Home Cooking Tips from Chef-Dietitian Cheryl Forberg

For our January 2017 Q&A, we talked with Cheryl Forberg, a James Beard award-winning chef, best-selling author, and the nutritionist for NBC’s The “Biggest Loser” television show. A culinary expert as well as a registered dietitian, she has shared cooking and nutrition tips with the show’s contestants for seventeen seasons.

Cheryl received her culinary education at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. After graduation, she embarked on a European apprenticeship journey that included stints at top French restaurants from Champagne to Strasbourg. She later was chosen for the opening team of Postrio restaurant, Chef Wolfgang Puck’s first venture in Northern California.  She also worked as a private chef for Lucasfilm Ltd. in Northern California.

Forberg went on to earn a degree in nutrition and clinical dietetics from the University of California at Berkeley and to work as a research dietitian at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Forberg has written or contributed to 17 books, including her latest, A Small Guide to Losing Big. She has contributed articles and recipes to numerous culinary and health publications, including Prevention, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Parade, Shape, Fitness, Cooking Light, Health, US News and World Reports and The Washington Post.

Bean Bulletin (BB):  Cheryl, we know many dietitians who later pursued culinary training, but you took a different path, first becoming a chef and later becoming a dietitian. What prompted you to pursue this path?

Cheryl Forberg (CF): When I left the restaurant world to cook exclusively for private families, many of my clients had dietary restrictions, from low sodium to low calorie.  At the time, there were few chefs who knew about nutrition and few dietitians who were also chefs.  I felt I could go further for my clients if I understood the physiology of their eating requirements and requests. I attended the University of California, Berkeley to pursue a nutrition degree and RD credentials.

 BB: When you create recipes for home cooks, what principles or guidelines do you keep in mind? For example, when we create recipes, we always give people the option to use canned beans in place of starting with dry beans knowing that saving time in the kitchen matters to most home cooks. We also promote brining beans as a way to save time when starting with dry beans.

CF: While my time as a private chef was spent cooking for affluent clients with unlimited budgets, my time with “The Biggest Loser” reminded me that most Americans have a very limited budget and not a lot of time to cook.  My mother lives in a small town in Wisconsin and I use her as my tether.  If Mom can’t find or afford a particular ingredient, I usually leave it out of my recipes because I know that most of my readers will be in the same boat.

 BB: In your opinion, how do the acts of shopping for, preparing, and eating home-cooked meals contribute to better health?

CF:  There’s so much work to be done in terms of nutrition education.  If only people understood that a little more time in the kitchen, and a few more dollars spent each week on quality ingredients can equate to more healthy years ahead and lower medical costs. Everybody wins.

 BB: We know you’re an avid home gardener, and that you have some animals on your small farm as well. What advice do you have for people who want to grow more food at home, or eat more fresh, local, seasonal foods?

CF: Nothing tastes better than fresh. Even if you live in an apartment, a few pots of fresh herbs can add a magical finish to a simple home cooked meal—whether it’s a dusting of chopped parsley or a few shredded basil leaves. And if you do have room for a garden, start slowly with a few veggies and try to take local garden courses to learn which fruits and veggies work in your area and whether you have the great fortune to grow winter veggies as well.

BB: We also know you love beans. How often do you cook with them, and do you typically use dry beans, canned beans, or both?

CF: I adore beans. I love them not only because they’re a great source of fiber and protein, but also because they’re so versatile and SO inexpensive.  I usually have at least five different dried beans in my kitchen, and even if I only need a cup or two cooked beans in a recipe, I usually cook a whole pound and keep the rest on hand to add to salads or soups (or to put in the freezer for next time).  But I’m super busy like everyone else so I always keep cans of black, pinto, and garbanzo beans on hand. Hummus is my go-to appetizer for last minute guests, and I love to use different canned beans for that.

BB: What are your favorite bean dishes to cook at home?

 CF: I often experiment with different bean dishes to serve with grilled meat or for meatless meal. I usually add onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, mustard, oregano, chipotle, and smoked salt. Sometimes I add fire-roasted tomatoes and/or bacon.  I also love to add beer while they’re simmering instead of adding water, and I often finish with fresh cilantro and a lime squeeze.   I always have enough for leftovers so that I can top them with poached eggs for breakfast—farm fresh eggs from my chickens!

BB: What’s the best bean dish you’ve ever eaten, and why? Was it something you cooked, or something you ate at a restaurant?

 CF:  I love the bean dishes cooked at home because I know exactly what’s in them and I feel good about that. The best bean dish I recall in a restaurant is Lobhia Aur Khumbi that I ate at an Indian cafe in Berkeley called Ajanta.  Though the dish itself was vegetarian and the primary ingredient was black-eyed peas, which are technically a bean, it was loaded with umami-rich shiitakes and complex curry seasonings. It was memorable and absolutely scrumptious!

BB: Finally, what advice do you have for people who want to cook more at home?

CF: If you’re intimidated or afraid, take a class. It will do wonders for your confidence and give you great ideas. If you can’t take a class, buy a book or two or explore the wealth of great recipes online.  Start simple and get creative as you learn more and build confidence.

BB: Cheryl, thanks for taking the time amidst your very busy schedule to answer our questions. We love talking with bean lovers who also love cooking!