Loma Linda's Live It: In the Kitchen, a series of short cooking videos, has garnered lots of hits from people looking to eat more healthfully. Chef Cory Gheen talks about how the show came to be, the next 20 episodes that will be released soon, and the bright future of vegetarianism.
Question: You created a series of 14 very short online cooking videos called Live It: In the Kitchen, helping people learn to create easy, nutritious meals at home. These were posted beginning in April. Are there any more coming?
Answer: Yes! That was the first season, and the only season we have been able to get onto the website so far. But more content has been filmed, which is in post-production right now. Soon we will have 20 more episodes ready to go out.
When will we be able to watch the new cooking videos?
We have run into a production glitch, but we want to get it out there as soon as we can.
Ideally, we will eventually have a continuous release of episodes — one per week. Our goal is to have the content available that would allow us to show 52 episodes throughout the year.
We’ve been trying to get some sort of culinary media out into the world for several years now, but this is the first one that has really gotten any traction. When we got the green light to go ahead with a second season, we were really excited.
Why were you given the green light?
I don’t know specifically. I think this is just the right show at the right time. The format has worked well with Vision 2020 and with Dr. Richard Hart’s [president of Loma Linda University Health] vision of bringing healthy living guidelines from Loma Linda out to our local community and the general public.
I suppose creating content in this short format makes it attractive for people to share on social media — which seems to be filled with short cooking videos.
Yes, we had previously proposed a full 30-minute segment, but they liked the one-minute format. They were looking for content that could be sent out in an email, aired on campus, and shared on our digital boards.
And, of course, social media gives us an even better base to distribute. We are certainly trying to leverage this popular format. It’s nice we can provide a product that people can email, text, and pin. It makes it that much easier to get to the public.
So how many people have been viewing the videos?
We are seeing 10,000 to 20,000 hits on some of those videos. And our YouTube channel has been the most popular portal for people to access them. The videos have been up for about six months, but we are still getting lots of hits.
The recipes you demonstrated in the videos include ones for avocado fettuccine, dark chocolate pomegranate bark, bean burgers, and granola. How did you decide which recipes to include?
At first, our show Live It: In the Kitchen was conceived as part of the broader Loma Linda Live It series. That show, which focuses on wholeness and health, would give us a list of specific ingredients to go along with their theme. Our show was going to be little cooking episodes connected to the bigger show.
But now we have been allowed to go off and do our own thing. So our ideas come from everywhere. Families and friends might make requests, our producer Jackie might suggest a theme, or we might just make something we think would be interesting to people.
Which recipe has proved to be the most popular?
The dark chocolate pomegranate bark. I guess people just really like chocolate.
In all our recipes we have tried to incorporate a specific ingredient with a known nutritional value. Here it is the dark chocolate, but also the pomegranate, with a reputation for health benefits.
It’s nice to see people curious about foods that can help them to live better.
What reactions did you get to the online cooking show? Did you get lots of feedback from viewers about the recipes?
We haven’t gotten as much feedback as we expected. I can’t say why that is, except that we don’t have a very good mechanism to receive feedback. There is no link for people to go to. So far the only feedback we get is what is provided on the YouTube channel. But our show is still very new.
Was the series expensive to produce? Was it totally underwritten by Loma Linda?
Yes, the cooking show is completely funded by the university, mostly by the School of Allied Health Professions. Our dean, Dr. Craig Jackson, has been wanting to do a cooking show for a long time. So they cover the budget, which includes paying for ingredients and for a few people. But that is not inclusive. My time is donated by my department, and most of the other team members are the same. Our graphic design, marketing, and post production are all being donated in a cooperative effort between the various Loma Linda schools.
We would certainly love to a have a sponsor — a corporate entity to work with — but at this point the university wants to keep it in-house.
What kinds of food are you passionate about making?
My passion is as a food educator. I love talking about food, making food, researching food, and being around food. I am fascinated by food in different cultures, their different flavor profiles, and how they got to where they are.
From a vegetarian perspective, what do we do to match the food culture we find ourselves in — or do we do something completely different?
I have thought for a long time that it would be great to research the history of Adventist food and how it varies among different cultures.
Many people ask: “If you don’t eat meat, then what do you eat?” This is an odd question to me because I eat everything else which is a lot more than you might even realize.
I tell my students: If you walk through the produce section of the grocery stores, you might see between 150 and 300 different items. But there are thousands more that we could be eating things we never see in our grocery stores.
I am trying to open people’s eyes to variety and different eating patterns — and not only from a nutritional perspective but also from a gastronomic perspective with so many more tastes and flavors.
It is an interesting journey and very fulfilling.
Have you always been a vegetarian?
Yes, I grew up as a vegetarian — or maybe more accurately a flexitarian or choicetarian. I will always choose a vegetarian dish whenever it is available, but I might eat something else if that is what is served.
You wrote your thesis for the Culinary Institute of America about the future of vegetarianism in America. So what is the future of vegetarianism in America?
It is very positive! I wrote that 18 years ago now, and a lot has changed in that time. My thesis did prove valid, but the shift toward vegetarianism has been even more dramatic than I predicted. Now there are so many more people thinking vegan and alternative proteins — it’s so exciting to see what is going on.
Of course, there are a variety of reasons that make people turn toward vegetarianism: humane reasons because of animal welfare and also ecological reasons. People are realizing that we won’t be able to use meat proteins to provide for all of the people on the planet. So yes, we will be forced toward vegetarianism in the future, but so many people are already pursuing it on their own.
Vegetarianism has a very bright future.
Multiple companies are providing meat analogs now that are way beyond what we ever suspected could be done.
Can you give us an example?
There are companies working on a ground beef simulant which is a completely vegetable-based patty for a burger. But not only does it taste and feel like beef, it is essentially a full simulant of ground beef, down to the liquid that looks like blood that seeps out onto your plate. We would not have even considered that possibility back in the heyday of Worthington and Loma Linda Foods.
I know that some people love nothing more than a juicy burger. But to me, that sounds absolutely disgusting. Do we really need to keep trying to simulate meat? Can’t we just move on?
We have been eating meat for too long. You can’t take a society that's been eating meat for generations and just say: We are all going to be vegetarians now and be happy about it. Our culture isn’t set up that way.
Restaurants have to provide food that people recognize. If they serve items that simulate meat, people might try them, and that might persuade them to then try other things.
What made you decide to go into food as a career?
I was at Vacation Bible School one summer when I was four or five years old. The teacher brought in some bread dough and gave us each a lump which we made into our initials. She baked them and brought them back, and we all got to eat them.
That really got my attention. From that time on, I knew I wanted to work with food.
What is your go-to quick and easy meal you make for yourself when you get home after a long day?
I am so blessed that when I go home after a busy day at work cooking in the kitchen, my wife takes care of dinner. She loves to cook and is wonderful in the kitchen. My wife is also a dietician.
People always ask me this question, but if I am cooking, I don’t have one go-to thing. It just depends on my mood, the weather, what I have been researching, and what is in the fridge. On a summer’s day, I might light the barbecue before I even know what I will make on it. Sometimes I want to experiment with savory flavors — trying to figure out how the Japanese do it. Sometimes it’s all about bread — what about these natural yeasts? You don’t need to use those commercial yeast packets.
Do you have kids? Are they interested in food, too?
I have a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a one-and-a-half-year-old son. And yes, they have both shown passion for the kitchen as well. They always drag the step stool over to the counter so they can watch us cook.
When my daughter was only two, she walked into our room early in the morning, bringing a mug with water and a tea bag in it because she wanted to make me tea!
Can you tell us one thing about nutrition that we probably don’t know, but should?
Well, there is a lot of new research coming out about coffee, and a lot of it is positive. Two recent studies have established a link between coffee consumption and longer life. I think we will be looking at this a lot more. It doesn’t necessarily agree with Adventists’ take on coffee, but it’s very interesting.
Adventists have been vegetarians since way before it was a popular lifestyle choice. Do you think that we have taken proper advantage of our head start? Should we and could we do more to be leaders in this area, as it continues to gain in popularity?
No, I don’t think that we have done as much as we could. The reason is because it is so much a part of our culture that we take it for granted. We don’t even realize the amazing benefits in the culture we have established. We don’t know how to capitalize on this, and we are only now starting to realize what we have. The Blue Zone study published in National Geographic, showing that Adventists live longer, put our healthy lifestyle out in front of people all of a sudden.
Vegetarianism got such a bad reputation in the 1960s and 1970s. But now all of a sudden it’s gone mainstream. Within Adventism, we have been taken aback. So now people are okay with what used to be a really alternative lifestyle?
A lot of work is being done at Loma Linda to try to capitalize on what we have.
Our little show is certainly trying, as is the Live It show, and other people around Loma Linda are working on diet plans and protocols that the wider public might be interested in.
Of course, on the other hand, we have been vegetarian for a long time, promoting a simple lifestyle and a simple diet. But simple doesn’t sell.
If food doesn’t have some flair, or some complexity — or maybe more fat, sodium, sugar, or spice than an Adventist might think appropriate — a restaurant might have trouble selling it. So where do Adventists find the sweet spot? Do we need to meet people halfway? We are trying to figure this out.
Right now, I am just encouraged that so many more people now are paying attention and that this discussion is happening.
BONUS RECIPE from the Kitchen of Cory and Krystal
Butternut Squash Enchilada
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ¼” x 3” sticks
1 onion, medium cut into long slivers ¼ inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼ inch strips
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp salt, kosher
¼ tsp black pepper
½ cup vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
1 ½ cups enchilada sauce, red
½ cup queso fresco, crumbled
Toss the squash, onion and pepper in the first oil to coat
Roast in a 375ᵒF oven until soft and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes
Heat the second oil in a skillet and dip each tortilla in the hot oil 10 seconds per side
Fill each tortilla with squash, onion and pepper. Roll and align in a casserole dish
Pour the red sauce over the enchiladas
Bake 20-25 minutes until heated through
Garnish with queso fresco
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum Magazine.
Image Credit: Jim Dorsey
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