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Gourmet Food and Fitness

An Interview with Chef and Restaurant Owner Kelly Liken

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Updated August 31, 2011

Kelly Liken, Vail

Chef Kelly Liken has appeared on Top Chef D.C. and Iron Chef America. She has her own award-winning, seasonal American cuisine restaurant in Vail, CO.

(c)Kelly Liken

There are plenty of approaches to food and fitness. When things get really fun, though, is when you combine gourmet food and fitness. Now, before you blanch at the gourmet part and fire off an email telling me that eating healthy and gourmet food don't mix, read what chef Kelly Liken has to say about it below.

I heard about Kelly Liken by way of a gourmet food and fitness retreat, Pilates and Plates, that she created with fellow Vail resident and Pilates teacher Elizabeth Sullivan. The retreat is a week in Italy full of Pilates classes, cooking classes and gourmet eating. Naturally I wanted to go, but the next best thing was to find out how Chef Liken, a Pilates practitioner herself, lives a gourmet food and fitness experience.

For many years, Chef Liken's mother encouraged her to start doing Pilates but it wasn't until she tried a short demonstration program at a local gym that she got hooked - within 10 minutes, she says. Cooking and owning a restaurant is very physically demanding, but Chef Liken says Pilates privates twice a week help her with flexibility and balance. She says her posture is better, and with a strong core she has less knee and back pain.

So, the Pilates part is happening, but how do we stay fit and healthy and eat gourmet at the same time? I asked Chef Liken those very questions. Her response was an approach to eating, an attitude, not the formulas we so often get in food and fitness conversations. I also asked her for some tips for how we can bring healthy gourmet into our lives at home.

M.O.: Sometimes, when people think of gourmet eating they think of fat, carbs and wine, which many of us associate with weight gain. How do you combine healthy nutrition and gourmet eating?

K.L.: "Have you heard of the slow food movement? It's this idea of slowing down and eating locally and eating in a very wholesome way - very fresh-produce driven and knowing where your food comes from. I don't cook a lot of carbohydrate-driven food. My food is all about honoring the product the farmer can bring me - not a lot of processed foods or sugar. I think when you eat like that life takes care of itself.

"In our country today we've not only forgotten where our food comes from, but how we're supposed to eat - not only to enjoy our food but to nourish our bodies. I think taking processed food out of your diet is #1. The easiest way to eat well and still have it be delicious and amazing is to get back to cooking, and you don't have to have a master's in chemistry to do it. Think about eating lots of different colors, know where your food comes from and how it was raised, and pay attention to what's around you in terms of farmers markets. That's a great way to bring the joy of eating and health back together."

M.O.: Do you have any easy tips on a gourmet approach to healthy eating at home?

K.L.: "Absolutely. People don't realize how easy it is to make food fancy and gourmet. One thing I always tell people is to utilize healthy, low-oil vinaigrette. Traditional vinaigrettes are three parts oil to one part vinegar. That's ridiculous. If you have a good, heart-healthy olive oil for instance, you don't need that much. And a low-oil vinaigrette brings out a brightness in the food. It can top fish and meat - it's not just for salads. Use citrus and maybe some Dijon mustard. Just a drizzle on the plate transforms something like halibut with green beans on the side into something so much more.

"Also, fresh herbs. So many people who love food have herbs growing in their backyards or window sill. Just chop them up and add them to whatever you have. For example, if you have tomato or peas, just add a little bit of olive oil and fresh herbs and they transform a bland vegetable into a really great side dish."

I finish up my talk with Chef Liken feeling gourmet-fitness inspired. I want to eat and I want to workout, but I know I can't eat too much before I workout. Before we sign off, I ask Kelly Liken how she resolves the what-to-eat before a workout dilemma. Her answer? Protein. That seems to be the answer (or protein along with complex carbs and healthy fats) for many fitness people. Chef Liken suggested fish or turkey. Of course, I now imagine that with a lovely sauce and garnish, but if you need something quick, you might take a look at our collection of protein smoothie recipes.

I hope you've found Chef Liken's fresh, local and light approach to eating healthy inspiring. If you are ready to dive deeper into food and fitness, you might enjoy these interviews:
Nutrition and Exercise, a Power Combo - an interview with sports nutritionist Dr. Cory Holly.
Nutrition, Weight Loss and Flexibility - an interview with weight loss expert and author Dr. Jonny Bowden.

Learn more about Kelly Liken and her restaurant at KellyLiken.com.

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