EATING habits in the good old days were not necessarily good for you.
So says Winnipeg chef Walter Zogar, who remembers a particularly unhealthy tradition from the days when he worked in some of the most prestigious hotel kitchens in the country.
"We used to pull a great big roast out of the oven and put it down on the table with all that nice grease in there, and all the cooks would take big white buns and dip them in and eat it all up," he says. "No way do you do that anymore."
In the vicinity of 70 years young, tall and slim with sparkling eyes, chefinstructor Zogar is now a living testament to his own love of healthy food and physical activity after receiving a rude wake-up call back in 2002.
It was a crisis that changed his life and led him to research and write The Healing Cuisine Cookbook (Healing Cuisine Canada, online price $34).
"I started in Winnipeg way back in the early '60s working for CP Rail as an apprentice cook on the trains going from Winnipeg to Vancouver," he says.
After three years, he was transferred off the rails and made the rounds of historic CP hotels, such as the Royal Alexandra in Winnipeg, Toronto's Royal York and Victoria's Empress Hotel. That trip took 12 years.
Eventually, in the '70s, he settled in Calgary, where he started teaching gourmet cooking in night school classes.
After running a high-end restaurant for four successful years, he bounced to Victoria, where he taught at Camosun College, eventually parlaying his teaching skills into a local cooking show titled A la Carte in the early '80s. The show featured specialty recipes and dishes from world-famous restaurants.
He continued teaching and headed back to Winnipeg in the late '90s, where... he taught some more. Then, in 2002, he suffered the heart attack that changed everything.
"I was pretty big at that time, about 230 pounds," he says.
The "greasy gourmet' cooking had caught up with him. After surgery to correct a blocked artery, he found himself still struggling with allergies and prostate problems. The teacher had to become the student.
"I thought, this is getting out of hand," he says. "I was still quite young, so I started researching and went back to school and took applied nutrition. And I decided to look into this healthy eating."
It was then Zogar decided to take his training and his experience and write about cooking and healing, not just for the heart, but the whole body. Five years later, he had a cookbook.
Now, the "semi-retired" (and that term is used very, very loosely to describe someone as busy as Zogar) chef-instructor is working part-time for the Oblate Sisters at St. Charles Retreat, teaching out of Louis Riel School's Continuing Education Program as well as other outlets in the city and in a number of rural communities. As well, Zogar, along with his wife Pat, have developed a program called The Old Tyme Traveling Medicine Show to get the message out.
"We took the idea of the snake oil salesman and instead of selling an elixir we tell people 'It's in the book,'" says Zogar.
The show is designed to help groups raise funds by providing a 90-minute fast and funny cooking and nutrition show that allows a fundraising group to keep the ticket money and Zogar to keep some of the proceeds from book sales.
"We're not going to get rich on this, but at least let's help some people by getting the information out there," he says.
"The human body can heal itself if it's given the right nutrition," he says.
But he also says you just have to keep it in the context of what is healthy and what are your individual needs. The key to making those good choices is to be well-informed.
To find out more about Walter Zogar, The Healing Cuisine Cookbook and The Old Tyme Traveling Medicine Show, go to www.healingcuisinecanada.com. If you want to find out where he is teaching next, find out how to purchase his cookbook or book him for your fundraiser, you can contact him at the website.
Zogar prepared so many fabulous dishes on the day we chatted, it was really tough to decide which ones to print. Here are three that stood out:
Zucchini rolls with herbed goat cheese and red pepper
Oh man, were these good. And they were beautiful to look at, with the thin strips of red pepper and green chives sticking out of the green-and-white rolled up zucchini.
2 small zucchini, washed, dried and ends trimmed
5 ml (1 tsp) sea salt
1 small bunch of fresh chives
115 g (4 oz) goat cheese, softened to room temperature
freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 ml (1 tsp) fresh thyme, chopped
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch sea salt
3 roasted red peppers cut into 0.6 cm (3¼-inch strips)
Using a mandoline, slice the zucchini lengthwise to get 16 long, thin strips each about 0.3 cm (1/8 inch thick).
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with a couple of layers of paper towel. Set the zucchini on the paper towel and sprinkle both sides with salt: you'll use about 5 ml (1 tsp) for all the slices. Let sit for 15 minutes to soften and remove excess water.
Meanwhile, trim any coarse ends from the chives, cut 2-inch long pieces from the tip of end of the chives and reserve. Thinly slice the rest of the chives.
Mash the goat cheese with the sliced chives, thyme, 2 ml (½ tsp) black pepper, cayenne, a pinch of salt or to taste.
Pat the slices of zucchini dry on both sides with more paper towels. Set a slice of zucchini on a clean work surface and spread with about 5 ml (1 tsp) of the goat cheese (you may want to use your fingers for this ). At one end of the zucchini, lay one or two strips of the red pepper and a few of the 2-inch chive sticks, positioning them perpendicular to the roll so that their more attractive end will peek out when the zucchini slice gets rolled. Beginning with the chive end, roll the zucchini up and stand the roll upright on its edges on a platter. Refrigerate for up to two hours before serving.
Yield 16 pieces.
Broiled tilapia with red pepper sauce
Another treat from Chef Zogar's bountiful kitchen. He served this lovely fish with a simple roasted potato and the asparagus side which follows.
500 g (1 lb) tilapia fillets pinch sea salt pinch pepper
175 ml (¾ cup) red peppers, finely chopped
30 ml (2 tbsp) fat-free sour cream
15 ml (1 tbsp) fat-free mayonnaise
10 ml (2 tsp) lemon juice
30 ml (2 tbsp) green onions or chives, finely chopped
Put fish fillet on non-stick sprayed broiler pan, sprinkle fish with half each of the sea salt and pepper, broil until fish flakes easily when tested, about 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together red peppers, sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice and remaining salt and pepper; serve over fish; sprinkle with green onions or chives. Serves 4.
Asparagus with hazelnuts
455 g (1 lb) asparagus, tough ends removed, then peeled if skin is thick
1 clove garlic, minced
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley, plus sprigs for garnish
15 ml (1 tbsp) toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 ml (¼ tsp) lemon zest, finely grated plus extra for garnish
10 ml (2 tsp) fresh lemon juice
5 ml (1 tsp) extra-virgin olive oil pinch sea salt
In a large pot fitted with a steamer basket, bring about 1-inch water to a boil.
Add the asparagus, cover and steam until tender-crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove from the pot.
In a large bowl, combine the asparagus, garlic, chopped parsley, hazelnuts, 1 ml (¼ tsp) lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Toss well to mix and coat.
Arrange the asparagus neatly on a serving platter and garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon zest. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
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For readers who were especially interested in our story on Paulette Millis and her book Eat Away Illness, you'll be glad to know she'll be back in Winnipeg from April 16-18. She will be conducting a book-signing and three workshops at Organza's Dandelion Deli (2-230 Osborne, phone 453-6266 to register) including Eat Away Illness, Eat Yourself Thin, and Eat Away Diabetes. For more information, go to her website at www.healingwithnutrition.ca