I got an email a while back from Dos Caminos (the gods must have been smiling on me!) about a small cooking demo that would be taking place in honor of Mexican Independence Day. The demo was being led by none other than the Corporate Executive Chef, Ivy Stark. Just my luck!! Not only would I get a chance to eat delicious and well-prepared Mexican food, I’d also be able to interview Ivy about her experience as a chef, the healthiness of Mexican food and how to stay fit in the world of food (you knew I was going to ask for an interview, right? ;-))! Read on to learn about Ivy & how Mexican food is one of the best blends of tasty and healthy!
CFC: So first, thanks for taking the time to do this interview! As you know, the name of my blog is called ChicFitChef and it’s about health and food and fitness with a little bit of fashion mixed in…
Chef Ivy: I love the name of your blog! ChicFitChef that’s awesome! As a chef, you have to wear a uniform, so it’s hard to be unique and chic and a chef at the same time. But I like fashion as much as any other girl!
CFC: Thanks! So tell us how you came to be the Corporate Exec Chef to all Dos Caminos restaurants?!
Chef Ivy: Well I’ve always loved Mexican cooking. I grew up in Colorado there’s a large Latin population there so there are some very good Mexican restaurants there and my parents are adventurous diners. So we were eating at really good Mexican restaurants when I was a little little kid. And we also took all of our family vacations in Mexico. Close, not expensive. So I just got really introduced into the culture at a really really young age and fell in love with it. So it just seemed natural I always liked to cook and so when the time came to make a decision about what I was going to do professionally it just fell together.
CFC: So how long have you been at Dos Caminos?
Chef Ivy: I’ve been at Dos Caminos for almost 10yrs.
CFC: Wow! And I know you also have a book, which we received at the demo.
Chef Ivy: Yes, it concentrates on street food and things that I’ve tasted traveling around through Mexico. Some of [the recipes] have been “Dos Camino-ized” and made a little more modern and contemporary and some of them are strictly authentic so a little bit of both. [Check out the book here!]
CFC: So one of the stereotypes of Mexican food is that it can’t be healthy. That it’s got to be heavy and greasy…what’s your take on this?
Chef Ivy: This is such a huge frustration for me because (a) it’s absolutely not true and (b) it’s been something that I- part of the reason why I teach classes is because I want to get the word out there that you can eat very healthily and eat Mexican food. People forget that there are thousands of miles of coast line on Mexico and many of the regions are fish-heavy in the diet and so they’re eating some fish and vegetables and rice. Those heavy, melty, cheesy dishes are also an American invention; you don’t see those in the interior of Mexico at all. You’ll see some fresh cheese sprinkled on something, the equivalent being like a ricotta or a farmer’s cheese sprinkled on a salad. A lot of salads are eaten and a lot of cactus –which is super healthy. They do eat a lot of meat, but it’s generally a meat and a sauce. This whole greasy cheesy thing is not authentic at all.
CFC: That’s so funny because that’s cheesy-greasy is what people link together with Mexican food. You see Taco Bell on TV and think “oh okay, that’s what Mexican food is.”
Chef Ivy: It’s not even close. Taco Bell does some funny, interesting things- those Dorito, taco shells are hilarious, but it’s not a good representation of authentic cuisine.
CFC: So here’s a more personal question. You’re surrounded by delicious food all the time. How do you stay healthy and stay aware of what you’re eating? Is it a challenge for you at all?
Chef Ivy: The only challenge for me is that I have a sweet tooth! So it’s so easy for me to walk behind there and scoop myself out a scoop of ice cream! Will power is my only challenge. But a lot of the tasting I do is a lot of small tastes and when I’m eating a meal in the afternoon, often I’ll eat something like our fish tacos that are very light. So I feel like it’s an advantage; I have [access to] this giant pantry of fish and chicken and meat and vegetables and I can eat anything I want so I can grill myself a piece of chicken and have some spinach with it. And I’m a runner too, so that’s how I get exercise.
CFC: So fine dining in New York City. Places like Dos Caminos and Rouge Tomate, who I’ve also featured on the blog, and who are members are the Green Restaurant Association. What do you think that restaurants like these could and should be doing to make fine dining healthier?
Chef Ivy: Well certainly, using fresh ingredients, fresh vegetables, which we do here; there’s nothing here that comes in cans, nothing is frozen everything is fresh and comes in every day. And lighter cooking methods, like grilling. We don’t use a lot of butter, it’s not typical in Mexican food, except perhaps in the baking so things are cooked in a little vegetable oil which is not bad for you-
CFC: Just to stop you there for one second, vegetable oil vs olive oil. I feel like there’s this idea in people’s heads that olive oil is healthier than vegetable oil. Is that true?
Chef Ivy: Probably raw. Cooked it doesn’t make any difference, ‘cause cooking takes away any additional nutrients. I believe that olive oil has more of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats- the good fats than a strict vegetable oil does. However for cooking vegetable oil is just as clean but if you’re gonna make a salad dressing, use an olive oil.
CFC: Thanks for clearing that up! So back to fine dining being healthier…
Chef Ivy: Fresh ingredients and fresh produce prepared with healthy methods. I mean you know, we all want some french fries every once in awhile, but I think being conscious of the amount of butter use and I think that’s changed a lot over the last I’d say, 10yrs- before everything had butter poured all over it and cooked in it and there’s a place for that but I think people want something healthier now, I think that’s where we’re at now. We [at Dos Caminos] are moving to on our vegetable quesadilla a whole wheat tortilla and that’s gone over really well. And I know it’s what I would want if I were going to a Mexican restaurant in addition to it tasting better.
CFC: Is there any advice you have for people who are dining out who are also diabetic and trying to be conscious about what they’re eating?
Chef Ivy: Well certainly they should look for the wheat flour. Especially in sauces- I would ask. Sugar is not unheard of in a sauce, especially a French sauce so I would just be aware of asking. Look for things that are simply prepared with not a lot of sauce.
CFC: So you said that you have an interest in fashion/style as a chef! Tell me more!
Chef Ivy: I don’t wear the typical chef coat. I have the coats made so that they’re a little bit more interesting. And they’re feminine, it’s not all button-ed up, it has a V-neck which is more flattering, so I sort of express that interest a little bit as much as I can to the extent that I can. And when I’m not at work, I’m super in to fashion. I love all the Japanese designers like Yochi Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons and all of those sort of avant garde designers. Love it, can’t get enough of it!
CFC: Well those were all of my questions. Do you have anything else you want to add?
Chef Ivy: Well I just want to reiterate the point that what we serve is really wholesome and healthy and you have to make your own judgments about what you’re eating. If you’re going to eat a Mahi taco on corn tortillas you’re eating a really wholesome and healthy dish. You can’t have french fries with it everyday though! <laughs> So don’t be afraid of Mexican food, you could eat it everyday and still maintain a really healthy diet.
CFC: Cool! Thanks for taking the time.
Chef Ivy: You’re welcome. Oh and come to our cooking classes!
*** You can check out what I learned at one of the Dos Caminos cooking classes on the CFC Youtube channel!! Movin’ on up guys! 😉 ***