I have to admit, the experience was a little off script from where I thought I would be in my life, but there I was, huddled under an awning at Le Cochon Rose sampling authentic, meat-filled head cheese and listening to my French chef and tour guide romanticise about how each bite would be more heavenly at the beach with a chilled bottle of wine.
We had a few other nibbles, which included the house-made blood pudding, and made our way through the market on Rue Saint-Charles, sampling cheeses and seasonal produce being sold by vendors.
I tried a lot of different ingredients while attending Le Cordon Bleu, the famous culinary school in Paris, last year and even more as I ventured off to 18 other countries before making my way back to Grand Cayman.
People with whom I share my travel experiences or ones who witness my willingness to try ingredients like head cheese, blood pudding and more, are often shocked and confused. They aren’t shocked by the ingredients themselves, but by the fact that I enjoy a plant-based approach to eating.
Plant-based is not a widely popular term. It’s similar to being vegan but with a greater focus on the quality of ingredients. That means that I choose to eat whole-foods and grains and do my darnedest to avoid anything processed or that might contain animal and dairy products. I have adopted this ingredient-focused approach as it leaves me feeling healthy, energised and satisfied.
I am fascinated by ingredients, how they are used and what becomes possible with time, attention and love. My fascination comes with a huge caveat: I won’t eat just anything. The quality of ingredients and their significance is of great importance to me.
Yet, I’ve prepared and eaten beef cheeks, calf tongue, organ meats, marrow broths and a long list of other adventurous things. This will appear in contrast to what I just shared, but let me try
I have absolute clarity when it comes to the difference between the experience of food and the nutrition that I need from it to feel my best. There is no waver in my stance that the quality of ingredients that we eat, consistently, helps shape our overall wellness. In fact, as a wellness coach, I recommend that you eat as many whole foods as you can, and science supports the benefits of this approach.
I feel it’s important to eat whatever makes you feel your best (not to be confused with what is most comforting to eat) and I share this in a context where a focus remains on the quality of ingredients. For example, there is a big difference between aged Comté cheese and Sweet Chili Doritos. Arguably, the closer you can eat to nature and the fresher it is, the more nutritional value you are going to obtain from it. This can be easier said than done. Food is more than just fuel in our society; it is something rooted in almost everything we do. Temptations and peer pressures are everywhere, but there are many healthy people who achieve a wholesome and varied diet. It affirms my belief that there is an approach that will work for each one of us and it’s our responsibility to find out what that could be.
Food serves as my source of energy and it helps inform how I feel. I enjoy feeling good, so I find it easy to make choices that support that outcome, but sometimes where we are in life is greater than a single meal or its ingredients. This is an important distinction for me as it helps maintain an awareness that I eat very healthfully and that a few bites, or even a meal or two, of something less healthy is not going to change that. It’s important to me that food doesn’t disrupt the flow of life. If I am at a wedding and someone has been thoughtful enough to include me in their special day, I’m going to eat every bite of that veggie risotto that they have gone out of their way to offer me. It would be the same response if my Nan made me a home-cooked meal. On occasion the significance of a meal or event is greater than my preference for ingredients.
This approach makes sense to me, especially when considering that nourishment is only one of the many aspects of what informs our wellness and quality of life. In context, a single meal has no material impact on the healthy choices I consistently make.
You might wonder if I miss eating anything, but I don’t because every option is always available to me. I just continue to choose the ingredients that allow me to feel and be at my best.
Kevin Grzybouski is a wellness coach and the chef/owner of Wholesome, a plant-based meal service.