If you ascribe to the anti-inflammatory diet, you’ve probably already heard of Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil is the Harvard-educated godfather of integrative medicine and one of the major proponents of this way of eating, which highlights foods that ward off general inflammation, a condition that leads to many chronic diseases.
What you may not know is that Dr. Weil is also a successful restaurateur.
“In my work over the years, my greatest challenge has been convincing people that there's no distinction between food that's good and food that's good for you,” says Dr. Weil. True Food Kitchen seeks to be the emblem of this life-long mission.
What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
Dr. Weil popularized the anti-inflammatory diet as a way to ward off chronic inflammation, a problem that plagues many Americans, whether they realize it or not.
“I feel that chronic low-level inflammation is the root cause of most of the serious chronic diseases that people get, and that your best shot at optimum health is in following an anti-inflammatory lifestyle," he explains. "Diet is a big piece of that.”
The anti-inflammatory diet can lessen risk of cancer, obesity, heart problems, and diabetes, amongst other health issues.
So what does this diet look like?
In essence, it consists of an abundance and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables with minimized consumption of processed foods. Whole grains, beans, fresh produce, extra-virgin olive oil, and fish are all welcome, while other oils, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and most dairy and animal proteins are to be eaten in moderation or not at all.
Dr. Weil's True Food Kitchen
To further the mission of democratizing the anti-inflammatory diet, Dr. Weil opened the very first True Food Kitchen in Phoenix in 2008. It’s a unique restaurant in that it is backed by a coherent nutritional philosophy, based, Dr. Weil says, on the Mediterranean diet – one of the healthy diets most backed by science – with a few Asian influences, inspired by Dr. Weil’s many trips to Japan.
One of the secrets of Dr. Weil’s success is that he’s not selling his food as healthy, but rather as tasty.
“It's a restaurant that serves delicious food that happens to conform to cutting-edge science,” he says. “So I don't call it an anti-inflammatory restaurant; it's a great restaurant that serves really good food.”
When Dr. Weil set about creating this restaurant, alongside restaurateur Sam Fox of Fox Restaurant Concepts, he realized that the process would be met with its own set of challenges. While both men shared the dream and vision of this restaurant, they did knock heads on a few specifics.
“For instance, when we opened the first restaurant in Phoenix, he wanted soda on the menu -- I said absolutely not,” Dr. Weil says.
While Dr. Weil won that debate, he would end up compromising by allowing Fox to put red meat on the menu.
“He insisted on having steak tacos, and that ended up being one of the bestselling dishes,” says Dr. Weil. “But we use grass-fed beef, which I think is better than conventional beef.”
The tacos are just one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes – other choices include Dr. Weil’s own recipe for spaghetti squash casserole, an ancient grain bowl with miso-glazed sweet potato, Chioggia beet bruschetta with amaranth, and a vegan “T.L.T” with smoked tempeh.
There are even a few desserts, including Dr. Weil’s recipe for squash pie.
“In general, I would like to see people eating less sugar rather than more sugar,” says Dr. Weil. “We're constantly trying to develop desserts that are healthier, but it is an indulgence.”
And while there’s no soda, there is an extensive drinks menu, featuring homemade juices and infusions like pomegranate chia limeade or or pressed apple soda. There are even wine options and a few homemade cocktails, like a citrus skinny margarita with organic tequila or a farmer's market sangria with organic red wine.
While these drinks definitely give the restaurant a wider appeal, Dr. Weil stresses that the drinks -- like the desserts -- should be consumed in moderation.
“I myself am not a cocktail drinker," he says. "But I think we have innovative cocktails that use fresh juices." He notes that whereas in most restaurants, alcohol can account for 40 to 50 percent of sales, at True Food, alcohol only makes up about 15 to 18 percent.
An Ingredient-Based Philosophy
Whether it's for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks, ingredients are at the core of True Food Kitchen's philosophy. The restaurant eschews GMOs and attempts to source things as locally as possible, and while not everything on the menu is organic, it does strictly adhere to the Dirty Dozen guidelines as outlined by the Environmental Working Group.
“For vegetable and fruits on their Dirty Dozen list, we only serve organic versions or don't serve them,” says Dr. Weil.
Above all, True Food Kitchen is about exactly what its name would suggest: real food.
“I think the main problem that we have in this country is that most people are eating refined, processed, and manufactured food that's far from the way nature produces it,” says Dr. Weil. “And we try to emphasize relatively simple preparations that emphasize great ingredients that are not real gussied up. One of my objections to most restaurant food today is that it's just too fancy; it does not let simple ingredients shine through.”
With 15 current locations and more on the way – Chicago in November followed by several more – Bethesda, Naples, and Plain Oak, Texas – True Food Kitchen hasn’t stopped growing. Dr. Weil hopes that as the restaurant expands, it also grows internally, to offer cooking demonstrations teaching people to make healthy foods, so that they can bring the great flavor and healthy profile of these dishes home.
“I wanted to give people the experience of eating food that's really pleasurable, that's attractive and delicious, that also happens to be good for you,” says Dr. Weil. In doing so, he has created one of the only restaurant chains that isn't just "not bad" for you; it's actually good for you.
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