Not Your Average Chef

Due to the CSA’s big annual gala fundraiser today, I’ve only got a few minutes for my post this week.  I thought it might be appropriate to share a short bio piece I wrote a couple of months ago for Oasis about the executive chef of our gala dinner, Nikolaus Delueg.

Enjoy!

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chef nikola

Chef Nikolaus Delueg is the type of guy you want to park yourself next to at parties.  Not only is he an expert at his craft but his life reads a little like an adventure novel.  In the brief couple of hours I had a chance to meet with Chef Nikola (as he’s referred to here in Egypt), I was regaled of stories from his time as a competitive downhill skier, his encounters with the mafia in Central America, a trip motorcycling through Southeast Asia and even the time he spent a summer in a tent in the wilderness of Northern Canada.  It’s not exactly what you’d call a traditional path to being the Executive Chef at the Dusit Thani Lakeview-Cairo, New Cairo’s only 5 star luxury hotel, where he runs 10 kitchens and manages a staff of 125, but I get the sense that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

From the Cloth to the Kitchen

As the youngest son of a musician (father) and a gastronom (mother) in Northern Italy, Nikolaus was originally destined for the priesthood despite the artistic inclinations he inherited.  “I attended priest school for 3 years when I was a teenager…..This is how it often was in those days.  The oldest son inherited the business, the youngest son joined the clergy.”  Over time however, he came to realize that the church wasn’t his calling.

He always knew that cooking gave him the creative outlet he desired, but becoming a chef wasn’t an option he’d seriously considered until he suffered a serious skiing injury while racing for the Italian Junior National Team.  To keep him from heading back to the slopes, his mother agreed to send him to Munich, where he completed his culinary training and eventually ended up opening up his first restaurant.

Sojourn to Central America

Years later, following the divorce from his first wife, Nikolaus was looking for a fresh start.  Upon visiting a friend in Central America he knew this was the place he’d do it and was back within the month to try his hand owning and running a small hotel.  His venture started off well enough, but as soon as business began to grow, the local organized crime came calling.  “It was a scary time” relates the chef.  “Tourists don’t usually see it but the area I was in can be very dangerous.”  After his guardian (similar to an Egyptian bowab) was murdered as a warning for him to pay up, he knew it was time to move on.  Although his endeavor ultimately failed, as Chef Nikola puts it, “when one door closes, five more doors open”.

The Great White North

After Central America, Chef Nikola moved to Canada and attempted to fully get back into the restaurant industry.  Unfortunately the process wasn’t as smooth a transition he’d hoped.  In fact he even found himself planting trees in the Yukon one summer to make ends meet.  “There were just 26 of us (other tree planters) and the bears up there for hundreds of miles….It wasn’t exactly how I thought coming to Canada would be.”  But he worked his way back up through the restaurant ranks and landed a job in Montreal that allowed him to travel and refine his skills all over Africa, which eventually led to his first experience in Egypt.

Egypt and back again

Chef Nikola came to live in Egypt in 2003 and worked at various locations in Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh until 2007, when his career took him to The Philippines and then Saudi Arabia.  It was here that he opened some of the finest restaurants found in either country.  But like how most foreigners who taste Egypt inevitably return, Chef Nikola was back in 2012, now as the Executive Chef at Dusit Thani.

His current role gives him the creative freedom he’s always yearned, and he has no plans to go anywhere soon. “For me (Egypt) is one of the best countries to live in – friendly, affordable, full of history, safe, not too far from Italy, always sunny and lots of work to do.”

Of course, this is all great news for me.  Needless to say it will give me more opportunity to sample Chef Nikola’s delicious creations, but perhaps I will also get to hear a bit more about his life story.  I have a feeling what I’ve heard so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

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I am a dietitian first…

keep-calm-and-act-ethically

Wherever my career takes me, I am a dietitian first and foremost.  Never was this more evident than when I was asked to participate in a video shoot earlier this week by my employer.

Let me explain.

Late last week our staff received an email from our director that asked us to dress up in red on Tuesday.  We’d actually done something similar a couple of months before for a cover shoot for our magazine (which turned out awesome by the way!).  This time however, we weren’t given a reason.  There was some speculation in the office that it must be related to our upcoming annual fundraising gala, but the exact purpose of the wardrobe request was kept secret.

So when Tuesday rolled around we all gathered in our garden courtyard.  While we were waiting for everyone to arrive I noticed one of our maintenance guys bring over a case of Coca Cola, one of CSA’s biggest sponsors.

My mind started racing.  What exactly was going on here?  Next thing I knew our director was asking all the staff to grab a can of Coke.  She walked us through a choreographed scene where our staff would be standing around chatting, then on cue, simultaneously look into the camera and proudly display our cans.  The plan was to use this video at our upcoming gala to thank Coca Cola for their support.  From a marketing perspective it’s a great idea and no doubt our sponsor will love it.

BUT, there was absolutely no way I could be a part of something like that.  Can you imagine people who attend our gala, who either know me personally or from my writing as a dietitian, to see my smiling face on a video screen holding up a Coca Cola can?  Personal credibility aside, what message would that be sending?

I had to break the news to my director on the spot.

She protested a little, but was mostly preoccupied with herding the other staff, so we didn’t have time to discuss further.  I ended up watching the shoot from  the side, which was a little awkward, but ultimately fine.

In the intervening days I haven’t actually spoken with my director about it but in our other conversations I haven’t sensed any animosity, so I think she understands.  After the shoot one of my colleagues even thanked me for “standing up for my morals”.

I do want to mention here that I don’t necessarily judge CSA for any of the sponsorship deals they have.  As a health professional, do I wish we didn’t partner with companies that have a history of co-opting public health (we’re also sponsored by a tobacco company)?  Sure.  But I can also appreciate the financial realities of running a non-profit organization whose operation relies entirely on corporate sponsors.

So, at the end of the day, I may be getting paid to edit a magazine and coordinate the website and social media for CSA, but nutrition is my thing.

I am, and always will be, a dietitian first.

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Introducing CSA’s new Social Media & Website Coordinator

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In my quest to find additional hours (ideally in the field of nutrition) I have landed myself a new position at CSA – Social Media & Website Coordinator. I’ll be starting on February 15th. By no means was this a position I was looking for, but nonetheless, I’m excited, if not a little apprehensive, to take it on.

Why apprehensive? Aside from the fact that my social media experience is basically limited to posting photos on Facebook and occasionally using Twitter to tweet nutrition-related articles of interest, I will be continuing as Media & Communications Coordinator (ie. Oasis Magazine editor). As such, I’m still a little unclear if I’ll have adequate time to devote to each position while still living the type of life I want to. Officially, both positions should work out to 40hrs/week (25hrs for Oasis, etc. + 15hrs for Social Media & Website), but in all honesty, I’m skeptical. And frankly, I have little interest in working more than that – at least not if the job’s not in the field of nutrition or the pay is only roughly $5.00/hr. With this in mind, I’ve negotiated a 2 month trial period. If I’m finding things to be too much, I can walk away from the extra role. No questions asked.

Enough about the potential drawbacks, let’s discuss some of the positives. Of course, the extra cash will be nice, but that’s really not the reason I decided to take this on. The number one reason – experience. Obviously developing social media skills in today’s environment, particularly in an official capacity, are invaluable. I feel like they are skills that I will be able to use wherever my nutrition career takes me.

Another bonus, mostly for CSA, but partly for me too, is a streamlining of the communications & technology activities within CSA. As Media & Communications Coordinator I had to work pretty closely with the Social Media & Website Coordinator regarding content. It should make things easier having just one person responsible for everything and less likely that things get missed.

In a separate development, I may have found a really cool nutrition-related volunteer opportunity (finally!). A non-profit organization in Cairo named Girl Power, which I coincidentally got in touch with for an upcoming article in Oasis Magazine, asked me to help them develop some nutrition/health tips for their program. Girl Power is a great initiative by Hayam Essam that provides sport opportunities to underprivileged girls in the community. We’re planning to meet in the coming weeks to discuss further.

So all in all, it’s been a pretty eventful past 10 days or so. I’d be a little remiss in my new position if I didn’t promote our social media accounts. If you’re interested in what’s going on at CSA, the best way to stay up to date with activities at CSA or our Fitness Training Center (FTC), is to like us on Facebook:

CSA:  https://www.facebook.com/livinginegypt
FTC:  https://www.facebook.com/csaftc

We also have a Twitter account, so go ahead an follow us here too.  CSA on Twitter.

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Tweaking the Bestselling Diets

Starting in March’s issue of Oasis Magazine, I’ve decided to create a regular one page column called Nutrition 101 to feature my articles.  My goal with the column will be to take complex nutrition/health issues and try to strip away common biases and misconceptions.  I’d also like to introduce our readers to some basic nutrition concepts to empower them to decipher the mixed messages they are bombarded with on a daily basis.  I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while now and I’m really excited about the new format.  I’m hope my readers enjoy it.

For my first column I decided to examine a few of the current bestselling diets.  Regular readers are aware that I generally detest diets.  Maybe one day we’ll be rid of them, but we’re probably stuck with them for a while yet.  And frankly aside from many diet’s ludicrous claims, with only a few simple modifications they could actually be much more sustainable and healthier.

Anyways, here is my inaugural Nutrition 101 column.  Enjoy!

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Tweaking the Bestselling Diets

One big reason most diets tend to fail is that people aren’t able to stick with them for the long term.  This is usually because they are unnecessarily restrictive and ultimately not very enjoyable to be on.  When it comes to the food we eat most of us can only live with making ourselves miserable for so long, regardless of the health benefits we may see down the road.

That said, diets and the practice of dieting aren’t going away anytime soon.  What I’ve decided to do in this inaugural Nutrition 101 column is take a look at some of the current bestselling diets and suggest some simple healthy tweaks that will help to make them more sustainable.

Vegan Diet

Vegan DietThe vegan diet is a form of a vegetarian diet where all products that come from animals are avoided, including dairy products and eggs.  People most often choose to go vegan for moral reasons or because of the negative health effects associated with eating certain animal products.  The vegan diet is actually very healthy if done right, but many who attempt it can find it too restrictive to stick with for the long term.

As long as your opposition to animal products isn’t related to moral reasons, it can be perfectly healthy (and add welcome variety) to incorporate lean animal products into your diet from time to time.

Diet TweakTry including chicken breast, fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel or tuna) and/or eggs into your meals a few times per week.

Grain-Free diet

wheatbellyPopularized by the recent bestseller, Wheat Belly, the grain-free diet is exactly what it sounds like – a diet void of grains and grain products.  The theory goes that over the years, wheat and other grains have undergone modifications, whether through selective breeding or genetic manipulation, such that the grains we see today no longer resemble the grains our hunter-gatherer ancestors encountered millennia ago.  And that these changes in the grain are responsible for many of the health issues common today including, obesity, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD and more.

There is little scientific evidence to suggest that grain products can’t be incorporated into a balanced healthy diet but you don’t have to throw all of their advice out the window.

Diet Tweak –Continue to avoid any processed and/or packaged grain products (ie. cookies, crackers and cakes, etc.), particularly those that are made with white flour, but reincorporate whole grains, including brown rice, bulgur and quinoa, back into your diet.

The Bulletproof Diet

bulletproof dietThis diet is most notable for its signature coffee infused with butter, but in reality The Bulletproof Diet has a lot more to it than that.  The brainchild of a self-professed Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur, the creator of The Bulletproof Diet claims to have spent 15 years “hacking his own biology” with this diet as the end result.  Other features of The Bulletproof Diet include eliminating sugar, gluten, grains, legumes, synthetic additives and processed dairy, and only consuming organic fruits & vegetables and meat from animals that have been grass fed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly this diet requires a bit more tweaking than the previous examples.

Diet Tweaks:  First don’t bother with any of the Bulletproof brand supplements as their use is completely unfounded. Despite the diet’s claims, it is okay to incorporate whole grains into your diet and unless you are gluten intolerant there is no need to explicitly avoid gluten.  Also, loosen the restrictions on the allowable servings of fruits per day (diet allows for a max of 1-2 per day).

Summary 

As you may have noticed many of the tweaks made above involve incorporating a bit more balance into these bestselling diets.  This will hopefully allow you to stick with them longer (ideally indefinitely) so that you’re able to see lasting results, whatever your goals may be.

Keep in mind, there is no perfect diet for everyone.  Anyone claiming otherwise isn’t being truthful.  Ultimately, you need to figure what works best for you, while at the same time trying to make the healthiest choices you can.

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