May 3, 2011 / 10:02 AM / 6 years ago

Chef Cheryl Forberg puts flavor first

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As the nutritionist for television show "The Biggest Loser," Cheryl Forberg has witnessed up-close the dietary trials, tribulations and missteps of Americans struggling with obesity.

About to begin her 12th season with the hit reality weight-loss show, Forberg said she believes that many attempts to lose weight founder on taste buds so corrupted by over-salted, highly processed foods that healthier alternatives taste bland in comparison.

In her new cookbook, "Flavor First: Cut Calories and Boost Flavor with 75 Delicious, All-Natural Recipes," the James Beard award-winning chef and registered dietitian, focuses on boosting flavor naturally.

Forberg, who lives in Napa Valley, California, spoke to Reuters about going from over-processed to fresh without losing flavor.

Q: How would you describe your book's approach to healthy eating?

A: "I believe if we focus on the quality of calories, the quantity will take care of itself, so I take fresh, wholesome ingredients and create condiments and marinades that are loaded with flavor, but natural flavor, that isn't concentrated in unhealthy fats and calories."

Q: What have you learned from your experience on "The Biggest Loser"?

A: "I've been with the show since the beginning and I see the same things over and over again. A lot of people misunderstand what eating healthy is all about. Having a salad is a great thing, but if you douse it in half a cup of ranch dressing, it can negate the benefits you were trying to accomplish."

Q: So how do people put on weight, and why is it so difficult to lose it?

A: "Skipping meals actually promotes weight gain. That's number one. And I've been stunned to see how few fruits and vegetables most Americans eat. Another thing: many cast members on the show were meeting their daily caloric needs with beverages alone, before taking a bite of food."

Q: How do your recipes cut calories and boost flavor?

A: "There's a lot of baking, broiling and grilling: cooking methods that don't use a lot of fat. I also add little steps to the preparation that don't take much time but add layers of flavor to make it robust. We need to cut back on fat, but we don't need to cut it out because it's a flavor carrier that punctuates the taste and aroma of seasonings and spices."

Q: What principles guide your recipes?

A: "I keep my mother in Wisconsin in mind when I'm writing a recipe. Will she be able to find the ingredients? Will she understand my directions? Is it too complicated or too time-consuming? I also think of the contestants on the show. You can't be too fussy."

Q: What do you always have in your pantry?

A: "Jars of roast peppers, in case I don't have fresh peppers in the fridge. They have so much more flavor than a plain, dull pepper, and fire-roasted tomatoes. I use them in everything from chili to pasta to barbeque ... And I have hundreds of spices. In one of my former jobs I cooked for a Saudi prince so I have a lot of Middle Eastern seasonings."

Q: What's your advice for people about to embark on a dietary lifestyle change?

A: "Buy a non-stick pan, try a new vegetable each week. Try in small quantities, but buy in bulk."

Beer-Braised Pork Tacos

Makes 4 (2-taco) servings

2 teaspoons olive or canola oil

1 pound pork tenderloin

1 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped carrot

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 cup beer (any variety)

1 cup Spicy Caribbean Barbecue Sauce (page 178) + additional for serving (optional)

8 corn tortillas (6-inch diameter)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, for garnish

Chipotle Puree (optional; page 192)

In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Quickly brown the pork and transfer it to a slow cooker. Add the onion and carrot to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, or until soft and just starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the beer and 1 cup barbecue sauce and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the pork.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for about 3 hours. The pork will be very tender and will separate easily with a fork.

Wrap the tortillas in foil and warm in the oven at a low temperature for about 15 minutes. Serve the pork in the warm tortillas garnished with cilantro. Pass Chipotle Puree and extra barbecue sauce in squeeze bottles, if desired.

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