tom Colicchio, New York restaurateur and co-host of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” says Kass’ passion for healthy eating and knowledge of the issue make him a natural for his dual role.

“He knows this stuff inside out,” Colicchio said. “It’s not him latching on to some trend. He’s taken the time to learn it and understand it.”

When more than 500 chefs gathered on the White House lawn in 2010 to launch the “Chefs Move to School” program, pairing up chefs to work with individual schools, “that came directly from Sam,” says Colicchio. “This is something he cares deeply about.”

Walter Scheib, White House chef for 11 years in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, says it’s a “wonderful thing” that Kass’ cooking has become secondary to his policy work.

“It’s way overdue that chefs be involved in that component,” says Scheib. While past White House chefs might offer occasional behind-the-scenes advice on nutrition matters, Scheib says, “We were always thought of as, ‘Go back in the kitchen and be quiet.’”

Kass’ relationship with the Obamas began when he cooked for the family in Chicago before the 2008 elections. He was a history major in college, who discovered a love for cooking during a summer job at a Chicago restaurant. He finished his college years abroad, and ended up training in Vienna with an acclaimed Austrian chef.

Back in Chicago (where his schoolteacher father taught Malia Obama in fifth grade) Kass worked at the Mediterranean restaurant Avec before opening a private chef business, Inevitable Table, that promotes “a healthy lifestyle that focuses on the quality and flavor of food to encourage good eating habits.”

These days, Kass mixes plenty of cooking with his advocacy: He’s fixed honey crisp apple salad at the Agriculture Department cafeteria, served Elmo a burrito bulging with peppers, lettuce, rice and beans, and prepared Swiss chard frittatas for children on the White House lawn.

He doesn’t see much of his basement apartment as he juggles the roles of cook, policy wonk and family friend — even golfing with the president when the family vacations on Martha’s Vineyard and in Hawaii.

He’s also a big advocate for the White House garden, often helping troupes of schoolchildren harvest its bounty and teaching them about healthy eating.

At a child obesity conference last summer in California, Kass told about fretting over nightmare scenarios before hosting a group of schoolchildren for a summer harvest of broccoli, kale and other vegetables — an event that was to be observed by a sizeable press corps. He worried about the fallout if just one child set a vegetables-are-yucky tone that would derail the event.

“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he confessed. “One kid with some broccoli that they didn’t like would be a national disaster for us. … Everything we’re doing would’ve been set back two years.”

Instead, Kass found himself having to rein in a girl who sneaked off to a back bench to stuff her face with fresh-cut cauliflower.

“It’s the only time in my professional career that I’ve ever had to ask a child to please put the vegetables back on the plate,” he recalled to laughter, before turning serious.

“These kids were engaged in some part of the process of what it meant to grow and eat food,” he said. “And that little thing is absolutely critical to making the connection and having the foundation that kids will build on in the future to live healthier lives.”


Former White House chef Sam Kass wants to make healthy eating easier

Since Sam Kass took off his apron as the White House chef and left his post as senior policy adviser nutrition for the Obama administration nearly four years ago, he’s continued to devote himself to helping people eat better.

He’s involved in food-focused startups and firms such as Innit and Acre. And this week, he sees the release of his first cookbook, “Eat a Little Better.”

In addition to offering up shopping tips and answering questions like “Should I avoid sugar?,” the book features more than 90 recipes that value healthfulness as much as flavor.

“I don’t think health and flavor are in opposition in any way,” Kass, 38, says. “The choice between flavor and health is a false choice.”

amNewYork spoke with the West Village resident — and new father to a 9-month-old — about the book.

What’s the through line with the recipes in the cookbook?

I think the things I was focusing in on were really simple, accessible recipes. Basically every ingredient you could find at a totally standard grocery store, though I do have one octopus dish. Besides that, I did all the shopping in very mainstream, kind of middle-of-the-road grocery stores. They’re both tasty but simple dishes that you could put together with a week’s planning in mind. I’m just trying to make better eating really easy for people.

There’s no dessert section — how did you arrive at that choice?

It’s not that I don’t love some nice ice cream or piece of peach pie, but I don’t really make desserts. I don’t tend to finish my meals with a dessert. And I just thought it would be inauthentic to have a bunch of recipes there that aren’t the ones that I would really make. I don’t have a problem with people having a little bit of dessert. But one way you can cut out a lot of calories is not eating dessert every day.

There seems to be a new trendy diet every year or season, like keto and Whole30. What are your thoughts on those?

I think most of those diets have benefits for people because they essentially end up getting them to eat more whole foods and get them to eat less. But they’re not easily attainable for the long term. I would say to take some of those principles and try to implement them in a way where you can have some real sustainability in the way that you approach it. Smaller steps to me seem to be a more effective way to do this.

Where do you shop for food?

I have a great butcher around the way, Hudson & Charles. I order through something called Thrive Market. It just launched a great meat program, I get a lot of sustainable meats from there. I have a garden, I try to grow a lot of my food during the summer. And I go to regular grocery stores.

How do you balance eating out?

We’re in New York City, so you tend to eat out with some regularity. But we cook a lot. One of the best things you can do is to cook a little more. So that’s a good way to start.

What are your go-to snacks?

I basically never leave home without some Kind bars. I think they’re tasty and they’re convenient. I think the key, especially on snacking, you just have to have some good snacks around, because that’s when you can really fall off the wagon. I really rely a lot on dried fruits, or nuts. I have a little beef jerky.

Has having a child affected your diet at all?

It hasn’t. He just makes me understand just how important all the work around child health and nutrition is, all the things we’re working on, because you just see so clearly how what you’re giving them early on shapes their preferences. Just getting them off to the right start is so important for all kids, and making sure kids are getting the basic nutrition that they need. This book is trying to take what we learned and the work we did [in the White House] to help families and parents implement those strategies in their own home.

From reports, there appears to be a lot of fast food and soda in the White House now. What are your thoughts on and reaction to that?

The majority of the things that we did are still intact, so I’m happy about that. But I think the president sets an example, and on many levels I think he’s setting a terrible example for young people especially, and for everybody. That’s also true when it comes to food. Food is [a leading] cause of preventable death and disease in this country. To have a president who glorifies junk food and lives off of it is not what this country needs. But I’d say that’s the least of our challenges right now.

Bean town

“The book is a reflection of how I eat,” Kass says. A recent dish he made from “Eat a Little Better” is this recipe for beans, which works for any dried beans and doesn’t require any soaking. You can also save the cooking liquid for a broth for soups or to moisten cooked grains, he notes in the cookbook.

Makes about 6 cups beans, plus leftover bean broth

Several peeled garlic cloves

A couple chunks or slices of bacon (optional)

Water, low-sodium chicken stock, or a combination of both, as needed

1. Pick through the beans and look for stones. It’s rare, but you’ll occasionally catch something. Give the beans a rinse.

2.Put the beans, garlic, bay leaves, bacon (if using), and a few generous pinches of salt in a large pot. Pour in enough water and/or stock to cover the beans by 2 inches or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, adjusting the heat if necessary to maintain a very gentle simmer. Cook until the beans are soft and creamy but before they begin to burst. The timing differs according to your beans and how old they are, but I’d start checking after about 1 1⁄2 hours. When they’re just a touch firmer than you like, season the broth with salt until it tastes great and continue cooking until done.

3.If you’re not using them right away, let the beans cool in the cooking liquid and store them and the liquid in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Reprinted from Eat A Little Better. Copyright c 2018 by Sam Kass. Photographs copyright c 2017 by Aubrie Pick. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.


Cooking’s not the half of it for White House’s Sam Kass chef dishes up policy

WASHINGTON – Sam Kass has a to-die-for job as personal chef to the Obama family but whipping up their meals is probably the least important part of his portfolio.

Kass, 31, also has a fancy title as White House senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives. And that’s put him out front this month as the first lady marks the second anniversary of her campaign against childhood obesity.

Kass has travelled the country to promote Michelle Obama’s eat-right-and-exercise-more message, demonstrating along the way the pivotal role that he’s come to play in helping establish policies that affect what millions of school kids consume each day and in trying to influence the American diet.

When Mrs. Obama was asked during a recent interview what was next for her “Let’s Move” initiative, she quickly passed the question to Kass.

“What you got?” she demanded.

“We’ve got stuff,” he promised her. “You’re going to be busy.”

On a recent trip with Mrs. Obama, the assistant White House chef was seemingly everywhere: emceeing a “Top Chef” school lunch competition, moderating a round-table discussion between the first lady and parents, briefing reporters on federal nutrition initiatives, and more.

Kass, with his distinctive shaved head, wears a broad and relentless grin and speaks with an enthusiasm that’s infectious as he gives shout-outs to people and programs that are “amazing,” ”incredible,” and “powerful.” He has a knack for popping out just the right statistics about obesity, nutrition and exercise.

But no matter what his policy duties may be, five days a week Kass retrieves his chef’s coat in the afternoon and heads upstairs to fill the Obamas’ plates with healthy and appealing meals at 6:30 p.m., when President Barack Obama cuts short whatever’s afoot in the West Wing to head home for dinner.

There’s no need to consult with the first family on menu options – Kass knows their likes and dislikes by heart.

Kass is discreet about what he feeds the family, often batting away questions with a “top-secret” dodge. But he says the family “walks the walk” on healthy foods, eating balanced meals often dictated by what’s in season in the White House garden. With, of course, the occasional splurge to keep the kids happy.

Mrs. Obama, for her part, says her girls “can’t stay out of the kitchen when Sam is cooking.”

Among the health-conscious recipes Kass has talked up in recent months: seared tilapia with fried rice and broccoli and carrots, garden herb-roasted chicken with braised greens, broccoli soup, sweet potatoes and greens, and cauliflower gratin. His healthy snack suggestions include warm grapefruit with honey, and banana boats stuffed with raisins, nuts and crushed whole grain cereal.

The star power that comes with his chef’s jacket only helps reinforce Kass’ message about the importance of eating right. One minute he’s demonstrating how to make turkey lasagna with spinach on morning TV or chatting with Elmo about healthy school lunches, and the next he’s discussing new standards to improve meals on military bases or working with Wal-Mart to reduce the sodium content in packaged foods.

“We’re seeing real changes, both big and small, happening all over the country, and incredible partnerships and people stepping up in ways that we just never could have foreseen,” Kass says. “And this kind of effort has just been inspirational and gives us a lot of hope that we can truly overcome these problems in the years to come.”

It’s a measure of Kass’s growing stature that he’s gone from People magazine’s “most beautiful” list in his first year in Washington to Fast Company’s “most creative people in business” list in 2011.

Tom Colicchio, New York restaurateur and co-host of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” says Kass’s passion for healthy eating and knowledge of the issue make him a natural for his dual role.

“He knows this stuff inside out,” Colicchio said. “It’s not him latching on to some trend. He’s taken the time to learn it and understand it.”

When more than 500 chefs gathered on the White House lawn in 2010 to launch the “Chefs Move to School” program, pairing up chefs to work with individual schools, “that came directly from Sam,” says Colicchio. “This is something he cares deeply about.”

Walter Scheib, White House chef for 11 years in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, says it’s a “wonderful thing” that Kass’s cooking has become secondary to his policy work.

“It’s way overdue that chefs be involved in that component,” says Scheib. While past White House chefs might offer occasional behind-the-scenes advice on nutrition matters, Scheib says, “We were always thought of as, ‘Go back in the kitchen and be quiet.'”

Kass’s relationship with the Obamas began when he cooked for the family in Chicago before the 2008 elections. He was a history major in college, who discovered a love for cooking during a summer job at a Chicago restaurant. He finished his college years abroad, and ended up training in Vienna with an acclaimed Austrian chef.

Back in Chicago (where his schoolteacher father taught Malia Obama in fifth grade) Kass worked at the Mediterranean restaurant Avec before opening a private chef business, Inevitable Table, that promotes “a healthy lifestyle that focuses on the quality and flavour of food to encourage good eating habits.”

These days, Kass mixes plenty of cooking with his advocacy: He’s fixed honey crisp apple salad at the Agriculture Department cafeteria, served Elmo a burrito bulging with peppers, lettuce, rice and beans, and prepared Swiss chard frittatas for children on the White House lawn.

He doesn’t see much of his basement apartment as he juggles the roles of cook, policy wonk and family friend – even golfing with the president when the family vacations on Martha’s Vineyard and in Hawaii.

He’s also a big advocate for the White House garden, often helping troupes of schoolchildren harvest its bounty and teaching them about healthy eating.

At a child obesity conference last summer in California, Kass told about fretting over nightmare scenarios before hosting a group of schoolchildren for a summer harvest of broccoli, kale and other vegetables – an event that was to be observed by a sizeable press corps. He worried about the fallout if just one child set a vegetables-are-yucky tone that would derail the event.

“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he confessed. “One kid with some broccoli that they didn’t like would be a national disaster for us. … Everything we’re doing would’ve been set back two years.”

Instead, Kass found himself having to rein in a girl who sneaked off to a back bench to stuff her face with fresh-cut cauliflower.

“It’s the only time in my professional career that I’ve ever had to ask a child to please put the vegetables back on the plate,” he recalled to laughter, before turning serious.

“These kids were engaged in some part of the process of what it meant to grow and eat food,” he said. “And that little thing is absolutely critical to making the connection and having the foundation that kids will build on in the future to live healthier lives.”


Watch the video: Of the People: Healthy Cooking in the White House Kitchen (June 2022).