As a high-profile personal chef for clients including Oprah and Jeb Bush, Art Smith knows how to take care of other people. But in 2008, when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and weighed more than 300 pounds, he had to admit he hadn't been taking the best care of himself.
"I wasn't feeling well, emotionally, so I sought out my doctor," says Smith, who has been a personal chef for more than 30 years. "My doctor told me people with type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk of serious complications by setting individual goals to manage the ABCs of diabetes — that's A for A1C, also known as blood sugar, B for blood pressure and C for cholesterol."
Smith began taking small steps toward health. "Each day I'd commit to something, like, 'OK, I'm going to drink four to six glasses of water today."
Smith followed his doctor's treatment plan, eating healthily and exercising five days a week. The chef also gave his favorite dishes healthy makeovers. He lost 100 pounds, and last month, he visited New Orleans as part of Merck's Taking Diabetes to Heart (www.takingdiabetestoheart.com) tour. Louisiana has one of the highest diabetes rates in the country. According to the American Diabetes Association, one in 10 adults are affected for a total of 340,000 people. Smith partnered with restaurants, including Ye Olde College Inn, Terrazu, Cafe Reconcile, Vega Tapas Cafe, Magasin, La Cocinita Food Truck and Tableau. He showed local chefs how to make traditional New Orleans cuisine healthier.
"We just go in and make different dishes," Smith says. "He makes a dish and I make a dish. It's that simple. Chefs love to chill out with each other and make dishes. We worked with Tableau and did chicken and Brussels sprouts. Chef Ben [Thibodeaux] did a redfish with lump crabmeat; it was lovely."
Smith advises people to drink water or tea instead of sugary beverages, eat healthy breakfasts, five small meals a day, up fruit and vegetable intake and exercise daily. "If you adhere to a plant-based diet and water and cut out processed sugar and flour, you'd be amazed at how you would feel," Smith says.
That doesn't mean there's no room for small indulgences. "We can enjoy everything we enjoy, but in smaller portions," he says. "If a restaurant community like New Orleans can take this on and make it work, every restaurant in the U.S. can too."
Unfried Chicken with Roasted Brussels Sprouts
With tongue in cheek, I call this chicken "unfried." That's because I am well known for fried chicken, which may be the crown jewel of Southern cooking, but is a dish I avoid these days. I like unfried chicken just as much. The chicken is soaked in tangy buttermilk and then coated with flavorful breading, just like fried chicken. The difference is that it's baked. I first prepared it when Oprah's movie Beloved opened. One of the many lessons I learned from Oprah is to offer people a choice at meals, and one of those choices should be a healthy one. To this day I honor that lesson in my home and my restaurants. — Art Smith
During his trip to New Orleans, Art Smith cooked this chicken and Brussels sprouts dish at Tableau. Serves 4
For the chicken:
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon Louisiana Hot Sauce or
other hot sauce
4 skinless and boneless chicken
breasts, cut in half
1 1/2 cups multigrain or whole wheat
panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
For the Brussels sprouts:
16 Brussels sprouts, cut in half
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the garnish:
1 lemon, quartered
To prepare the chicken: Preheat the oven to 400. In a bowl, mix the buttermilk and hot sauce. Submerge the chicken pieces in the buttermilk and soak in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour but no more than 24 hours.
In a gallon-size storage bag, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, black pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder and paprika. Seal the bag and shake until well-mixed. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and transfer directly to the bag with the bread crumb mixture. Shake the bag until the chicken breasts are evenly coated with the bread crumbs. Remove the chicken breasts from the bag and lay flat on a nonstick baking sheet. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Bake the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes or until just cooked through.
To prepare the Brussels sprouts: Preheat the oven to 400. Place Brussels sprouts in a medium mixing bowl, toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the Brussels sprouts in a medium ovenproof baking dish and roast for 20 minutes or until caramelized and tender.
Divide the chicken and Brussels sprouts among four serving plates, and squeeze the lemon over the chicken.
Per serving: 427 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 79 mg cholesterol, 349 mg sodium, 45 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar, 9 g fiber, 40 g protein, 185 mg calcium.