I Took a Healthy Cooking Class Because I Haven’t Made a Proper Meal Since Thanksgiving...2016

Giving salmon the healthy, tasty treatment.
Photo: Angela Bronner Helm

So, I’m not a cook. Or an epicurean. Definitely not a chef. I do know how to prepare food, and there are certain dishes that I am repeatedly complimented on: my arroz con gandules, my collard greens, my homemade apple pie. But because I don’t do it often enough, it can be hit-or-miss, because, like everything else, cooking is as much about practice as skill. Basically, I’m a foodie who hates the kitchen.

Honestly, cooking kinda bores me—and simultaneously stresses me out. I’d rather eat already. And so, my family eats out. A lot. (Hey, my husband didn’t marry me for my cooking, badumbum) And in New York City, there’s infinite nosh for a curious, adventurous, greedy palate—whether it’s salmon tartare, linguine with white clam sauce, dibi, gyros, salt fish, yucca with red onions, corned beef, glass noodles or fried fish with mac and cheese—whatever your taste buds crave is just a phone call away.

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Which is all magically delicious, except you’ll go broke eating out all the time. Plus, it’s difficult to gauge your salt, sugar or fat intake when you’re not preparing your own food. And like many black families, along with our love of seasoning, we have some health issues on our menu, including a husband in need of a kidney, high blood pressure for me, and an 11-year-old whose love of McDonald’s is only superseded by his growing gut.

And then, there’s my 23-year-old daughter, a mostly vegan, who has an increasingly limited palate. So, when the opportunity arose to take a healthy cooking class, I was all in. I needed wholesome, affordable, easy-to-make food that would not require me spending hours in the kitchen, or sacrifice flavor for healthiness. Enter “Kitchen Warriors,” my first foray into the structured culinary world, which took place for four hours on a weeknight.

The setting of the cooking class was the well-appointed kitchen at Brooklyn’s historic Akwaaba Mansion, founded by former media executive Monique Greenwood. “Kitchen Warriors” is the brainchild of Dr. LaJoyce Brookshire, whom I met some 10 years ago when she published the New York Times bestselling book, Faith Under Fire, and she was fairly new to her healthy food journey.

These days, the former music publicist hosts an “Ask the Good Doctor” show on SiriusXM (Urban 3x on Sundays at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 3 p.m.) and has also published a new “Detox” cookbook. She just returned from the Morehouse School of Medicine and hosts free community wellness events around the country, as well as a “Wellness Warrior Weekend Getaway” (June 20-24 at Essex Culinary Resort & Spa in Vermont.)

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Upon arrival at Akwaaba, I headed back to the commercial kitchen, which was large enough to fit several rows of seats. Each participant was given an apron with “AskTheGoodDoctor” on it, and a 3-liter bottle of water to “dress” with fruit and vegetables—you know, “spa water.” We immediately set about preparing our meal, which would we would then eat in the bed and breakfast’s formal dining room.

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Everyone in the class helped to compose the night’s meal: broccoli soup; baked salmon; baked chicken breasts; cauliflower “rice,” citrus basmati rice, sautéed spinach, baked sweet potatoes and a totally organic totally, slammin’ totally, I’m dreaming about it right now pineapple upside-down cake. LaJoyce has a down-home demeanor via her Chicago upbringing (she now lives in the Poconos in Pennsylvania), and the atmosphere was relaxed and playful as jokes were cracked and questions asked and answered.

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The makeup of the class varied, from the few men who admittedly fell back, to working mothers, wives and singletons looking to improve their eating habits. We all got to lay hands on our delicious and guilt-free meal that was no muss and very little fuss. I chopped cauliflower to simulate “rice” (my son eats so much of the grain, we call him “Geechee boy”), washed fish and spread brown sugar (“just sprinkle, don’t pack”) for the star of the night: that pineapple upside-down cake.

LaJoyce swears by organic ingredients, including some I had not seen before, like “Spike,” a salt-free seasoning, and an organic shortening for both the cake and chicken dishes. She said she’d chosen the menu based on the cross-section of participants, which included no red meat-eaters, a pescatarian and a vegan or two. She also said that every item on the menu takes 30 minutes or less to cook.

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“Since time is in short supply for professionals, it was also important to choose healthy food choices which don’t take all day to prepare,” she explained to The Root, adding that the class was definitely a mixed bag.

“When they get home from work, folks are tired and grab the first available thing to eat—be it in the fridge or take-out. Admittedly, they know from listening to my show that their habits have not been healthy ones. Then there are those who absolutely have no idea how to cook and those who want to cook healthy meals [but] have no concept of what a healthy meal looks like.”

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Unlike me, LaJoyce loves cooking, saying that a good meal is how she communes with family and friends. She notes that for the black community, in particular, food can be a lifesaver ... or a pathway to the grave. She offers simple tips for re-mixing our “soul food,” including swapping out pork for turkey; ground turkey instead of ground beef or veal, and cooking string beans, greens and cabbage without any smoked meat parts.

“Healthy eating habits are important for the black community because we are dying at alarming rates from every major preventable disease,” she said. “I have watched many of my family members die from poor lifestyle habits, which absolutely included very tasty but unhealthy food choices.”

That night, we threw down on the sumptuous feast, and while I’ve admittedly yet to replicate it at home, it’s on my list of things to do, I promise, post-haste. Like, next Sunday. We shall see if the Geechee boy goes for the cauliflower rice. Slowly but surely does it, as LaJoyce stresses.

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“I am committed to teaching the masses how to prepare healthy meals because the time is now for our community to really understand that you are what you eat and that it is never too late to make a change,” she says. “I don’t want you to throw away everything in the cabinet today, but when you run out of that MSG-laced product used to salt your food, replace it with a vegetable or Himalayan salt. Your body will thank you, and it will be a positive step in the direction towards perfect health.”


For more nuggets of wisdom from Dr. LaJoyce Brookshire, tune in Sundays to Ask The Good Doctor Show on SiriusXM UrbanView Channel 126 at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 3 p.m. EST or On-Demand. For Classes, Workshops, or free Ask The Good Doctor community appearances go to AskTheGoodDoctor.org or email LaJoyce at AskTheGoodDoctor@msn.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @AskTheGoodDoc, Instagram @askthegooddoctor, Facebook: Ask The Good Doctor or YouTube @DrLaJoyceBrookshire.

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About the author

Angela Helm

Ms. Bronner Helm is a Contributing Editor at The Root. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.