In a community of chefs who are making health food worthy of New Orleanians' high standards, Jodi Brown is among the newest breakout talents.
"There is a huge disconnect for the majority of the public, especially in a food-centric city like this," Brown says. "People actually believe that in order to eat healthy foods, you must give up flavor."
Featuring clever ingredient pairings and well-balanced flavors, Brown's simple yet sophisticated recipes focus on nutrient density. She does not promote an exclusively raw diet, but most of her recipes follow a rule: No single ingredient is ever heated above 120 F, because heat deteriorates a food's nutritional potency.
The Boston-born, longtime New Orleanian, who goes by the moniker Ultimate Kitchen Commando (www.ultimatekitchencommando.com), teaches classes, provides cooking demonstrations and recently began offering raw chocolate nut clusters at Nola Flora, which sold quickly during a trial run. She's received some attention from the media and has taught classes and conducted cooking demonstrations. Brown addresses the realities of how to fit healthful eating into already busy lives by teaching people how to purchase, store and quickly prepare fresh produce.
Brown made the switch to a primarily raw, vegan diet in 2007. "[After dealing with post-Hurricane Katrina] demolition dust, chemicals, construction materials and the fumes and toxic gases associated with them ... I felt like I needed to be pressure washed from the inside out," she wrote on her website. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Brown returned to her native Boston to recuperate. A friend introduced her to cleansing and a raw diet, and Brown shed 13 pounds, along with some emotional weight. Healed, Browned reconnected with other New Orleans transplants and traveled to Latin America before returning to the Crescent City renewed, reinvigorated and ready to teach others how amazing healthful eating can be — on New Orleanian terms.
"I fly by the seat of my pants with recipe writing," Brown says. "I want my readers to learn to fly a little more free-form in their kitchen, and I have to figure out a way to balance that with good 'core' recipes. I will always be a work in progress. Always."
Brown's blueberry salsa recipe is a good example of her culinary ethos. Combining numerous antioxidants that prevent cancer and improve memory, this sweet salsa lends a slightly Caribbean touch to lean proteins. Brown often serves it atop blackened fish and brown rice, transforming an otherwise plain meal with texture and hints of licorice, sweetness and heat.
Formerly a 350-pound rock critic, Russ Lane got into food writing after he lost 200 pounds on a natural diet. He teaches and lectures on lifestyle strategies, and is working on his first book (details at www.ikeepitoff.com).
BLUEBERRY TOMATO SALSA
Makes about eight 1/2-cup servings.
Recipe by Jodi Brown
1 cup blueberries
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
10-12 fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1-2 tablespoons good quality fruit-flavored vinegar
Sea salt, cayenne (a pinch of each)
Combine all ingredients in the same bowl. Cut the cherry tomatoes into pieces that are roughly the same size as the blueberries. Dice the yellow bell pepper. Stack and roll the basil leaves like a cigar and cut across the leaves to form thin strips. Add honey, walnut oil, vinegar, sea salt and cayenne, adjusting seasoning as desired. Let the salsa sit for 30 minutes before serving. Serve atop fish or other lean proteins, or in any other dish that pairs well with salsa.
Per serving: calories 63.1, total fat 3.6 g (saturated fat 0.3 g, polyunsaturated fat 2.2 g, monounsaturated fat 0.8 g), cholesterol 0 mg, sodium 4.2 mg, potassium 190.8 mg, total carbohydrates 8.2 g, dietary fiber 2.1 g, sugars 4.1 g, protein 0.9 g.