'Top Chef Master' finalist headed to UHCL to lead keto dinner demonstration, discussion

October 23, 2018 | Katherine Adams

'Top Chef Master' finalist headed to UHCL to lead keto dinner demonstration, discussion

After sharing her dishes on national TV as a finalist on Top Chef Master 2010, celebrated author and restauranteur Monica Pope will come to University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Low Carb Houston Conference, hosted by the Exercise, Nutrition and Health Institute. She will headline a “Food As Medicine” event on Friday, Oct. 26 from 6-8 p.m., preparing a four-course ketogentic meal as Houston-based registered dietician Ali Miller presents a step-by-step discussion of the nutrition and health merits of the meal.

The Low Carb Houston Conference is a scientific conference and community education event that addresses ways in which poor nutrition contributes to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The dinner, entitled “A Ketogenic Experience with a Locavore Flair,” will be followed by a discussion led by Webster-based interventional cardiologist Nadir Ali.

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate way of eating that forces the body to use fat as its primary source of fuel, rather than carbohydrates. This diet has proven effective in treating children with epilepsy, and research shows that diabetics respond especially well to the low-sugar, low-carb aspects of the diet.

“Ali and I work together on about six ‘Food As Medicine’ events each year,” Pope said. “She gives me a list of ingredients and then I create the menu. My saying has always been, ‘Eat where your food lives.’ What’s in season? The idea is to get maximum nutrition and flavor from the food.”

The concept of regarding food as medicine is making significant inroads as medical practitioners are seeing the benefits of teaching patients that better food choices are a real part of their treatment, rather than relying just on prescription medications. “Eating fresh, locally grown food gives you four to five times the nutritional value,” Pope said. “Even if something is labeled ‘organic,’ by the time it’s reached your big-box store, the nutritional value can be depleted. That’s why I always say that if it grows together, it goes together. I get my list of ingredients and that’s how it all comes together.”

Pope said the meal would feature avocado turmeric tahini, followed by a scallop ceviche and a cream of mushroom soup. “The main course for our Food As Medicine events is always a wild, sustainable, grass-fed protein,” she said. “I will prepare lamb and organ meatballs, provided by Liberty Provisions, a farm that raises free grazing lamb and cattle. I’ll do okra and Brussels sprouts for vegetables, and for dessert, there will be panna cotta with berries.”

She said that there would be no sugar in the dessert, as per the ketogenic directive. “But I can use cream, buttermilk, berries and mint. It’s an interesting mix,” she said. “Most importantly, there’s wonderful flavor and lots of nutritional value.”

Although people might be somewhat hesitant to try a new way of eating, Pope said that her favorite part is to see people’s reaction. “They say, ‘That was so good, what did you do?’ People think if it’s healthy, it can only be steamed and it has no salt, no color, and no fun. I will say that I just sautéed the vegetables in good oil with salt. And people say, ‘That’s amazing!’ They’re just dumbfounded that it’s not harder than that,” she said. “Anytime I cook for someone, I like to see that light bulb go off.”

There are ways to stay on the ketogenic diet, Pope said, and stay in balance, have fun and have a cheat once in awhile. “I believe in pleasure at the table. Embrace your relationship with food,” she said. “Not everyone can spend as much time as I do getting farm fresh food, but I can suggest healthy ingredients. I often just sautee or boil. It doesn’t need anything,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s about good, healthy ingredients and balancing flavors. It’s not impossible. Even with a taco—it’s four or five ingredients coming together with the right flavors and textures. It’s what makes food so amazing.”

When she cooks for events like the Low Carb Houston Conference, Pope said she loved being asked the hows and whys of food preparation. “I tell them what’s in it and I can assure them it’s healthy and good,” she said. “It’s probably not what they thought it would be. They say, ‘I forgot this was all keto.’”

The Low Carb Houston Conference takes place Oct. 25-27 and features thought-provoking lectures from acclaimed physicians, scientists and engineers about continued research and action related to diet and health. For more information, visit www.uhcl.edu/low-carb-houston/.