Last spring, chefs Chris Montero of Cafe B and Cafe NOMA and Chip Flanagan of Ralph's on the Park threw down the gauntlet. They vowed to win a 90-day weight-loss challenge by Touro Infirmary and Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group.
"I really wanted to sweep Chris in all categories of the challenge," Montero says, jokingly.
Dietitian Julie Fortenberry and others at Touro helped 107 Brennan Restaurant Group employees revamp their diets. The "Stay Fit with Ralph" initiative is a company-wide wellness program among all of Ralph Brennan's New Orleans restaurants. This was the third year for the program.
"In an industry where professionals are constantly exposed to rich ingredients and delectable cuisine, excess weight gain can be a real problem," Fortenberry says.
Montero agrees, describing his workplace a "double-edged sword."
"There are temptations everywhere," he says. "Conversely, all the diet-appropriate items are always in front of you: fresh local vegetables and ... lean proteins."
Fortenberry recommends a diet of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables and "as many non-processed foods as possible." She suggests food journaling as a simple way to lose weight. "Tracking your food ... will make you accountable and aware of foods you consume daily," she says.
At the end of the 90 days, Montero hit his goal weight, losing 25 pounds and winning first place in the weight-loss portion of the challenge. He and Flanagan lost 50 pounds combined. Montero followed a low-carb, high-protein diet, eating dishes like shrimp Creole with green onion quinoa salad, which he serves at Cafe B.
Shrimp Creole with green onion quinoa salad
Serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 medium-size green sweet peppers, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
7 vine-ripened toma- toes, chopped
2 cups shrimp stock
leaves from 3 sprigs of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, minced
leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme, minced
1 1⁄4 cups dry white wine, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3⁄4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, divided
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cayenne, divided
32 large fresh Louisi- ana Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon ground sweet paprika
3 green onions, green part only, sliced thin
2 cups cooked quinoa salad
In a 4-quart saucepan heat 1 1⁄2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil at medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until it just starts to brown, about one minute. Add white onions, sweet peppers and celery. Cook until the onions are clear, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the tomato paste and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the pan bottom clean as you stir. Add the tomatoes, stock, parsley, thyme, 1 cup of wine, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1⁄2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1⁄4 teaspoon of cayenne. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes.
While it's cooking, place the shrimp in a large mixing bowl and season with 1 teaspoon of salt, the paprika, 1⁄4 teaspoon of black pepper and 1⁄4 teaspoon of cayenne.
Over medium-high heat, pour the remaining olive oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet.
Add shrimp and saute until they are about halfway cooked, about two minutes. Add the remaining 1⁄4 cup of wine, stirring thoroughly.
Once the tomato sauce has simmered 20 minutes, add the shrimp and liquid from the skillet to the sauce. Continue simmering until the shrimp are just cooked through, about two minutes more. Stir in the green onions.
Green onion and quinoa salad
2 cups cooked organic quinoa
1 bunch green onions, sliced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Follow the cooking directions on the quinoa package and set aside to cool. When ready to serve with the shrimp Creole, place the cooked quinoa into a mixing bowl with the sliced green onions, extra virgin olive oil and the juice of one lemon. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning.
Mold the quinoa mixture in a small timbale in the center of each plate. Arrange shrimp and Creole sauce around the mound and garnish top with sliced green onions.