Behind the Scenes: Dr. Weil on True Food Kitchen

Credit: Alexa Lampasona

Credit: Alexa Lampasona

True Food Kitchen , the Arizona-based health-centric restaurant, opened in Lenox Square Mall a few weeks ago, parading in with plates like chia seed pudding, quinoa burgers, and Steelhead salmon. The menu centers around the anti-inflammatory diet, and is the culmination of integrative medicine and nutrition by Dr. Andrew Weil , M.D. This is the restaurant's first location on both the East Coast and in the South. We talked with Dr. Weil on he chose Atlanta and what it hopes to bring.

“I don’t think Atlanta has anything like this, but they are ready for it. The culinary culture here is not notorious for healthy food, but my guess is a lot of people would love to eat this way.”

What do you think is missing from Southern cuisine that True Food Kitchen brings to Atlanta?

Simple preparations that don’t have a lot of fat in them. There aren’t many other restaurants that have an ideology focused on the anti-inflammatory diet. My challenge as a doctor is that most people think eating healthy means giving up everything you like, and that’s not true. Food that is good for you can taste good too.

When you are working with your patients, you say the first step is changing their diet. What is the hardest initial change?

The most important dietary change is to move away from processed food. That’s the stuff that is doing us in. It gives us the wrong types of fats and carbohydrates. If people made that one change, they’d be ahead of the game.

Do you notice any particular dietary trends in the South?

I notice that sugar consumption is higher, and I think it stems from drinking sweet liquids, like sweet tea.

How has the culinary landscape changed since the first True Food Kitchen has opened?

It amazes me that we still don’t have competition. No restaurant has tried to replicate this. There is now a trend toward healthier options on menus, but I think most restaurants don’t have a coherent nutritional philosophy. My work for over 40 years has been to develop a field in integrated medicine, and it’s becoming a mainstream phenomenon now.

Talk about how you’ve worked with the chef to create the menu.

The underlying nutritional philosophy is the anti-inflammatory diet, which is based on the Mediterranean diet, but I tweaked it by adding Asian influences because I spent time in Asia. It’s delicious, looks good and happens to feel good to you. The chef and I work together to brainstorm ideas, and many items on the menu are from my personal recipes.

For those who don’t know, where did the anti-inflammatory diet stem from?

Inflammation is the main healing response to the body, but it is so powerful and potentially destructive. What Americans should most be concerned with is reducing diseases of aging, like cardiovascular disease, which becomes more frequent after the age of 50. Most of these diseases begin as chronic low-level inflammation in the body. If inflammation persists, it becomes productive to disease. The mainstream American diet strongly favors inflammation- for reasons like stress, exposure to toxins and diet- that’s where True Food Kitchen steps in.

So what are some of the standout features of True Food Kitchen?

We try to use local ingredients, and we innovate not just to change the menu seasonally but incorporate foods that people aren’t used to. I recently learned about Japanese sweet potato noodles, which are made from sweet potato starch. They are lower in carbohydrates and have a lower glycemic index. We try to stay ahead of the curve. We began serving kale salads before every other restaurant did six years ago.

And the kid’s menu is much different, straying away from traditional chicken fingers and fries.

I don’t know how we got into the thinking that kids have to eat special foods. Here we serve smaller dishes of the same things we serve adults. One little boy told me his favorite thing to eat was kale salad. I would have never expected to hear a kid say they liked kale salad, but I like it.

It seems like True Food Kitchen aims to change people’s lifestyles when they dine out.

There are people who eat here 4-5 times a week. People say this is the only time they can go out. I personally have a hard time eating out, and most of the time when I do I’m disappointed. There is either a limited amount of options that I like, or items are too fancied up. The preparations here at True Food Kitchen are simple but have bold flavors.