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Chef Spotlight: Nina Curtis

Chefs are known for creating wonderful dishes that are colorful and flavorful, but healthy? We normally don’t think of colorful and flavorful dishes being healthy. Chef Nina Curtis makes it a point of hitting all three points when she’s in the kitchen. Curtis doesn’t just do this in her home kitchen, she does this in a corporate kitchen.

As the Director and Executive Chef, Adventist Health Vitaliz Café and Culinary Arts Department, Curtis recently participated in the Health Care Culinary Contest that reimages hospital food. The contest challenges hospital chefs to create a “tantalizing new meal that celebrates the power of plants.” Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform health care worldwide so the sector reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a leader in the global movement.

The grand prize winner of the culinary contest was Curtis with her creation “Adventist Health’s Vitaliz haystack.” The competition was fierce, and Curtis’s culinary creation outshined those of the other 12 chefs.

This highly-praised acknowledgment is one of many for Curtis as she has been the head chef for the James Beard Foundation’s 2018 International Women’s Day dinner: “Women and the Future of Food.” She is also the former vice president of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and a current board member for Plant-based Prevention Of Disease which hosts continuing education conferences for health care professionals. 

Realizing that there are challenges for some that have never heard of or tasted a plant-based meal, Curtis focuses on these points:

  • Quite a few health care practitioners want to get savvier about guiding patients toward health-promoting lifestyle changes. They need simple suggestions that won’t crash into obvious barriers of resistance.
  • Because of the danger of chronic diseases, we all must get away from animal products, refined grains, and sweeteners, and eliminate or minimize expeller-pressed oils and bad fats.
  • These are some key things we need to get across educationally: Vegetables and fruits are important to health and have the most disease-preventive factors. Many basic whole food ingredients (especially whole grains, legumes, roots, tubers, and leafy greens) are more affordable than supermarket prepared foods and animal-based foods.
  • Plant-based meals can taste good.
  • You can make a meal using basic whole food ingredients in a short amount of time. 

In a recent interview, Curtis said, “I love cooking delicious and vibrant plant-based food. I enjoy most, fusions of Thai, Senegalese, Mediterranean, and Mexican cuisines. My culinary travels have taken me cooking around the world and I always find the plant-based spots with the best food. I am passionate about cooking ‘food to live for’!”

Taping into flavors from other cultures, Curtis has created a ceviche dish that is inspired by the Blue Zones Kitchen Cookbook.

Vegan ceviche using hearts of palm

Hearts of Palm Ceviche 

Yields 3 Cups

 Ingredients 

  •  1 cup hearts of palm, small dice (use fresh, canned, or jarred, ideally organic) 
  •  1 small, sweet onion, small dice 
  •  1 small sweet red pepper, small dice 
  •  1 half avocado, small dice 
  •  1/4 medium jalapeno, minced 
  •  1 tablespoon, chopped fresh cilantro 
  •  Juice of one medium lime 
  •  2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice 
  •  1 teaspoon kelp flakes (available at most local stores or online) 
  •  Black pepper, to taste 
  •  Dash of smoked paprika 
  •  Garnish with cilantro leaves

Process

 1. Combine all ingredients, except avocado, in a medium-size glass bowl, add lime juice and toss. 

 2. Let marinate for one hour.

 3. Add diced avocado. 

 4. Serve in cucumber cups with tortilla chips or plantain chips. 

 5. Add a dash of smoked paprika and garnish with cilantro leaves 

Voila!