Most chefs only have to worry that their food tastes good — but for Sam Talbot, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child — it’s always been just as important that his food make people feel good, too. Since rising to fame on season two of Bravo’s Top Chef, Talbot has made a name for himself in the food world — while also advocating for diabetes awareness and the importance of clean eating.
Between his love for organic, local food, yoga and surfing, Talbot practices what he preaches in his book The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries. And he recently took his passion for the cause to a whole new level, co-founding the charity Beyond Type 1 with musician Nick Jonas and two other activists. (Talbot even has Beyond Type 1’s logo, a drop of blood, tattooed on his finger.)
With his healthy ethos and cool vibe, we don’t blame you for wanting a piece of what Talbot’s cooking. He stopped by Daily Burn 365 to give us the scoop on his forthcoming Brooklyn restaurant, Pretty Southern (think: better-for-you fried chicken!), his charity work, how he stays healthy — and how you can, too. Try out his recipe for Organic Chicken Skewers below!
7 Questions for Top Chef Alum Sam Talbot
When did you first realize the importance of healthy eating?
It came to me when I was playing football in high school and we were doing these two-a-day football practices. You practice once in the morning from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., then you eat lunch and practice again from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Most of the guys on the team would go eat at a pizza place down the street. But I would realize after eating pizza, by the time that 2 p.m. practice would come around, my blood sugar would be at 300 [normal is less than 140 mg/dL]. I’d feel awful and it was not good for me. So I started to play with my food, and being a weird scientist about it — eating something, checking my blood sugar two hours later, taking insulin, then figuring it out. The short-winded answer is I realized it at a young age, but I don’t know if I truly adopted the lifestyle until I felt like it, probably in my mid-20s.
What made you want to write The Sweet Life?
I just wanted to write a book as a chef living with [a condition] that so many other people can relate to…I get a lot of emails [asking] so many questions so finally I was like, I’m going to do a book and write it from a chef’s perspective that happens to be living with type 1, but it’s meant for everybody. Everybody that’s ready to make that change to not eating white sugar, not eating white flour and being a little more aware of what they purchase and how they cook with it.
If you had to give people one piece of advice about how to cook healthier, what would it be?
If you are trying to become more aware and adopt that healthier lifestyle and attitude, there are two things. …Eat from the seasons, eat food that’s grown where you live that you know didn’t have to travel from five states away on a FedEx plane to a cardboard box to refrigerated truck to wherever and needs all these other things to make it taste better. And the second thing is that just as much as you watch sugar and sodium, watch your dairy. There’s a lot of fat, calories and things your body doesn’t necessarily know how to digest in there.
What are some of your goals for your charity, Beyond Type 1?
I’m excited about a lot of things about Beyond Type 1. I have three great co-founders, and the things we have coming in our pipeline are so exciting, whether its collaborations with multitudes of different companies, or growing our community… Ultimately, our goal is to support a path to the cure and that’s what we’re doing. We just raised $500,000 this month to grant to different foundations that are doing the research, that are behind the technology and the advances we need to ultimately cure it.
What does a typical day of eating look like for you?
I’m opening a restaurant right now so my eating habits are a little skewed because I’m so busy. I do a lot of juicing for breakfast and lunch. I drink green juice and around lunchtime I’ll drink a more sustaining juice with more calories and sugar to keep me going. But then at dinner, I’ll eat a pretty balanced meal. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I’ll eat fish or chicken. I’ll cook at home, I do a lot of soup now, a lot of vegetarian [meals], a lot of grains. If I work out, I’ll have a snack before or after, whether that’s some kind of zucchini noodle, or something light.
How do you incorporate healthy foods into your restaurants?
In my restaurants, what I preach is what I practice. I buy food that’s in season. I buy organic, I buy local. I treat [the food] with the respect that it deserves, which means not a lot of store-bought anything. We make things from scratch; we don’t use any white sugar; we hardly use white flour and if we’re going to sweeten, we use honey or maple syrup. If we’re going to use flour we try to use chickpea flour or fava bean flour. We also do dairy [substitutes] a lot — so if you eat mac and cheese there might not be any milk or cream in the béchamel…I’ll use a hemp milk and Gruyere cheese…It blends wonderfully and you won’t be able to tell the difference.
How do you make time for fitness in your busy life?
It’s all I know. I get in a bad mood when I don’t work out and it’s also my time to escape. My phone is going off all day — it’s like Satan living in an iPhone! It rings all day and I’m emailing all day. For me to stay grounded, I have to work out. It’s almost like when a diabetic has low blood sugar, they tend to get moody or snappy, and if I don’t work out I do the same exact thing…Just like you get up in the morning and brush your teeth, I get up in the morning, I brush my teeth, I check my blood sugar, and at some point in that 24 hour period, I will be at the gym or doing yoga — if not, I’m just a mess.
What are some of your favorite workouts?
I love to mix it up. Some days I just charge Brooklyn and run like somebody’s chasing behind me. Sometimes I ride my bike everywhere I go, from Williamsburg to Equinox across the bridge, and back. I do cardio, yoga, I surf a lot, I switch it up. I’m an active, active guy.
Organic Chicken Skewers Recipe with Iron Skillet Potatoes, Zucchini and Apples
Serves 10–12 skewers
4 organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 Granny Smith apple
1 green zucchini
1 yellow zucchini
1/2 red onion, julienned paper-thin
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup basil, julienned
1/2 cup parsley, hand torn
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
- Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces. Cut apple, zucchinis and potato into 1/2 inch cubes. Smash and chip garlic cloves.
- Soak skewers overnight in water.
- Preheat oven to 450° F.
- Place butter in iron skillet on medium heat. Once liquid, add potato cubes and cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add apples and zucchini to potatoes in skillet. Cook for 60 seconds on high heat.
- Place all ingredients in a large non-reactive bowl. Let marinate for 1-3 hours.
- Add two pieces of chicken and veggies to skewer, capping with a potato for security. Place skewers on a tinfoil lined baking sheet. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Bake for 6 to 10 minutes until chicken is cooked thoroughly.