Lee Gross – Chef, New York City & Los Angeles Habits to Love
“First off, I have my parents to thank for pointing me in the right direction. My family vacations often involved spending the week on a small Caribbean island, eating nothing but raw foods and watermelon. My father was (and still is) a part-time practitioner of Natural Hygiene – concerned with proper food combining, acid & alkaline and the consumption of mainly raw fruits, vegetables, nuts seeds and sprouts. And then there is the other 50 weeks of the year when he practices the Standard American Diet. And so it goes, the ideal vs. the reality. But if I’ve learned anything from my own study and practice of Macrobiotics, it’s that there is not one clear path; there is not one “right way”, no “ideal diet”. Everything changes. Always.
Flexibility is key. Life is a long and winding road over an ever-changing terrain.. and you gotta pack the right shoes. Meaning, you need to equip yourself with the right tools, like a pair of sturdy, well-broken in hiking boots, and a working knowledge of the Order of the Universe: the fundamental tenets of Macrobiotics; the Zen philosophy that keeps me from totally and completely losing it.
The restaurant industry is a tough one. Traditional culinary education is geared towards graduating “recruits” with the right attitude and discipline to make it in the field. Rudimentary cooking skills are taught, along with a dose of culinary history, a touch of kitchen economics, and just a pinch of nutrition. In retrospect, I probably should have gone to art school, as I was mostly interested in the dinner plate as a ceramic canvas. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Culinary Arts and Management a few years too early to even consider enrolling in the University’s groundbreaking 4-year degree program in Culinary Nutrition. I abandoned years of vegetarianism to immerse myself in French gastronomy in college, but I knew (intuitively and from my early exposure to plant-based nutrition) that Lentils de Puy were better for human health than Confit de Canard. But in order to play jazz, you have to master the standards. So I pushed on. But the landscape was beginning to change around me in encouraging ways.
It wasn’t until I dove headfirst into Macrobiotics by enrolling in the Kushi Institute (after a few years of toiling in classically-oriented kitchens) that I really began to orient myself towards a real understanding of health.. philosophically and practically, personally and professionally. Those three years of study and experience changed me on all levels, and shaped me for who I would become once I returned to the world of professional cooking. I could not possibly have done what I did for M Café de Chaya had I not had that experience.
There are many Macrobiotic lifestyle practices taught at the Kushi Institute. Here a few that have stuck with me over the years.
Practice mindfulness. I think I first picked up on this from reading Baba Ram Dass’ Be Here Now in high school. Michio Kushi just made it real for me.. like in his recommendation to chew your food fifty times per mouthful. Being mindful begets the practice of gratitude. Mindfulness and gratitude are, perhaps, the two healthiest states of mind (next to peacefulness and joy).
Get plenty of sleep. Go to bed early and get up even earlier. Follow the cycles of the sun: Retire earlier in winter than in the summer. Rise at first light. This is not just to provide the body with optimal rest, but to keep it in tune to the rhythms of the natural world. This effort is at the core of Macrobiotic practice.
Don’t eat before bed… but don’t go to bed hungry. Eat a well-balanced and substantial meal about three hours before retiring. Ideally not overly seasoned or spiced. I have found that this is the best way to ensure a restful sleep and a clear head upon waking.
Make time to do what you love. I do realize that this is a luxury not all can afford, and I wish it weren’t so. I have been blessed to have been able to settle into a career that allows me to do what I love every day and get paid for it. My “work” is also my therapy, as it involves so much creative expression. I also play the drums because making music and making food are two ways that I find my bliss. What’s yours?
“Sing a Happy Song”. This is a direct quote from Michio Kushi and is high on his list of Macrobiotic lifestyle tips. I always wondered if it’s true meaning got lost in translation from Japanese to English, but the more I live, the more I appreciate it’s simple message. Really, what better way is there to change your mood and your mind – and to add some spring to your step as you make your way down the road to health – than by singing a happy song?”
-Lee Gross, February 25, 2013
Lee Gross is an expert in macrobiotic and traditional cuisine. He trained at the Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island and the Kushi Institute in Becket, Massachusetts. He has worked in prestigious kitchens across the United States, including the Boston Harbor Hotel, Napa Valley’s Domaine Chandon, and Providence’s Al Forno. Beginning in 2001, he worked as a personal chef for Gwyneth Paltrow. Currently, Gross splits his time between work as consulting chef for Café M in Los Angeles and personal clients in New York City.
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*Click here to watch Lee and Gwyneth prepare a delicious Korean bimbimbop dish with a Japanese twist.