I’ve had a love of food for as long as I can remember. As a child I’d help my father in the garden, growing every kind of fruit and vegetable you can imagine. The landscape was covered with cabbages, potatoes, carrots, rhubarb, and fresh mint, and his greenhouse full of ripe tomatoes, grapes and marrows. My mother, a great home-cook, would make our evening meal with the help of my brother Michael, my sister Julie and me. We would always have a job to do when we got home from school: Washing and peeling the vegetables, setting the kitchen table or cleaning up after all the fabulous food was all gone. There were no leftovers in those days—you had to clean your plate before leaving the table.
This led me to take home economics at school. I was actually the only boy in class as my friends chose woodwork or metalwork. As you can guess I was given a few “kind” names by my friends back then, when I walked into class carrying my wicker basket full of ingredients. But when I left each day with cakes, cookies and tasty morsels, I then became very popular and always had a line of friends following me to the bus stop, asking to try something from my basket of goodies!
Funny thing, I’m still in the same industry after 35 years and all my friends have changed careers more than once. Being a chef has given me the chance to travel the world, meet fabulous people, work in great restaurants and educate myself on food. I’m telling you, it’s the best way to make new friends and get the chance to see new things. Food is and always will be one of our greatest pleasures in life. Most of my memories involve food and sharing good food with fine stories and laughter around a kitchen table.
Classically trained in French cuisine, my cooking always had lots of heavy cream, butter and sweet sugar; I made rich, satisfying food with deep flavors and hearty textures. In 1999 this all changed when my middle son Matthew, just 14 months old, was diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes. Anyone who has a child with a life threatening disease will soon tell you that they will change heaven and earth to make them better. We as a family changed our eating habits overnight; out went the heavy cream, saturated fat, and white sugar while we made room for more fruits, vegetables and whole foods.
In 2004 we moved from Wales to American for me to teach and later become the Dean of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. Looking back, it was a time of great excitement and happiness. It was one of those times in life when everything was perfect and it couldn’t possibly get any better—great family life, boys doing well at school, my wife happy with her new friends and lifestyle, and as for me, a well-respected job. But where there is light there has to be darkness, and the darkness arrived in 2008. We had the devastating news that my wife had stage four carcinoid cancer and was given three possibly four years to live.
As you can imagine our perfect world stopped spinning and was turned upside down for a second time in our lives due to a medical condition. My wife being the strong, passionate woman she was, decided not to waste any time on feeling sorry for herself. Determined to live a full and happy life, we changed her eating habits to mainly fruits and vegetables, little protein in the way of chicken and seafood, cutting out a lot of processed foods. With little advice from the medical profession on nutrition, we decided to make food our medicine. My wife passed away March 19th 2015, (at age 50, ironically the exact same age her mother passed away, but from coronary heart disease) nearly eight years after being diagnosed with cancer. We attribute her extended life to a positive attitude, love of our children and good home cooked food.
My passion for food continues with these five changes that have made such a dynamic impact to the health of my family. I greatly believe these five simple changes could make a huge impact on the health of our nation.
- Cook at home; it’s fun, it’s family time and you know what you’re eating.
- Start cooking at a young age. Cooking teaches skill you will carry for a lifetime.
- Stop eating so much processed packaged foods that are full of preservatives, additives, and colorants, and loaded with fat, sugar and salt. In my opinion this is what’s killing the nation.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans and lean meats.
- Enjoy life, it’s too short not to!
So three boys and a chef continues on. As a family we all believe in the power of cooking at home, eating good food, exercising daily and finding time to enjoy life.
Three boys (Jonathan, Matthew, James) and a Chef (Mark Allison)