Remember when I had lunch with Ellie Krieger in New York City back in January? Our lunch was pretty informal, so it wasn’t really an opportunity for an interview, but Ellie’s publicist got in touch with me to coordinate a Q & A with her. So cool!
A couple of weeks ago, I chatted with Ellie on the phone for a solid 30 minutes about food, fitness, cooking, and her televison show. I even asked her what she thinks about the Paleo diet. I recorded our conversation and transcribed it below. Enjoy!
What is a typical day of eating like for you?
So, I usually workout in the morning, and I can’t workout with a lot in my stomach, so I will start off with coffee, some whole grain toast or half of a whole wheat bagel, and then I workout. My breakfast is in two parts. When I’m done working out, I’ll usually have a smoothie that I make myself. I love to do banana, blueberry, milk. If it’s the weekend, my daughter will actually make me a smoothie, which is kind of fun since she’s only 9 years old. I like having her cook for me. Or I might have a hard-boiled egg and an orange, something like that– a protein and a fruit. So, put it all together, and it’s a well-rounded breakfast. I just kind of break it up.
Then, lunch… gosh, I guess there’s no such thing as a typical day. But, one could be whatever I am testing that day because I’ll try to plan testing a recipe around lunch. Today I had… oh, I probably can’t even say since it’s for a magazine, Shape magazine, for a story that I am doing with them, so I ate that for lunch, and it was delicious. If it’s not what I’m testing, it might be a nice arugula salad with some Italian tuna and whatever vegetables I have hanging around… maybe another piece of toast… whole grain sourdough bread that I get from this place Le Pain Quotidien. It’s this little bakery here. So, that’s kind of typical.
And, dinner, gosh… let’s see… it’s really anything because I love experimenting. I almost never eat the same thing twice. But, on a simple night, like last night, I just made some roasted halibut with an herbed breadcrumb topping with roasted asparagus and rice. It could be super simple like that. Or I might go out. I live in New York. I love to eat out. We order in, like Indian food, something like that. So, that’s pretty much a typical day. The only thing I’m missing from that is I usually have a snack in the afternoon, like almond butter and an apple or something like that or some chocolate. Usually, I fit chocolate in there somewhere. I just had a chocolate-covered graham cracker.
How do you stay in shape?
I feel like I always have to be aware. First of all, I have to exercise. I mean, I love exercise, and I think I completely have to do it or I wouldn’t be fit or happy. So, I do yoga. I do spinning. I do weight lifting. So, that’s my basic kind of thing I do, but I am active whenever possible. So, if I’m on vacation, we’ll do kayaking or skiing or snowshoeing, depending on the season, or bike riding. I really try to be active almost as much as I can, so that’s a big part of it. That’s a huge part of the equation. I’m around my food all the time, so, luckily, that helps a lot because I’m always cooking really healthy stuff. And I feel like a big thing for me is just watching my portions. I sometimes, when I finish lunch, feel like I can eat another lunch, but if I just wait 20 minutes, I’m totally satisfied, and if I just practice that, it usually works for me.
What happened to your cooking show? Will you be back on TV soon?
So, my show is now on Cooking Channel. Not everyone who gets Food Network gets Cooking Channel. Most people don’t even realize Cooking Channel is the sister network of the Food Network, so it’s owned by the same company. It’s currently on Monday through Friday at 9:00 AM Eastern and Pacific on there, but it’s probably not going to be on the Food Network again, unfortunately. And I have no idea why. I can’t figure it out, and I don’t make those decisions. I don’t really understand how those decisions are made exactly.
What is your favorite meal to cook?
I love cooking a big pot, like stews and soups, because you can change them as you go easily. I just find it very freeform. Oh, I’ll make a chili. I have half of a cup of corn in the refrigerator. I’ll throw that in. I just feel like it’s fun… there’s a lot of room to play.
Where do you find your inspiration for your recipes?
Mostly, I feel like I am inspired by going to the market and looking at great ingredients and thinking ‘what can I do with that?’ I do feel like I am inspired by ingredients, but also I sometimes literally feel like, ‘I want a meatball hero,’ and I just get a craving, and I want to make it my way. I feel like sometimes I can’t even go out and get it the way I want it, so sometimes the motivation to develop a recipe is literally that’s what I feel like eating.
Who are your role models and inspirations in the culinary world?
I mean, it sounds so trite to say this, but Julia Child, of course. Her spirit inspires me all the time, and especially on television because she has fun on television, and she wasn’t trying to be perfect all the time. And she was able to inspire other people to try new things and feel like they could do it, and I feel like part of that. The reason why she was able to do that is because she wasn’t Miss Perfect. She was dropping chickens and recovering from that on TV. I always feel like on TV that is always my inspiration. Her and Lucille Ball, I guess, and they’re connected, like this sense of willingness to be vulnerable and make mistakes and not be perfect. I feel like you can connect to people better that way.
So, culinary… this really isn’t culinary, but a person who influenced my worldview very profoundly was Joan Dye Gussow, and she wrote a book, This Organic Life. So, she was my professor at Columbia in my Master’s, and she was one of the very first people talking about local, organic, sustainable food when it was sort of a freaky thing to talk about. People thought she was crazy… you know, she was out there. And she’s so groundbreaking, but when she taught the course, called Nutrition Ecology, it literally blew my mind open, like I couldn’t believe it. I had been studying nutrition from a science perspective or from a clinical perspective. I studied Clinical Nutrition as an undergrad, so I understood what Vitamin B did in the Krebs Cycle kind of thing, but I get into her class, and nutrition is politics and nutrition is ecology and nutrition is agriculture and nutrition is sociology. It made me love the field even more than I already did.
What’s your best piece of career advice for someone interested in health and nutrition, who might want to do something similar to what you are doing?
It’s hard. I call it ‘planting the seed,’ and you just need to keep planting the seed and starting with small seeds. If you want to be a writer… I basically started writing and doing TV stuff by reaching out to local public access television and reaching out to local newspapers, who didn’t even pay you to write, but just so you could get a byline and then building on those relationships and literally pitching ideas, but not starting with Glamour magazine and USA Today… kind of being realistic and starting and building from a smaller market, but you’re going to be able to build your skills. So, my first article that I wrote and got a byline and actually paid for was for New York Runner’s magazine, which is a magazine published by the New York Road Runner’s Club, so, clearly, a small publication. But, I got my byline and from there, I worked with the editor and ended up… she ended up becoming an editor at Woman’s Day. Then, I got another article with her there and then it just sort of build, so that’s an example of starting and you can hone your skills as you do it.
When I was starting out, there was no such thing as blogs and stuff, so now at least it’s democratized, like write just like you’re doing. The more you write, the better writer you’re going to be. I used to keep a journal and everyday throughout college and my Master’s. I had these books and books of journals. Now you can do this in a public way and find your voice. And even if three people are reading it, you’re at least getting that practice and more and more people will come.
And the other thing… this is a little further along. I did a little video thing as part of a talk that was given this year about marketing yourself for the American Dietetic Association, and one thing that is so important is to know what you stand for, and it takes time to figure out what you stand for, but I think we all know in our hearts, in our guts, what is meaningful to us… why we do this job… what matters… and how we think we can help people and stick with that. If you know what that is and stick with that even though it’s sometimes hard to because you’ll have opportunities to compromise that. I feel like that’s always something I feel grateful and have never regretted, but not in a rigid way. But, in a way that is understanding what my core values are. And, for me, that’s always been about real food.
What do you think of the Paleo diet?
I don’t see any reason not to eat grains. Eat grains. They’re yummy. They’re the basis of civilization. I mean, I think that if people are overeating loaves and loaves of bread and mounds and mounds of pasta and they’re relying completely on all of these carbohydrates, then, okay, they probably need to change that or need to bring that down and find balance. I don’t think Paleo is the answer to that.
I was in private practice for 10 years, and one of the things I really always said is if it works for you and it’s not hurting you, go for it. But, I think for a general public health statement, do I believe in the Paleo diet, I would say no for a variety of reasons. Reason #1 being there’s no reason why you can’t eat quinoa. And I’m assuming, as I understand Paleo, you can’t have any cultivated grains, so, yea, it’s unnecessary. I think some people feel like they have to draw strict lines in the sand for themselves in order to make change. That might help some people, but, ultimately, I think it could hurt you thinking you have to be all or nothing.
And, also, it’s funny because the arguments for the Paleo diet, like, ‘that’s how we’re meant to be,’ then we should be living outside really. Like why don’t you just go live in the park or something because that’s what you’d be doing, so the whole argument is kind of silly. And my husband could totally live in the park, by the way. He’s like a bowhunter and a survivalist guy. If anyone could do it, he could, but he chooses to live in a house with me and eat my quinoa.
What’s your favorite vegetarian meal that would also please hardcore carnivores?
One of the things I make all the time is… I guess I have to go in the direction of pasta because there’s no hardcore carnivore that I know that doesn’t love pasta. I love to toast garlic in a little bit of olive oil, a couple tablespoons, and you slice it thin and toast it until it’s just golden brown and then you throw a vegetable in there. It could be zucchini or… in my So Easy book, there’s a recipe for Penne with Zucchini and Mint. Basically, it’s like toasting the garlic, putting in a vegetable, and covering it. I love to do this with cherry tomatoes, and then you just cover it and kind of let the cherry tomatoes almost burst… you know, kind of soften and then you just toss it with pasta and basil, and it’s so delicious… and I guess you could put cheese and white beans in there for extra protein. It’s really good.
The other thing: chili. My husband is such a carnivore, but I could totally make a black bean chili with chipolte, avocado, cilantro, lime, and little yogurt sour cream on top kind of thing… you know, Greek yogurt on top, and he’s a happy camper.
What’s your go-to meal when you don’t feel like cooking?
What I did last night with the halibut or a piece of salmon and you just put salt and pepper on it and your put it in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and then you take it out and put lemon on it and it’s delicious. I mean, it can be literally that simple. And while that’s in the oven, I could be steaming broccoli or sautÃ©ing. Last night, I put some asparagus in the oven with a little olive oil and a touch of balsamic. I feel like that is one of the simplest things to do or same thing with grilling. But, I think lemon, salt, and pepper with chicken is just delicious. It sounds ridiculously simple though, huh?
What ingredients do you think are worth the extra money and which ones do you think you can save your money on?
Really good Parmesan cheese. Totally worth it. Totally worth it and you can get more flavor with less. Grate it yourself; it’s totally worth it. I think also for salad dressing, a really nice olive oil, but don’t buy an expensive olive oil for cooking. You can use the big box store kind of thing of olive oil. I don’t think it’s worth spending a lot on finishing, like there’s no reason for using an expensive salt. It’s very popular right now. Unless it’s like a smokey salt or a salt that you’re going to use at the end to finish a dish to give it something. If you’re just going to put it in a stew or cook it into the dish, you may as well just use regular salt, unless it calls for Kosher salt then it measures out different, but I don’t know if Kosher salt costs more. I don’t know… anyway, regular salt for cooking and not expensive oil for cooking.
Also, for cooking, if you’re going to put wine in a dish… I saw something in the New York Times… I forget who the author was, but they did a little test to see if they could tell the difference between the expensive wine or a cheap wine in their dish, and they totally couldn’t tell. You don’t want to use a bad, undrinkable wine, but anything drinkable. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Sometimes, I keep those little almost slightly larger than those mini bottles in my cupboard just for using in a dish.
If you could only eat three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
That’s not a good question. I can’t decide that. Impossible. It would be impossible to decide that. I couldn’t. Three foods? That would be terrible. So, I’d have to think very practically… I guess I might… alright, I’ll say salmon, salad, like a really delicious salad, and I’m going to throw in pizza because I really do love pizza. I often joke that the reason I had a child is so I’d have an excuse to eat more pizza, which I am making tonight, actually. I guess then I got all of the food groups in there anyway.
Thank you so much, Ellie, for taking the time to chat with me!