At the end of this intimate interview, you’ll find links to three paleo french cuisine inspired recipes contributed by Chef Alain Braux.
1. How did you learn about paleo and what lead you to embracing it as you have?
As you know, I am allergic to gluten and I had been on a gluten free diet for the past 3 years. A friend and colleague at work kept on telling me to switch to paleo. After turning a deaf ear for a while, I kept on hearing about this new yet ancient diet. So I became curious, studied it and finally got convinced it could be the right next step for me and my health. I jumped in with my two hands and two feet and indeed, I felt even better on it. So I am currently almost 100% paleo (don’t tell anyone but I cheat a little with corn chips and yummy French cheese sometimes). According to esteemed paleo authors, I am allowed to cheat a little as long as I know what the consequences will be, mainly, not feeling quite as good.
2. You are not originally from the US, can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I am originally a French trained, true bleu, blanc, rouge (the French national colors) Certified Executive Pastry Chef and Certified Master Baker (Certified means that I had to take and pass a written and practical exam in both professions). 34 years ago, I was offered a job as pastry chef and ice cream chef in New York City. Then Houston, Austin, Sarasota and finally back in Austin. That’s when I decided to open my own business – Amandine French Bakery and Café. I held the positions of owner, executive chef, bottle washer, bookkeeper, mop wrangler and many more. During that time, I became interested in nutrition thanks to 2 of my vegetarian assistants.
I thought it would be cool to combine my knowledge in pastry/baking/cooking and my newfound passion for nutrition and become a chef and nutritionist. It did not happen overnight. I first studied macrobiotics for 2 years then received a Bachelor’s Degree in Holistic Nutrition after another 2 years of studying. By then, I had lost my bakery and Cafe. I worked for a catering venue for a while, then I became a pastry and baking instructor at an Austin culinary school (Escoffier). After a couple of years of daily tasting of pastries and bread, I started to gain weight and my cholesterol shot through the roof.
3. How did you become a chef and food and health author?
I decided to test my newfound nutrition knowledge on myself and went on a Mediterranean diet (I am from Nice, in the South of France). After one year on my self-imposed diet, I went back to my doctor for follow up testing. I had lost 10 pounds and dropped my cholesterol (without statin drugs) by 35 points. Yay! Right around that time, I had started working as a chef and nutritionist at my current job with Peoples Pharmacy, Austin. I wanted to share my story with other people with the same health issues. That is when I wrote my first book: “How to Lower Your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food”.
A year later, my boss suggested I create gluten- and dairy-free recipes for his clients. So I did… and a short time after that I wrote my second book: “Living Gluten and Dairy-Free with French Gourmet Food”. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Challenged by my clients commenting that they could not afford to eat healthy on their budget, I wrote my next book: “Healthy French Cuisine for Less Than $10/Day”. Finally, I wrote my “Paleo French Cuisine” this year based on my newest personal experience.
4. GMO food issues, which you are an expert in, happen to be a hot topic right now with plenty of information and misinformation. Can you provide a little bit of clarity on what we should know about GMOs and how this relates to paleo?
Since I am not a young man anymore, I developed knee and hip problems. 45 years working in a professional kitchen will do that to your body. My boss put me at a desk and for a while, I developed and costed recipes for our central kitchen (we have three delis serving healthy food). Although I was aware of the background noise regarding GMOs (Genetically Engineered Organisms), sometimes called GE (Genetically Engineered) or GM (Genetically Modified), I became more aware of their consequences when I heard about a story regarding GMOs and Whole Foods Market whose headquarters is in Austin. That piqued my curiosity (I am a very “Curious George” – my middle name). As is usual with me, I did a lot of research about it and finally convinced my employer that it was an important issue that should be addressed at Peoples Pharmacy. So he put me in charge of rooting out and eliminating GMOs out of our food, groceries, supplements and cosmetics.
I started about 8 months ago and as I dug deeper into that issue I was flabbergasted at what I discovered. Believe me when I say GMOs are everywhere. And it’s complicated too. Currently, all together, I am dealing with about 400 assorted suppliers. A lot of work for little ol’ me but I love it. After all, I am a food geek and I love food research. So far, I have 75 pages of GE ingredients in my database and it keeps on growing. On the food and grocery side, pretty much all of my suppliers are aware of the problem and open to my questions. More and more are becoming Non-GMO Verified by the Non-GMO Project and that is a good thing. On the other hand, on the supplement and cosmetics side, it’s a lot more complicated. That’s all I can say at this time. To further my training I spent a week in Seattle last August at a non-GMO conference and spent a full day being trained by the world-renowned expert, Jeffrey Smith. I also went to a recent conference in Bastrop, Texas… and I keep on learning daily.
5. You are also a Nutritherapist. Can you tell me a little bit about what Nutrition Therapy is?
I use the term nutrition therapist as a way to differentiate myself from nutritionists who typically work with supplements, homeopathy and herbs. Food is my healing medium. That is all I use when I work with my private clientele with food allergy issues.
6. Tell me a little bit about the services you provide as a Nutritherapist.
I work with clients with a wide assortment of health issues, most of them related to food allergies (some of them up to 20 allergies per person) and create a personalized diet just for them. It can be quite complex but I love doing it. I also offer GMO-detective work research for people in need. I use my vast database of recipes and develop a 2 week to one month rotation diet with advice and recipes. All they have to do is cook the food or hire a private chef.
7. You have written books on the subjects of lowering cholesterol, eating gluten-free and dairy-free and eating paleo. What is your preferred diet personally and why?
At the current time, paleo is my game. Like most chefs will tell you, I do not cook much at home. It’s like asking a mechanic to come home and fix more cars at the end of his workday. So I keep my food very simple but light and healthy. Of course, I tend to lean on my favorite, Mediterranean cuisine whenever I can.
8. You also have a book called Healthy French Cuisine for Less than $10/Day. Can you give us a few basic tips on how people can eat paleo without it costing a fortune?
It’s a combination of shopping tricks (wholesale shopping, farmers’ market), portion control (I am a big proponent of that – quality over quantity), eating in season when products are at the peak of ripeness and the least expensive to buy; growing your own kitchen garden for freshness plus quality and cost reasons. I also offer a lot of how-to shopping advice. As a chef that had to keep his food costs in line all of his professional life, I know a trick or two about it. Besides, I learned a lot from my grandmother – Mammie – who raised me on her small farm and my mom who, as a typical French housewife, was shopping daily at the local “marché du quartier” (local open market).
9. With this most recent book, Paleo French Cuisine, you have adapted many French recipes to the paleo diet, illustrating how it is possible to have food that is both healthy and delicious. Is paleo well-known in France and, if so, how many have adopted the paleo diet?
Yes, I did. You might be surprised to discover that there are quite a lot of traditional French recipes that qualify as paleo. You just have to know what to look for and do a little adjustment here and there. Then I became creative. That’s what chefs do on a daily basis. It’s actually pretty easy to eat healthy and delicious. You pick the best and freshest quality ingredients, show them love and respect in your cooking methods and Voilà! Paleo French Cuisine.
Paleo is absolutely unknown in France. It’s there but French folks do not call it by any name. They just call it food. 🙂 When I told them I was writing a book on the subject, they asked me a lot of questions about it and after I told them the principles behind it, they said: “Mais bien sur, c’est de la nourriture traditionelle” (But of course, its’ traditional cooking). Between you and I, in France, they think Americans are a little crazy about all these food fads. Oh well! C’est la vie!
10. Alain, what are your plans for the future now with the release of this paleo book?
It’s my best seller so far. I am impressed at how well it’s doing considering there are no pictures. I prefer to pack my books with information and recipes instead of filling the pages with pretty pictures. As a self-published author, it is also very costly to take and publish a book with pretty food pictures. Maybe one day, if I get picked up by a traditional publisher, I will have the budget to do that. Who knows?
Of course, I am already working on my next book but it’s a secret for now. 🙂 The only thing I can tell you is that it will be about food and how certain American corporations are messing with it and making us sick in the process. What a big surprise!
11. For my last question, is there anything else you would like to say or add?
I have mixed feelings about the future of our food class culture in this country. On one hand, I am concerned about the lack of quality of mass-produced processed “stuff” (I can’t honestly call it food) that the lower class and lower middle class buys and eats. That food makes them sick and puts a heavy burden on our national healthcare. On the other side, you have the upper middle and higher class of customers that can afford the highest quality food and stay healthy that way, which is good, but might create a food chasm between these two sides of society. I do suggest to my lower class clients that they do like my grandma and grow their own food, but most of them do not have the land or even the time to grow their own food.
There are good programs in place already in Austin teaching disadvantaged children how to grow and cook their own food. The best known program in Austin is operated by the Sustainable Food Center. It is a non-profit organization that is doing a lot of good in our town. They are not the only organization but some people can use all the help they can get to stay healthy. I hope there are similar programs in your town or neighborhood so that, one day, everyone will have access to fresh and healthy produce at a reasonable cost. This way, everyone will be healthier. You may call me a dreamer.
My pleasure. Chef Alain Braux,
A Votre Santé – To Your Health – http://www.alainbraux.com