Charles Vollmer is a popular chef, cooking instructor, food and wellness consultant, writer, lifestyle coach and owner of Epicurean Exchange. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, his classes and work emphasize essential skill and technique work, wellness, prevention, and lifestyle enrichment topics relating to cooking, nutrition, fitness and foods appreciation and exploration. He teaches privately in his home school and has taught at leading cooking schools including the French Culinary Institute and the California Culinary Academy.
How did the book Eat Real Food or Else come about for you?
In the early 2000s I was on a culinary education circuit in the Bay Area, teaching something about low-fat cooking in a Sur de Table store, and Dr. Mike Nichols came to me to help run his clinic in Los Gatos. He said I was different from the other chefs he interviewed for the job because I said that being around the table and the community we build and the connections we make with people eating together is as important as the process of making great food and fueling or nourishing yourself in a particular way.
Over the next 8 – 10 years I researched and developed recipes that focus on micronutrient-rich foods, reducing sugars and carbohydrates, focusing on wild fishes and grass-fed meats, and that’s really the focus of the book—Dr. Nichols’ approach to metabolic health, especially as we age. So my goal has always been to get people to eat better and to get people to cook at all.
What are some basic things people could start doing right now?
Knowing what to make for dinner is a good place to start. It’s a time and interest issue for most people, plus everyone carries some food and lifestyle emotional baggage. So tackling those 3 major issues is the first challenge. The best place to start is making better choices. We encourage frequency of eating in smaller portions, focusing on protein at the center, surrounded by great vegetables. Being prepared for the day and bringing things with you or knowing in advance what you have access to within your environment to help make those better decisions is another thing we encourage. The book offers recipes that use limited ingredients but good quality with simple preparation. We want people to eat better and get to the table faster.
How has the book influenced the classes that you teach or the food tours you’ve done?
It’s given me a helpful side to my cooking in all ways and the key concepts of my books find their ways into all of my food discussions in classes or on food excursions. For example, talking about how organic dairy in its full form has a lot of cancer-fighting agents. But when you start reducing the fat, you increase the sugar and that’s where we get into trouble, especially for people as they age.
Even if you live in a food bubble like San Francisco, if you’re not raised in an environment where food matters or you don’t have a motivation to eat well for whatever reason, it’s a struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle for anyone. Your motivations have to be identified first, then you need to have the right tools and make a decision for yourself. People don’t have to take classes, they just need to make a self-motivated decision, which is why I think this book is a great tool because it tells you why you should eat this way in a really approachable, understandable way that’s broken down really simply, and then it gives recipes that are modeled on those messages.