Mary Sue Milliken cares about health, but she’s no food prude. On a recent visit to Yountville, California, during the EcoDriven with Toyota and Friends event, the Top Chef Masters first runner-up spoke to More about crispy pigs’ ears (yup, they are trendy) and healthier fare. But don’t worry. Healthy eating can, according to Milliken, also include bacon.
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In the 1980s and ’90s I knew it was easy to please people with cream, butter, fat, salt and pork. That’s a no-brainer. But I’ve been working hard to come up with dishes that are just as satisfying, yet have a huge emphasis on plant-based ingredients.
MORE: For instance?
My mom had cans of beans in her pantry, and I added fresh beans, fried some bacon and made a vinaigrette. It’s like a Midwestern three bean salad from my childhood, only nicer, with chipotle chilies. I now serve it on a tostada or corn tortillas. I’m going to take those same flavors and put them in a soup. Tonight I’m making a bean stew with a tiny bit of smoked pork.I also do yellow split peas with basmati rice, caramelized onions, tons of garlic and lots of chopped basil.
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Foodies have embraced the “nose to tail” eating trend, so I’m hopeful. It’s a sin to kill a pig and not eat its ears. If you’re going to kill it, you should eat all of it. I think the same thing will happen with fish. People say, “Oh, I eat tuna and salmon.” Yeah, but that’s one percent of the fish, and they’re endangered. I’m passionate about making smaller fish, smelt and sardines, sexy and delicious.
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I play soccer. The big famous men chefs lately look like they’re going to pop. I say, “When I met you 20 years ago, you were svelte and gorgeous. Now you look like a helium balloon.” Some of them take note. Some of them just laugh.
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I keep lots of fruits and vegetables around. And I pack things to eat. I made a farro salad last Saturday, and I’ve been eating leftovers with sliced tomatoes for lunch. Though it takes a little more time, you’ve got to prioritize what you put in your mouth. Awareness is the first step, just like therapy. I used to ask my therapist, “How do I change?” She said, “Relax, just be aware.”
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