Interview with M Cafe Macrobiotic Chef Lee Gross

Finding the Well

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by Erin Haslag of Well in LA

Hi, FabFitFun ladies! Maybe, like me, you grew up eating cheesy, starchy comfort foods such as lasagna, mac ‘n’ cheese, and pizza. And maybe like me, you found out as a grown-up that you can’t get away with eating those same kinds of comfort foods, but you’re not ready to give them up completely! How about a compromise that allows you to have your comfort foods and make them healthy for you at the same time? Lee Gross, consulting chef at M Café, dishes about ways to make your kitchen a little healthier, his favorite foods, celeb clients, and a healthy way to prepare a classic Italian comfort food: lasagna!

Where do you feel most inspired to create new recipes?
Traveling out to Los Angeles four times a year for M Café provides me with a lot of inspiration. I love the energy of Los Angeles. But travel in general is always great to spur new ideas. But I’m really most inspired by my own appetite and my hunger for learning about how ingredients have been used traditionally by indigenous cultures.

What are your favorite ingredients from each season?
Seasonality is an essential component of macrobiotic cooking. The energy of each season resonates with particular foods and corresponds (with) certain parts of the human body, which is why we use certain foods in each season to strengthen and support our overall health and well-being. Seasonally available produce is a given, but beyond that, for example, there are reasons why we emphasize whole-grain brown rice in the fall and sea vegetables in the winter.

What are your secrets for turning simple ingredients into memorable meals?
Treat them with respect. Apply cooking techniques that will bring out the best in each ingredient. Know your vegetables and how heat affects them. Daikon radish, for example, can be fiery, hot, and pungent; or as mellow, sweet, and vegetal as can be, depending on how you cook it.

What’s always in your pantry at home?
A variety of dried beans, whole grains, sea veggies, dried mushrooms, soy sauce, lots of olive oil. My wife keeps a shelf dedicated to baking, with practically every flour on the planet. There’s a very well-fed sourdough starter in our fridge.

What is your favorite meal for a night at home?
Anything cooked and eaten at home with family and friends. These days, there’s usually lots of fresh, local veggies and greens, and something easy and satisfying. There’s nothing like big pot of beans slow-cooked with plenty of onion, chilies, and good olive oil. It’s getting cool here in the Northeast, so we’re into those cozy, warming meals at home.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? Like chocolate or wine?
Love chocolate, love wine, love cheese…and it is all fantastic when enjoyed as an occasional indulgence. My motto these days is “eat less, enjoy more.” Macrobiotics is about mastering the art of moderation.

Can you share a few of your celebrity clients?
A few. I was Gwyneth Paltrow’s private chef for three years and have also personally cooked for Madonna, Chris Martin (Paltrow’s husband and Coldplay singer), Bill Murray, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Rachel Weisz, Liv Tyler, the Wilson brothers (Owen, Luke, and Andrew), and Stella McCartney, among others.


Want to try a Chef Lee Gross original recipe, FabFitFun readers? I have the scoop on the winner of 2012 M Café’s “MacrotizeMe Challenge”: Gluten-Free Grilled Vegetable Lasagna with Tofu-Pumpkin Seed “Ricotta.” The challenge asks diners to submit their favorite guilty pleasure comfort foods, and Gross and his team give the foods a macro makeover. I had a chance to taste this dish, and it is incredible! If you’re up for the challenge of making this veggie-filled macrobiotic meal, you’ll be rewarded with its satisfying comfort-food taste and a standing ovation from your dinner guests!

1 box DeBoles Gluten-Free, “No-Boil” Rice Lasagna noodles
1 1/2 quarts tomato sauce, plus additional for serving
1 recipe Tofu-Pumpkin Seed “Ricotta” (recipe below)
2 pounds assorted seasonal vegetables, grilled and sliced thin or chopped (M Café uses a combination of onion, red bell pepper, carrot, eggplant, zucchini, Portobello mushroom, and butternut squash during the fall and winter months)
1 large bunch green kale, blanched and chopped fine
Vegan mozzarella cheese to top lasagna
Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cover the bottom of a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce.
3. Place 4 lasagna noodles in pan in an even layer. Cover noodles completely in tomato sauce. Make sure the noodles are completely covered in sauce.
4. Using a large spoon, dollop mounds of tofu-pumpkin seed ricotta evenly over sauce-covered noodles. Top ricotta with a layer of sliced or chopped grilled vegetables and a layer of chopped kale. Top veggies and kale with tomato sauce.
5. Repeat two more layers of noodles, sauce, ricotta, vegetables, kale, and sauce.
6. Cover lasagna with a sheet of parchment paper and wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees.
7. Remove foil and parchment, and top with vegan mozzarella. Return to a 375-degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to turn golden brown.
8. Let lasagna sit for at least 1 hour before slicing into 16 pieces.
9. Sprinkle each portion with chopped parsley and serve hot, with additional tomato sauce on the side.

Tofu-Pumpkin Seed “Ricotta”

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained well and crumbled

1. Place toasted pumpkin seeds in food processor and pulse a few times until seeds are ground to a coarse meal.
2. Add basil, olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and pulse a few more times to combine.
3. Add crumbled tofu to food processor and run machine until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not over-process. Mixture should be slightly coarse, not completely smooth.
4. Scrape ricotta into a container and use as directed for above recipe; or to fill stuffed shells, eggplant rollatini, or other Italian-inspired dish.

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