The Fresh Diet: Like a Private Chef for the Healthy

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It's always been a secret dream of mine to have my own private chef. I imagine I can't be alone in that wish. The next best thing, of course, would be to have fresh, yummy meals delivered each day, which is why I was very interested to learn that The Fresh Diet had come to town January.

The Fresh Diet delivers three meals and two snacks a day to clients of the program and bill their menus as "designed to promote lean body mass, weight loss, decreased carbohydrate craving, lowered blood sugar levels, increased energy levels and improved mental clarity." It's based on two basic principles: a 40/30/30 (carbohydrates/fats/protein) nutritional balance and an "eat only what you love" philosophy. Many a famous person has gotten on board The Fresh Diet train, including Holly Madison, Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight movies, ABC's Off The Map), Steve Smith (NY Giants), Ben Tate (Houston Texans) and many others who don't want to share the secret of their dietary success.

The executive chef and chief culinary officer of The Fresh Diet is Yosef Schwartz, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Pasadena, California. An integral part of his program there was a culinary externship. Schwartz opted to complete his in Miami. That's where he met up with an old high school friend, Zalmi Duchman. It was Duchman who had the idea of "taking the 40/30/30 nutritional balancing premise a step beyond traditional practice."

Duchman's plan was to create a gourmet, freshly prepared food menu from which health-conscious clients could choose and have delivered to them. Schwartz loved the idea and with Duchman as well as another high school friend they started what is now known as The Fresh Diet.

I was fascinated to discover that Schwartz doesn't taste any of the food he makes because he can't. Why? Simple. He's an Orthodox Jew and therefore keeps kosher. As for what he'll cook, on the other hand, Schwartz says he will gladly cook anything. But as for eating, "I eat only kosher," he says emphatically.

Upon hearing all of this, I couldn't help but think of Beethoven not being able to hear his own symphonies. But he says it's a non-issue. "I don't find it hard because I've been doing it for over 10 years now and I am a very technical chef. I have never come across people taking issue with the fact that I am kosher. In fact, the opposite happens and they are even more interested because of it and are even more surprised when they taste my food and how good it is."

The menus he creates are made up of simple, clean flavors, that depend on the freshest, best ingredients available. He says his interest in this style of cooking comes from his upbringing. "I grew up in California," he explains, "and my mom is a health nut, vegetarian and macrobiotic. We had a garden and I grew up eating healthy, fresh home-cooked meals. When you're a family of 12, it's too expensive to even go out for pizza."

I was also caught off guard a bit when Schwartz told me that he doesn't see cooking as a necessary skill. "I don't think it's important for people to know how to cook. First of all, it's not a necessity anymore for survival, and I'm not just saying that because The Fresh Diet provides people with healthy, freshly prepared food everyday. There are other options as well like including frozen dinners, restaurants, etc."

He is, perhaps not surprisingly, a rather practical guy and when I ask him what he would characterize as a perfect day, he minces no words when he answers. "No such thing," he says. "But I try to have one everyday nonetheless."

Interestingly, Schwartz not only doesn't take issue with all of the food related TV out there these days, he genuinely seems to like it. "I think it's great TV! People love food and food is a form of entertainment in itself -- so combine the two and it makes it very entertaining. And culinary schools and grads are always growing in numbers. And I see that they're educating a younger generation of kids and turning them into foodies. I know a lot of my friends' kids who watch the Food Network more than cartoons."

So here's how the program works: Clients go online to choose their menus. The Premium Choice program allows them to choose unlimited dislikes that will be excluded from the client's menus and hand pick each day's menu of three meals and two snacks from a list of four or more choices for each. The slightly cheaper Chef's Choice plan allows clients to choose up to eight dislikes to be excluded. Other than that, it's chef's choice. Then, each night, the meals for the next day are delivered to your front stoop in a cooler, complete with ice packs. So, no worries if you don't notice it for an hour or two. (On Friday nights, meals for Saturday and Sunday meals are delivered. They don't do any Saturday deliveries.)

The choices are actually rather plentiful, as I discovered perusing their website, and, no, they're not all salads, although you will certainly find them. I sampled several, all of which turned out to be some of my favorites of the dishes I tried. I also really dug the fruit salads they offer for breakfast and the variety of grilled fish, including my personal fave, sea bass that came with a couscous and roasted yellow squash and a sweet, smooth citrus sauce.

One fun feature, if you're not much of a cook, is that many of the dishes are things you wouldn't be likely to cook regularly for yourself. Take for example, the soba noodle salad with beets, sesame seeds, and tofu and an Asian sesame ginger dressing; crab cakes (with real crab meat) served with wild rice and broccoli mash; turkey meatballs; and orange roughy with citrus sauce that comes along with some simple whole wheat linguine and roasted asparagus. Another feature I enjoyed was that all of the sauces came in separate containers so you could decide how much or how little to use. They also have a number of flavored cottage cheeses (pear, blueberry, etc.) for breakfast.

The food is restaurant quality delicious. A good restaurant. In fact, Schwartz's dishes have been praised by Phil Lempert, food trends editor for NBC's Today. And, I have to say, the prospect of never having to concern myself with what to eat, let alone what to eat that won't cause me to lose my Lifetime status with Weight Watchers, is incredibly attractive. But I won't lie. These are not big portions. For example, if you see tuna dumplings on the menu, it means dumpling. And if you see butterscotch cookies as a choice, it means cookie.

Although upon measuring, I discover they are certainly appropriate portions. Three or 4 ounces of protein, maybe a quarter to a half a cup of pastas or rices, and the rest is veggies. My mom would be proud.

The Fresh Diet already has 250 customers here in the Dallas area. Schwartz is delighted, of course, since The Fresh Diet is clearly his first and only career love. In fact, down the line, Schwartz says he imagines himself continuing to do exactly what he does now, "traveling to all my kitchens around the U.S."

Here in Dallas, meals are prepared by chef George Shepherd, who attended The Culinary Institute of LeNotre in Houston. Following graduation, he went to work at The Crescent Moon Wine Bar in the Woodlands, where he worked directly under executive chef Cody Pesunda. Soon thereafter, he became sous chef before leaving to accept the position here with The Fresh Diet.

Shepherd says he digs working with The Fresh Diet because of the variety of foods it allows him to cook, and he sees himself staying put in the foreseeable future.

Like Schwartz, Shepherd says there really isn't anything he wouldn't cook and is pretty much willing to try any food once. Although, he says, "One thing I could do without eating is tomatoes."

Unlike Schwartz, Shepherd thinks people should know how to cook. "So many foods you buy today in the grocery store are full of preservatives, chemicals...so they can sit on a shelf. If you know how to cook, you can eliminate those byproducts and live a healthier, longer life."

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