“Hell’s Kitchen” chef teaches healthy holiday cooking to Oaklanders at Beebe Memorial Cathedral
on November 22, 2011
Bowls of watercress salad with herbed goat cheese and roasted beets were followed by portions of steaming vegetables and chicken quinoa. Then, the coup de grace: A dessert of grilled pear melba, a classic dessert traditionally made with poached peaches and rich vanilla ice cream instead topped with raspberry sauce and frozen yogurt. This three-course meal may sound like gourmet restaurant fare, served with fancy flatware, but it was actually eaten off of paper plates with plastic utensils at the Beebe Memorial Cathedral in North Oakland.
More than 200 people gathered in the main hall of the cathedral on Saturday afternoon for a healthy holiday cooking class taught by celebrity chef Rahman “Rock” Harper,winner of the 2007 season of “Hell’s Kitchen,” who showed the audience how to chop, sauté, flip and whisk up a healthy holiday meal, just in time for Thanksgiving.
“Kids, of course, they love chicken fingers and fries. I’m American, I love that stuff too,” Harper said as he prepared a beet salad in front of the audience. “But kids are adventurous, they take chances. Give your children the opportunity, give yourselves the opportunity, to take some chances.”
Every year, the American Heart Association sponsors the class in Oakland. Attendees paid $10 for the demonstration and accompanying meal; proceeds will go to the AHA’s Power to End Stroke campaign, a program that educates the black community about the high risk of stroke and how it can be reduced.
“The purpose is to bring the community out to talk about healthy cooking while spreading some of the messages from the American Heart Association about heart disease and stroke,” said Vicki Williams, a healthy equity director at AHA who has planned the event for the past four years.
Williams said she chose Harper to lead the fourth annual class because “he is living the lifestyle that we are trying to talk about.” Harper was and has worked in restaurants across the country, from Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas to B. Smith’s in Washington, D.C. He is currently a board member at the non-profit D.C. Central Kitchen and author of the book 44 Things Parents Should Know About Healthy Cooking for Kids.
“I look for chefs who have a healthy message,” Williams said. “We’re giving tips to still eat the way you like to eat, but in a healthier fashion. Watch your sodium, watch your sugar and watch your fat.”
About 700,000 people in this country will have a stroke this year and black Americans are at greater risk, said a press release from the AHA. A healthy diet and exercise can help reduce this risk, said Williams, which is why she organizes the healthy cooking class each year before the holidays, when many people let themselves indulge more than usual.
“You may want to have your grandmother’s favorite apple pie, the sweet potato pie, and those may be fattening,” she said. “But there are some other things you can balance.”
Over the past four years, Williams has witnessed this class make a difference among Oakland residents. “We sell out every year,” Williams said. “We get new participants, and people who say, ‘I’m eating healthy now.’ Slowly but surely, it’s coming around.”
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