By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
Fifteen years ago, Chef Cary Neff was working in a fine dining restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz., raking in kudos from customers and all sorts of culinary awards.
Deep down, though, he knew he needed to create a menu that was a little easier on the waistline, but still tasty.
Without telling the sous chefs, the customers or even the restaurant owner, he began preparing more healthful fare.
And no one was the wiser.
Eventually, he told them he’d been working to make wellness foods for them.
And Conscious Cuisine, Neff’s premise that eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring, was born.
Neff will be the keynote speaker Saturday at the North Mississippi Medical Center’s sixth annual Spirit of Women Getaway 2010 at the BancorpSouth Arena. The day begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. with Neff’s cooking demonstration at 12:30 p.m.; and informational booths; free makeovers, massages and manicures; educational sessions; shopping; food vendors; and door prizes sprinkled throughout the day.
Tickets are $20 and available at the door, at nmhs.net/getaway2010 or by phone at (662) 377-4099.
“Last year, we had close to 1,000 participants at the Getaway,” said Liz Dawson, coordinator of the event. “This year, we’re hoping for more than that, hoping this really cold weather moves out of here. We’d love to have 1,500 to 2,000 people, but there are so many things competing for people’s time. That’s what this day is about – slowing down, taking a break.”
Practicing what he preaches
Chef Neff has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” the “Today” show, Food Network, and “Masterchef USA” and has been profiled in The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine and Condé Nast Traveler.
Trained in classical French cooking at Chicago’s Washburne Culinary Institute, he currently serves as vice president of culinary for Atlanta-based Morrison Management Specialists. He previously partnered with Morrison to create Flavors 450, carefully crafting a menu that features an array of more than 60 rotating recipes – each under 450 calories – for hospital dining.
Neff is a strong believer in maintaining a balance between good taste and good sense. He is devoted to cuisine that is both satisfying and healthful.
“I believe in providing tools to help people become more mindful of daily actions to keep their lives in balance,” he said in a phone interview. “Conscious Cuisine is for everyday families, not just chefs. It’s easily achieved by becoming more conscious of what we put in our bodies. It’s about eating what’s in season, lots of vegetables, whole-grain carbs and lean protein.”
On Saturday, Neff will be preparing three dishes: Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprout Risotto, Herbed Chicken Swords and Citrus Cheesecake.
“Notice I didn’t say grilled chicken with butternut squash and Brussels sprouts, but butternut squash and Brussels sprouts with grilled chicken, because the butternut squash is what’s in season,” he said. “This is really an attractive meal – pleasing in appearance and tastes.”
Six guests will be invited to the stage on Saturday to share the meal with Neff. Other Getaway participants will be able to sample the Citrus Cheesecake.
“I feel blessed the Lord has given me this talent to be an advocate for better health,” said Neff, who practices what he preaches at home, too. “Last night, we had roasted lamb shanks, red-skinned mashed potatoes, braised collard greens and a salad. And we consciously sat down to have dinner together. That communion, that sharing allows my family to reconnect.”
For more information about the Spirit of Women Getaway, call (800) 843-3375.