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john currence



An Indulgent Chef’s Healthy Makeover

Written by John Currence. Brought to you by FoodandWine.com.

Mississippi chef John Currence was once infamous for his profligate eating habits. But now he makes low-fat versions of the Southern dishes he craves that are delicious enough to serve guests at a dinner party. Here, he tells how.

When pancreatitis hits, it’s like a phantom freight train, hard and with no warning. Trust me on this. I was a 44-year-old, pork-eating, whiskey-swilling chef in Oxford, Mississippi. I thought I was indestructible, but that belief came crashing down last summer, when I spent three weeks in a hospital bed, near death, as penance for my poor lifestyle.

As much as I knew about food, it turns out I didn’t know very much about nutrition. I was a grab-and-eat survivalist in the kitchens of my three restaurants, snatching anything that was close at hand: a big piece of roast chicken skin, a slice or two of bacon.

While I was still in the hospital, I also began imagining my first meal at home. I realized I could create a welcome-home menu from several dishes I’d lightened in my head. I’d even create a nectarine-and-plum crisp using whole-wheat flour in the subtly sweet streusel topping. When I finally got to have that dinner, with my wife, Bess, and several close friends, it couldn’t have been better or more satisfying. It wasn’t my grandmother’s fried chicken, but I know my grandmother would have been happy to eat it, anyway.
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