This is my interpretation of a dish from Chef Charlie Ayers, who gained a reputation as the chef who fed Google. He won the job of Google's corporate chef at a cook-off in 1999, and his cooking became famous for being innovative, healthy, and delicious. Now Chef Ayers consults with companies on restructuring food service to compliment the corporate culture. I would be very interested to see what he and other chefs concerned with healthy eating could do with school cafeteria menus, which are often abysmal at best. Now that is a challenge worth taking on!
As both an amateur cook and professional geek, I have a dual interest in Ayers' new book Food 2.0. The introduction explains how he got the job at Google and how the philosophy of the founders spilled over into the kitchen. The book is filled with recipes for light and healthy meals and snacks calling for fresh wholesome ingredients as well the occasional story about cooking and working at Google.
"I was employee #53 at Google, and even though I really wanted the job I thought Larry and Sergey were crazy when they hired me."
"When I left Google in May 2005, I had five sous chefs and 150 employees working for me in 10 cafes across the company's sprawling Mountain View, California headquarters. We were serving 4,000 lunches and dinners daily to a team of people as diverse and hard-working as any on the planet."
"Each meal is an opportunity to make a difference—in your body and your world."
"I want to help people eat better, and if we don't have a lot of time, then let's do it quickly."
"You're smart. So why don't you eat that way?"
Ayers has a direct approach and speaks honestly about his philosophy on using fresh, local, organic ingredients. He even admits that some of his favorite things aren't local—bananas, coffee beans, ingredients for chocolate—and he is fine with that. He has a perfect location in the San Francisco Bay Area with access to a year-round bounty of fresh local ingredients which inspires his cooking. Climate differences makes it more of a challenge during the cold winter months in much of the rest of the country which relies on fresh foods shipped in from California and other warm states. The book definitely has a California influence, but substitutions are always possible to keep your cooking seasonal, and often less costly.
My take on Ayers' recipe reflects the ingredients we had on hand. I used a handful of snowpeas instead of green beans, lemon basil fresh from my garden instead of lemongrass, and extra chicken instead of the shrimp. We served it with his chili-cilantro rice and enjoyed the fresh, vibrant flavors in both. I also made his spinach latkes which were probably some of the best latkes we've ever tasted, though not as pretty as the latkes in his book. Sometimes foods taste great but don't photograph well, and that was the case with my latkes!
Now for the fun stuff! I'm giving away a copy of Ayers book as well as a nifty matching lunch bag to carry your healthy lunches. To enter the give away, just leave a comment telling us about your favorite healthy meal or snack. Please make sure your email address is correct so I can contact you if you are the lucky winner. Apologies to my international readers, but the book and lunch bag can only be shipped within the continental U.S. The contest closes at 8 P.M. EST on Thursday June 19, and Random.org will select the winner. Look for the announcement of the winner in this post soon after.
UPDATE: Congratulations to Victoria of Feed Yourself! A copy of Food 2.0 and the matching lunch bag are heading your way! Thanks again to everyone who entered.
Make It Gluten Free
Gluten-free condiments that were once difficult to find are now on grocery shelves. I have modified the ingredients to include gluten-free soy sauce and rice vinegar. Always read labels to make sure that a food item is gluten free.
[Updated April 2012.]
Ho Chi Minh Chicken
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- ⅓ cup diced onions
- ⅓ cup matchstick carrots
- handful of snow peas
- ½ teaspoon finely chopped lemongrass (or lemon basil)
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into thin strips)
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons gluten-free rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
- ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- fresh ground black pepper
- shredded romaine lettuce (optional)
- Heat the oil in the wok and stir-fry the onions, carrots, and snow peas for 2 minutes. Add the lemon basil and chicken and stir-fry for 2 more minutes.
- Add the garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, palm sugar, toasted sesame oil, and black pepper and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- Serve immediately straight out of the wok if you want to be casual, or on a bed of the shredded romaine for presentation.