I love to cook and do it often even though I lack adequate counter space, having created a makeshift one by putting a butcher’s block on top of my washing machine. I have even taken a five-day, 25-hour cooking course to learn all the basic techniques in cooking as well as several ethnic cooking classes.
But the more I know about how to cook, the less I seem to know about what to cook, as far as what constitutes “healthy eating” beyond elementary-school basics like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
So when I heard about a kitchen ‘detox’ session taught by personal chef Gilda Mulero, I was intrigued. The 2 1/2 hour program—about one hour and 45 minutes in the kitchen, plus 45 minutes pounding the aisles of your local grocery store--costs $350. (Mulero waived her fee for BrickUnderground). Mulero’s worthy if somewhat vague promise: To set people up for culinary success in their kitchen.
Mulero showed up around 6pm on a Friday night, brandishing not only her cutlery but also a yoga mat, as she'd come straight from yoga teacher training.
She began by asking what my objectives were. In my case, I just wanted to learn what comprises a well-stocked and healthy pantry and find out what types of pots, pans and utensils I should have at my disposal to make my cooking as efficient and effective as possible.
She proceeded to open my cabinets, drawers and pantry to make her assessment of my utensils, appliances, spices and canned goods. While my cabinets, when opened, can be somewhat of a booby trap, she immediately made me feel at ease. And rather than being judgmental or aggressive like some people who are into healthy living can be, Mulero was personable and fun.
I quickly learned that my Henckels knives, which I had thought were top notch, were, in fact, not. Mulero explained that any knives that reside in a block can get damaged and bacteria-ridden from being in a small space that cannot be cleaned. She said a better quality knife like the Shun Classic 7 inch, kept in a sleeve as opposed to a block, was better suited for those who don’t necessarily have great knife skills or who have small hands, as it it is easier to grasp and handle than some other knives and can help prevent accidents.
I scanned the other items on the “Culinary Cheat Sheet” she handed me. It listed other cooking implements to own that would last me a lifetime such as All-Clad pots and a Cuisinart food processor; where to shop (Kalustyans for spices and specialty items and Broadway Panhandler, for kitchen utensils); sites to peruse (Epicurious.com for its great recipes and menus and cooksillustrated.com for recipes that really work as they have been tested through and through); cookbooks such as her number one pick, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman; and lists of pantry essentials.
I was surprised to see several frozen items such as spinach and berries and made a mental note to try Shoyu instead of my normal soy sauce. Though the All-Clad pots would set me back a bit, overall Mulero was pretty budget-conscious and kept in mind the constraints of my small kitchen. She explained she specializes in teaching those with small kitchens in NYC to cook--especially those who prefer to use their oven for storage than for baking--and keep a healthy pantry.
She has seen it all—lack of counter space, mini-fridges, and no place to store canned goods and cooking staples. She offers creative solutions for these, having experienced them herself, e.g., for storage & countertop challenged, a $200 wheeled cooking trolley from Gothic Cabinet.
Mulero then went through the food items in my fridge and pantry, pointing out pre-made canned soup that should be tossed because not only was it expired (!) but it also contained a slew of ingredients that had far too many syllables. “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it,” she instructed, noting that funeral homes use 30% less embalming fluid nowadays because of all the preservatives in our food. “Try to eat local, seasonal and organic produce and avoid anything processed.”
Even though many healthier items are more expensive, many times, Mulero pointed out, you can use less of them because their flavors—such as sea salt or real maple syrup—are far more intense so it balances out. She also gave me a short list of items that were safe to buy canned, such as beans and tomatoes, because items such as these have such high turnover. She told me to pay particularly close attention to all expiration dates, explaining that many stores don't purge shelves of old items, and that even gum has an expiration date.
After the home assessment we headed to my local supermarket, D’Agostinos. Mulero pointed out brands that she preferred and explained why. I learned what to look for on labels that would indicate if a food is worth buying or not and more specifically learned some alternatives to foods that are known to cause issues such as cow dairy products.
Mulero suggested using coconut milk or goat milk, not soy, because it can affect your hormones, and substituting avocado for milk in chocolate mousse and pudding. (While this suggestion may sound odd, I have since tried it and loved it.)
In addition to her Detoxing Your Kitchen class and personal chef services, Mulero also teaches a knife skills class for two, a Cooking for Newlyweds cooking series and helps the recently engaged register for kitchen products and appliances that are durable and affordable.
Because I owned almost all the utensils, appliances and cookware Mulero had on her list, that part of the class was not that valuable to me, although I did find the knife information and demonstration useful. The most helpful part (and to me, almost worth the entire $350 course fee, as the information I learned would have taken me days of Googling to research) was the supermarket walk-thru, which focused my attention on items I’d normally breeze past or grab haphazardly.
Mulero's Kitchen Detox would make a good gift for the diet conscious, picky eaters, neophyte cooks, new parents or someone with health issues affected by certain types of food, though it probably would not be ideal for a committed junk food junkie, or anyone who is not at least willing to try new things and have a modest desire to change bad habits.
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