When Mara made the decision that she wanted to treat her cancer naturally, I don’t think she fully grasped at the time how important food would be in that process. The first thing we did was to transition away from white sugar to stevia for sweetening. We picked up juicing veggies and began growing broccoli sprouts. I spearheaded making the meal plans, and after about six months of eating extremely healthy meals that were not very tasty, Mara put her foot down. She loved to have planning meetings, so we had a planning meeting and she made it known that she would no longer eat meals that tasted bad.
After my initial shock at her resolve, I began researching, reading and trying different recipes. I would take tasty recipes with excellent reviews and modify them to be more healthy by using things like organic ingredients and healthy oils. At the time, the boys were five and three, so I knew the meals had to be relatively easy to make if this new form of meal prep was to be sustainable. This was the birth of the “tasty, healthy, easy” style of cooking that largely influences the recipes I share with you each week.
And this style of cooking is shared by Chef Amanda DeLaura, who will be frequently sharing her recipes with the Mara Labs community.
Amanda grew up here in Charlottesville, VA. One of five siblings, she got her start early by baking chocolate chip mint cookies with spelt flour as well as corn bread, and was always very eager to help her mom in the kitchen. Amanda graduated college from Westmont College in Santa Barbara and landed a job during her gap year before grad school as a pastry chef there.
Later that year, she was offered an executive chef position for three residential rehab homes in Malibu, where she began implementing her philosophy of food: cooking healthy for the mind and body.
Once she got that program up and running, she transitioned to being a personal chef to celebrities in Malibu and Santa Barbara, specializing in cooking specific diets for people with allergies and sensitivities. In January, Amanda moved to Houston where she does one-on-one cooking for members at a local gym.
Below is an excerpt of a recent interview I had with Amanda about her views and inspirations of cooking.
What is your philosophy on food?
My three goals are always for food to look good, because I think the way things look affect how you enjoy them, to taste good and then to be good for you. I firmly, firmly, firmly believe in the whole foods diet. I think everything should come from a natural source. I rarely buy things that are processed. And then simple. I love simple foods where you can taste what you’re eating. For example, I am a huge believer in lemons. I love lemon juice and adding it to food. So simple, but flavorful in a natural way.
What is your favorite food?
Lemons and citrus are my favorite ingredients. Citrus, in general, is one of the most powerful ingredients that we don’t talk about. And a close second are onions. They are so good for you and can be put in almost anything.
Who do you look up to in cooking? Who are your inspirations?
Have you heard of Loveandlemons.com? Jeanine Donofrio? She’s incredible. And her food is very similar in how she uses the ingredients. I admire everything she puts out. Also, Yotam Ottolenghi is a huge inspiration for me. He uses cumin on carrots, so you’re adding something, but it’s enhancing the carrot taste without degrading the ingredient. He grew up in Jerusalem and now has a bunch of shops in London. It’s very good food.
Jeanine at LoveandLemons.com has a much more approachable style. She uses ingredients and has wonderful flavors, but she has a very attainable method for most people. Ottolenghi is incredibly elegant but simple elegance. And he’s very rustic and uses a lot of veggie dishes. It’s a bit more of an in-depth process of cooking.
What’s one of your biggest hopes for how you’d like to impact people who use the recipes you share with us?
"I want to demystify the stigma around the
belief that good food is hard to make"
I want to demystify the stigma around the belief that good food is hard to make. I think many people feel so far removed from the process of making healthy food, that they don’t know where to begin. I want people who try my recipes to experience that the good food they are making isn’t difficult.
If you missed her recipe earlier this month, Amanda shared her Harvest Chicken with Rosemary, Shallots & Grapes. This week, she shared a Cranberry Jalapeño Relish, which may be an easy addition to your holiday meal! If you want to follow Amanda on Instagram, she is @chefdelaura. And while you're at it, our Instagram is @themaralabs.