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Chef-to-the-stars Kate McAloon talks about her journey with food and finding her way in life, and life lessons learned from memorable kitchen mishaps.

It’s been said that Chef Kate was born with a mixing spoon or a whisk in her hand and a natural talent for creating healthy dishes with amazing flavours. When people ask what her speciality is, she smiles and says, “FLAVOUR!”

Kate has had the pleasure of cooking for many high profile and celebrity clients, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Miranda Kerr, Orlando Bloom, Robert Downey Jr, Sheryl Crow, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, Courteney Cox, David and Patricia Arquette, Meg Ryan, and Carla Gugino, to name a few.

Her passion for cooking and travel has inspired her recipes, with flavours from around the world. Much of her inspiration comes from the Mediterranean, especially from along the French Riviera, where she lived and attended cooking school at Roger Verger’s Moulin de Mougins Restaurant and apprenticed in their kitchen.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration? With a very grateful heart, it is a joy to thank my mother, who was my biggest inspiration in the kitchen and in life! She loved to cook and create beautiful, delicious food to share with family and friends. I must also include her best friend, Diane Pease, who truly loves to cook and is still doing so at the young age of 84. Her friendship is such a blessing in my life and reminds me to always stay in touch with those I love.
Many chefs throughout the years have also helped to shape my love of cooking, including Julia Childs, whom I had the honour of meeting while attending cooking school in France and working in their world-renowned restaurant kitchen; and Martha Stewart, with her breakthrough cookbook Entertaining. Cooking magazines, shows and restaurants from around the globe also helped to fuel the fires in my heart and ignited my passion for all things food and travel.

What is your food philosophy? I use local, organic, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. I love finding the freshest produce at farmers’ markets and use superfoods and medicinal herbs in my dishes to create healthy food that nourishes the body, mind, and spirit, and helps keep waistlines slim. My food philosophy is simple: eat smaller portions, four to six times a day, of healthy whole-food ingredients, packed with flavour and nutrition. Don’t forget that preparing and eating health-giving foods can be fun and filled with the flavour of JOY! When your food is fresh, organic, very tasty, and deeply satisfying, you just naturally eat less and feel better.

When did you decide to become a chef? At a young age I realised I had an innate gift for creating food and loved eating things that were delicious and even a bit on the exotic side. My mother also had this gift and I am sure my intuitive cooking style was passed down to me from her. I did not actually plan to become a chef, or ever try to get any of my celebrity clients … they came to me because the word got around that I could cook healthy, great tasting food. Out of a need to have an income and a passion for food, Chef Kate was born.
I really feel I was ‘given’ my celebrity clients for a reason, and if it helps to reach others on their path to healthy eating and living a joyful life, so be it! Now it’s my turn to give back by sharing what knowledge I have gleaned from my years of cooking. Over the years I’ve had many triumphs and failures, and through these experiences I have realised that life can be fun and full of joy, but also full of challenges and lessons. For me, it continues to be very important to try new things, love myself, and realise that there are no mistakes, just opportunities for growth and discovery!
Listening to my body and being flexible are two very important keys for me that help me to have balance not only with my diet, but in all areas of my life.

Do you have a personal eating plan? I don't have a strict ‘diet’, but what I find works best for me is having about 20-30 percent high quality protein and at least 50-70 percent vegetables (including sea vegetables), and sometimes 10-20 percent grains. Often I’ll skip the grains and opt for more veggies, including lots of raw ones. Eating a little something about every 2-3 hours helps to keep my energy, concentration, and blood sugar levels stable. Eating smaller portions with lots of nutrition more regularly is my rule of thumb.
This is my ideal eating plan and when I stick to it I feel really good, however I am a chef who loves great-tasting food and also enjoys eating out and trying new dishes! So the 80/20 or at most times 70/30 rule is what I go by (70-80 percent really healthy and 20-30 percent a bit more indulgent). Realistically, we are all going to slip from our chosen dietary plans if we can get away with it. The trick, I find, is to come back to my plan as soon as possible and to not ever beat myself or anyone else up for momentary delicious distractions.

What's your top kitchen tip? My number one tip that I use all the time is running water over my onions after I cut them in half, or I dip them in a bowl of water. My eyes are really sensitive and this helps to neutralise the onions. I usually cut one onion at a time and clean the cutting board and knife before cutting the next one. I also cut my onions last when prepping several ingredients and use them right away so the fumes have less time to affect me. Another thing I do is wet a paper towel and cover the container of chopped onions, which seems to help.

In your book, you share stories about kitchen mishaps – why? I’m still laughing about some of these stories - others, not so much! A couple of these incidents even brought me to tears, but things have always worked out in the end. For example, my sister Margaret’s favourite kitchen mishap story happened when she was helping me at Courteney Cox and David Arquette's home when we were expecting lots of people for one of their famous Sunday gatherings. I squeezed tons of fresh lime juice and set up the other ingredients on the counter so everything was ready to go for the drinks. I had the tequila on the counter next to the blender and next to it was also the olive oil bottle (they were almost the same size) that I had been using for one of the snacks. I grabbed - you guessed it - the olive oil and poured a healthy amount into the blender before my eyes registered that it was not tequila! My sister still says, “Going to make your special olive oil margaritas, Sis?” and cracks up. The lesson? Keep a watchful eye on the ingredients! And keep smiling and no one will know that you messed up … just calmly hide the evidence and start again.

What parting advice do you have for our readers? We all have to eat, so why not enjoy taking the time to create your own health-giving foods? I did not start out knowing all I do today about cooking and combining flavours. I had to learn along the way about healthy ingredients so that I could feel good myself. This did not happen overnight, so give yourself time to find your own way of eating. Whether you are a vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, or somewhere in between, increasing your intake of plant-based foods makes a lot of sense to me for our health and the health of the planet. If you are consuming animal products it matters what they have been eating, too! Grass-fed, wild caught, certified organic or as clean as possible, and sustainably raised and farmed is the way I go and for my veggies, fruit, grains, and products when possible.
In an ideal world our food would be that way naturally, the way it was not too long ago, but now I feel that we have to take charge of our choices and make educated decisions about what we choose to eat. It’s important! I am constantly researching and learning about foods. Teff and camels’ milk (yes, you read that right, it’s not a typo) are two new ingredients I am having fun working with at the moment. I have been blessed to cook for many very talented and health-oriented clients, which has given me the opportunity to experiment with just about every healthy food and product out there. This time provided my biggest learning and has been my own hands-on ‘nutritional school’. It has taught me practical ways of substituting standard ingredients with health-giving ones. It’s now my great joy and passion to share this food wisdom in my new book, The Flavour of Joy, and may it inspire readers to follow their own inner nutritional wisdom. I encourage you to make my recipes your own. Be daring and open to experimenting until you have the combinations you love and that feel great for your body. Remember that cooking and eating in a way that nourishes your body can be fun, easy, and very rewarding. Trying new foods is a way to find out what you really enjoy and what is right for you. Trust your body’s intuition, and it will show you the way if you listen. I hope that my recipes, stories, tips, and humour spark a reader's lifelong adventure of loving foods that not only taste great, but are really good for you. It’s all about enjoying life, right? Here’s to being fully alive and living every moment with passion and joy!

Chef Kate's food philosophy

* First and foremost, whole-foods/whole-body is my basic rule, and even more basic is that cooking and eating can be fun and full of joy!
* I taste the world through my senses and savour the flavour of each new experience.
* Often we make choosing what to eat so complicated, and it doesn’t have to be. Celebrate being alive by giving yourself foods that nourish your body, mind, and spirit, and taste great!
* With the fast-paced world we live in, it is very easy to get caught up in grabbing food on the go. Often these quick-fix foods are highly processed, full of ingredients that do not support our health, and leave us feeling unwell and not truly nourished. It’s really important to nurture ourselves and for me that starts in my kitchen, with what I put in my shopping cart, and what I put in my body.
* Eat whole foods, superfoods, good fats, and lots of vegetables and greens (including sea vegetables and green powders like spirulina). Use the freshest ingredients, and choose organic, wild caught, and sustainable whenever possible.
* Skip GMO foods, processed foods, refined sugars, anything that says ‘low fat’ or ‘diet’ and read labels. If there’s a long list of ingredients you can’t even pronounce, put it right back up on the shelf and head back to the veggies. Don’t walk, run!
* Shop at farmers markets and health food stores when possible and buy locally grown foods and in bulk if available. You can also find many ingredients online. Many of the larger food stores now have an organic section; check them out. If at all possible, grow your own veggies. Even in the city you can have a window box or a few lovely containers with fresh herbs and veggies.
* There is not one diet or way of eating that is right for everyone. I’ve tried just about every plan/diet out there and have, through trial and error, found what works best for me. I am still constantly learning and always fine-tuning my diet and recipes. Preparing healthy foods can be easy and rewarding, it just takes a little practice, well-spent time, and a willingness to learn a few basics.
* Speaking of diets, I’ve been a vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, French food lover, sugar and carb lover, and even a raw foodie, to name a few. Balance is key! I have always heard this statement. Well, I have finally discovered that I can actually have balance when it comes to food by being open and willing to choose my health and feeling good first. This is my best plan. If I slip (OK, when I slip), I get right back up as fast as I can and head back to what I know makes me feel good - not just momentarily, but for the rest of my life.

The Flavour of Joy by Chef Kate McAloon (In House Publishing, $34.95) is available now from www.theflavourofjoy.com.

Photography: Sam Grant. www.samgrantmedia.com