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In Their Own Words: Chefs and Diabetes

Embracing a love of food in life with diabetes

‘The Happy Diabetic’ Robert Lewis

Chef Robert Lewis on life with diabetes

When Robert Lewis was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1998, he was already making a name for himself in the food world as a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America®. After his diagnosis, he was motivated to create delicious, diabetes-friendlier dishes that were also easy to prepare. Since then, he has published three diabetes-friendlier cookbooks as “The Happy Diabetic,” and traveled the country spreading words of encouragement at hospitals and health fairs.

“I listen to the stories of people who have been diagnosed and are struggling to find a balanced lifestyle,” said Robert. “I understand those challenges because I live them every day. But I have personally found some strategies for healthy eating that have worked well for me. I know a little bit about cooking and eating, and I want to share this good news with other people living with diabetes.”

After publishing his latest book, Cook Fresh, Live Happyhe continues to update his website with new recipes and is in the process of launching The Happy Diabetic Kitchen podcast with his son Jason.

“I am passionate about sharing the message that you can live well with diabetes,” Robert said. “Diabetes motivates me to maintain my own healthy lifestyle. It is also the reason that I travel and speak to people about how to find happiness in being healthier. I truly want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Read more: Robert Lewis shares his idea of happiness. 

Lower-carb creations with Carolyn Ketchum

carolynketchum_cropThe DX contributor Carolyn Ketchumwho lives with type 2 diabetes, has turned her lifelong passion for baking and cooking into a full-time job as a low-carb recipe developer and food blogger.

Her suggestion for those living with diabetes who may also have some dietary restrictions?

“I always like to say that switching to a specialized diet is a little like becoming a Boy Scout: you need to ‘be prepared,’” Carolyn said. “It’s important to have good, healthy, low-carb foods and snacks around so that you aren’t tempted by something starchy or sweet in moments of weakness.”

Read more: Carolyn’s tips on low-carb eating and gluten-free diets.

‘Top Chef’ Sam Talbot

Chef Sam Talbot

After becoming a household name as a semifinalist on Top Chef, Sam Talbot, who lives with type 1 diabetes, has kept busy as a chef/restaurant owner, author and philanthropist. He has opened several successful restaurants and is author of The Sweet Life: Diabetes without Boundaries. In 2015, he cofounded the Beyond Type 1 Foundation to bring more awareness and understanding to those living with T1, and he is currently working on opening a new Southern cuisine restaurant in Brooklyn, New York.

Sam said that diabetes has motivated him in each of his endeavors. “It helps me realize that we are not invincible and that we have only one opportunity to live our very best life,” he said. “Diabetes keeps that in check for me.”

As for words of encouragement for others living with diabetes? “Think of it perhaps as a bigger purpose to change the way you live and be more aware of your body, to generally live in a healthier way. Support and great role models are out there,” Sam said, “It’s an opportunity to inspire and help others.”

Read more: Sam Talbot shares how he starts his day to keep his blood sugar in check.

Keeping it slow and Southern with Thomas Vest

Thomas Vest of Catering By VestThomas Vest, who lives with type 2 diabetes, is chef and owner of Southern Maryland-based Catering By Vest, and he genuinely enjoys spending his workday surrounded by food.

“I always took an interest in cooking,” he explained. “I really love it because it’s an art – you become creative.” He has spent his career designing more healthful Southern-style meals for his clientele, many of whom live with T2.

“I don’t mean this as a put-down, but in my view, a lot of Southern chefs kill the food twice,” he said. “They cook the vegetables till everything is out of them. My attitude is to keep it as pretty and green as possible.”

Vest said he has found that living with diabetes has influenced his overall philosophy of how people should eat – including the importance of cooking. “I think people feel challenged by the idea of taking the time to prepare their own meal,” he said. “But cooking your own food, it slows you down. When you sit down to eat, you can actually enjoy it, instead of just gobbling.”

Read more: Thomas Vest shares how he launched his catering business after starting out in a very different profession.

Food lust with Luke Hayes-Alexander

Chef Luke Hayes Alexander on life with type 1 diabetes

Chef Luke Hayes-Alexander first wowed diners – and food writers – around the world with his elegant and unusual creations. Most people who enjoyed his cuisine didn’t know it was his type 1 diabetes diagnosis at age 7 that led him to becoming a chef at the young age of 15, with the support of his family.

“In a way it encouraged us to look at food with new eyes,” he said. “We wanted to understand food from the perspective of general nutrition and taste, and to only bring food onto our plates that we had made ourselves. That was probably my first real education about food.”

Today Luke is still rocking the food world with a pop-up restaurant L.U.S.T (Luke’s Underground Supper Table), which is held at secret locations in downtown Toronto and was named one the Best Kept Secret Restaurants Around the World by Food Network.

His advice for those who love food and live with diabetes? “If you’re responsible with your diabetes and you understand your food, you can enjoy the food and still take good care of yourself.”

Read more: Luke Hayes-Alexander on being an award-winning child prodigy.

You may also enjoy:

Rhonda Deloatch: A School Chef’s Farm-to-Table Program

Charles Mattock: Cooking Up a Diabetes Revolution

Dennis Sheehan: A Taste for Diabetes- Friendly Eating

Luke Hayes-Alexander, Robert Lewis, Sam Talbot, and Thomas Vest received no compensation for their interviews on The DX; Carolyn Ketchum is a paid contributor to The DX. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees and/or contributors, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

The Culinary Institute of America is a registered service mark of The Culinary Institute of America.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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