After first trying True Food Kitchen in its hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, I've become hooked to the chainlet's sit-down take on anti-inflammatory, casual dining. Serving up flavor-forward, East-meets-West cuisine that caters to vegans, vegetarians and those with gluten sensitivity, menu items are based on the dietary philosophy of wellness superstar and father of integrative medicine Dr. Andrew Weil. Located in native Arizona, and now Southern California, Northern California and 10 other states (PA, TN, CO, FL, MD, GA, CO, IL, TX and VA).
We chatted with Dr. Weil while he was in town to get the 411 on the anti-inflammatory diet, why the Bay Area is perfect for True Food Kitchen, and his favorite dishes on the fall menu.
7x7: For those not yet familiar with the True Food Kitchen ethos, could you give us an introduction?
Dr. Weil: The mainstream American diet is pro-inflammatory, meaning it gives us the wrong kinds of fats and carbs, and not enough of the fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that protect us. Our menu is based on my extensive research into chronic diseases and findings that many are rooted in chronic inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet provides steady energy from ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber and and protective phytonutrients. Optimizing for health and longevity means reducing inflammation through foods with these specific protective elements. Foods such as mushrooms and turmeric.
How did True Foods Kitchen come into fruition?
I'm a very good home cook and, despite friends telling me over the years to open a restaurant, I was never tempted to because I knew nothing about the restaurant business. But then nine years ago I was introduced to Sam Fox of the Fox Restaurant Group and ended up proposing what became the True Food Kitchen concept: A restaurant that would serve really good food that was also nutritionally correct. At first, he thought that I was talking about bland tofu and sprouts, but Sam became convinced after I cooked him and his wife dinner at my home. They actually liked it! A space opened up in Phoenix and he skeptically agreed to give the concept a trial run. From the moment the doors opened it was a remarkable success. It's very gratifying to me that the food that I've cooked and enjoyed over the years is appealing to many people now.
So excited for the Palo Alto opening! Do you think that those working in tech are particularly prone to inflammation?
We knew we wanted to be in Northern California, and I think Palo Alto will be great for us. As for the area with relation to health, I do think techies are particularly prone to the stress of information and media overload that comes with the industry. I hope the culture of True Food will be a little bit of an antidote to that. For techies, learning some principles of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle is particularly important.
Until then, what is your favorite San Francisco meal?
I've always liked the Slanted Door and Greens. They are two of my favorites. I mostly cook at home when I'm in Tucson, so in San Francisco it's great for me to go out and try things I can't get at home.
What are some stand-out seasonal menu items?
We have an autumn salad that I think is terrific. For starters, we have charred cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts, and chiogga beet bruschetta with almond ricotta. Our ancient grains bowl is wonderful with its a mixture of grains, hemp seeds and miso-glazed sweet potato. (Editorial note: order it with the tofu, the best).
Can dessert be anti-inflammatory?
My favorite is our squash pie, a personal recipe of mine. It's vegan and full of antioxidants. The delicious whipped topping is made from coconut—it's a wonderful dessert.
How does wine fit into a balanced, Weil-approved diet?
I based the anti-inflammatory diet on the Mediterranean diet for which we have a great deal of scientific evidence as to its benefits. I tweaked it by adding Asian influences such as mushrooms, soy, ginger and turmeric. In the Mediterranean diet, wine is included, especially red wine which has proven benefits. The key is moderation. I do drink red wine and sake, but not every night. On our menu, we've tried to include organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines as much as possible.
What are some important ways people can manage inflammation on a day-to-day basis?
My greatest challenge is to convince people that there is no difference between good food and food that's good for you. Diet is a huge factor in the body's inflammation. Another way to cut down on inflammation is to avoid environmental toxins such as secondary smoke, which is a strong inflammatory agent.
Practicing how to limit stress through breathing techniques and meditation is hugely helpful. In addition, I think there are certain herbs and spices that have anti-inflammatory properties, particularly ginger and turmeric. There are some supplements you can take that have anti-inflammatory activity, but I think exercise and control over diet is the most important.