Chef Del Sroufe Leads the Way to Health, One Recipe At a Time
Better Than Vegan, Chef Del Sroufe’s second cookbook, is a treasure trove of recipes, a philosophy of eating, and a compelling life story wrapped in with a stunning compilation of vibrant food photos. This book follows the author’s New York Times bestselling Forks Over Knives: The Cookbook, yet stands on its own as a guide to making delicious whole foods, plant-based recipes.
Instructions for recipes are straightforward and simple to follow. Full-color photos of the finished dishes are also useful guides to preparation. The ingredients are familiar and easy to find in any well-stocked grocery story. Many of the recipes have short ingredient lists, and the book gives practical advice on cookware and pantry basics. Chef Del invites you to use his recipes as springboards for your own ideas.
Better Than Vegan is also sprinkled with quiet humor. For example the recipe for Big Fat Breakfast Pizza contains the advice: “Do not share with anyone who criticizes you for making pizza for breakfast.” Even newcomers will be inspired to jump into the kitchen and start having fun.
The food spans a varieties of cultures. In each recipe, you can sense Chef Del’s determination to prepare great-tasting foods that embody health and are fun to make. He creatively substitutes whole food
ingredients for oils, meat, and dairy, using uncomplicated cooking techniques he carefully explains.
Even more, Chef Del tells you why he cooks this way, sharing his battles with obesity, yo-yo dieting, and isolation with unflinching detail. His weight issues started with his parents’ divorce when he was age six, and he was on a medically supervised diet by the time he was eight. This escalated to the dangerous weight of 475 pounds when he was in his forties. The interesting thing is that he ate himself to this level on a purely vegan diet of nutritionally-deficient foods dense with oils and concentrated sugars.
Hence Chef Del’s new philosophy of eating: a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet that brought him down to 230 pounds now. He shares his guidelines with 5 basic rules of nutrition and 10 dietary mistakes of excess and deficiency.
I was fortunate to have the chance to talk with Chef Del about his experience of writing Better Than Vegan. The first question I eagerly posed was about the creative process he uses to come up with recipes.
He chuckled as he answered. “It’s part creative, part formulaic, and part inspiration. For example, a salad has a certain structure. A salad dressing has an acidic base. Seasoning is so important to the flavor, and that part is mostly inspirational. I like to try out unusual combinations of seasonings or use the same spice in a variety of ways. Cumin, for example, is versatile, and is part of a different flavor profile in various cultural traditions, depending on the other seasonings it’s combined with and how it is cooked.”
Chef Del’s enthusiasm for cooking was a pleasure to hear about. “The most fun part of cooking is exploring different flavors and traditions – the possibilities of food. I’ve been reading cookbooks all my
life, starting with The Joy of Cooking when I was a child. There are some excellent cooks in my family, and I started out absorbing what they did. Now, I live in a town that is ethnically diverse, and love exploring all the cuisines and getting to work with chefs from varied backgrounds. I also travel around the U.S. learning about different cooking techniques and possibilities. I see myself more as a food explorer than as a chef. I am excited about world food traditions and the challenge of taking unhealthy ingredients, especially oils, out of traditional recipes and coming up with substitute ways of preparation that still make food taste great.”
This project has an unmistakable artistic aspect. “Think about a sculptor starting with a chunk of stone. He sees the possibilities and gradually the outcome is revealed as he works on it. It’s hard work, physically demanding at times, but it’s cool to share the final creation. I am like a sculptor of food. It’s a similar process.”
Chef Del is excited that his career is transitioning to more opportunities to teach, educate, and reach out. “For example, someone may say to me “I don’t like tofu.” Well, I can understand that if all he’s eaten is tofu stir fries in a mediocre restaurant. There are thousands of ways to prepare tofu. Spend a week with me, and you’ll learn to like it. Now I am getting the opportunity to teach people all over the country about healthy cooking with whole foods ingredients. I’m teaching a year-long weight loss program for the Wellness Forum, which combines cooking with the science of nutrition and behavior change. It helps me, too, in dealing with my own issues around food to work with others on this. I enjoy live classes the best, and am doing more and more of these all over the country and helping people with a wide variety of financial and psychological challenges to healthy eating.”
I asked Chef Del if it was difficult for him to reveal painful details of his struggles with overeating for Better Than Vegan. “Not really,” he answered. “I have been sharing my story with small groups of people for a long time. I am always amazed how people respond so positively and understand what I went through. They can definitely relate to the binging, weird diets, and self-imposed isolation and secrecy that used to control my life. I use my experience to help others and bring them to that healthy table. How they get there can vary. But there is only one healthy table and it’s the same for everyone – a whole foods, plant-based diet.”
If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read more about the nutritional basis for weight loss with whole foods, plant-based recipes.
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Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet: How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. The book outlines a plant-based eating plan that could be deliciously followed by eating Chef Del’s recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.