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Getting Heart Healthy with Chef Judson Todd Allen

by  V. Sheree Williams on February 28, 2014
Getting Heart Healthy with Chef Judson Todd Allen

While studying Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Illinois in Urbana – Champaign, chef Judson Todd Allen thought he was the busiest person in the world but his schedule now days makes that time seem like a walk in the park.  With a growing company that consults and cooks for clients, a recent stint on the Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star,” as the creator of a low-sodium hot sauce that will hit national store shelves in the future and spokesperson for the National Pork Board,  Allen is not wasting any time changing the way people think about healthier foods one flavor at a time.

The health-conscious chef wasn’t always spreading messages about eating right.  Growing up on the south side of Chicago, he admits to a long battle with an addiction to food that started during childhood.  “I was that guy that used to have dreams about food and a lot of it stems from growing up in a household where my grandfather was from New Orleans and anybody who knows anything about New Orleans' cuisine, it is like you can’t tell us nothing. We’re the best cooks in the world, " says Allen.   “I was always around food.  My grandmother was an amazing baker. She used to bake, granddaddy used to cook, I mean we had the best of both worlds.”

“I grew up around food and I grew up around good food. But somewhere along that line, that love and passion for food turned into an addiction to me.  I tell people it got so bad that my mother had to put a lock on the refrigerator door. Those dreams turned into me getting up at night and raiding the refrigerator. It wasn't necessarily that I was hungry, I just wanted to eat. I was over passionate about food to my detriment.”

Allen attended the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences which fueled his major at U of I and ultimately empowered him to shed the extra pounds from his once 350-plus pound body.  “We learned all about farm-to table, when now it is sort of this hip concept.  Actually being on a farm in an urban setting, we understood how to take something as small as a seed, plan it in soil and cultivate that soil to create a crop, or to create a vegetable or fruit and then we would work our magic to make something amazing from a culinary prospective,” says Allen who dreams of having a farm one day.

With all of this important information about food and how it is grown and how our bodies react to what we put into it, Allen says, “I struggled with weight my entire life and while I knew about it and appreciated it, I wasn’t necessarily living it,” he says in regards to using food for nutritious and well-balanced meals.  Instead, he said he would often leave class and head to a fast food restaurant or eat processed foods.  Both, combined with a all-you-can-eat invitation in a dorm's cafeteria, contributed to a weight gain of 70 pounds alone his freshman year.

The light bulb finally came on one day after graduation that led to losing more than 150 pounds over a span of six to seven years.  “I was looking at myself and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. I dealt with the bullying, I dealt with ridicule, I dealt with the self esteem issues and the self hatred and all of these different things that come along with not feeling valued, appreciated or even liked because of our outer appearance.”  Taking all he knew, he turned knowledge into power and the pounds slowly came off by taking the dishes he loved like his grandfather’s catfish and grits and creatively baking the fish so that it still had the crunch to it without all of the fat and calories. 

During his weight loss journey, he earned two Master’s, one in Public Health and the other in Business, with the goal of becoming an entrepreneur.  He also traveled throughout Europe studying culinary at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

In 2007, he officially became an entrepreneur launching his company Healthy Infused Cuisine that provides healthy gourmet meals to individual clients and organizations.  Talk show and radio host Steve Harvey lost 30 pounds thanks to Allen’s passion to cook food that is full of flavor but most importantly is better for the body.  He says together his love for food and educational background has helped him to "Really differentiate myself from other chefs. I knew that with food science, I was going to have that technical experience of food, I was going to understand the chemistry and the microbiology of food and how flavors and sensory worked and how we eat and process ingredients and things.”

Truly a determined person, Allen has been able to check off his goals one by one.  Weight loss, check.  Start a business, check. Be a finalist and possible winner of “The Next Food Network Start, that was next and after the third audition he would be able to check this off the list too, at least as a contestant. 

“That was something I kind of put my mind to and I said ‘I am not going to quit until I get on this how.’ I started pursuing that [the show] in 2009 and I remember when I first auditioned for the show, I was like I am going to put my best foot forward and I did and I actually made it to the semifinals. The second attempt in 2010 proved to be both disappointing and a set-up for a comeback as he took the next year to focus on developing his craft and working with clients.  He started a cooking show at the Kenmore Live Studio in Chicago which was one of the highest viewed shows.   In 2012, he went after this goal again auditioning in front of Alton Brown and secured a spot on season eight of the show.  “It was a testament on so many levels. It was something that I really wanted to do, I set my mind up to do and I never gave up,” says Allen.

Allen’s story, passion and tenacity caught the attention of the National Pork Board and together they are partnering through March to feature great recipes and tips for cooking with pork tenderloin, which is as lean as skinless chicken breast and is certified as heart-healthy by the American Heart Association. 

 “They brought me in to bring some inspiration to the lean pork tenderloin cut.  To not only talk about it but to also show people how they can add it to their repertoire and every day cooking and make it flavorful and amazing. The campaign Pork Inspired ™ is a celebration of pork’s versatility really and to inspire consumers to be really creative with pork.”

Known as the “other white meat,”  lean cuts of pork such as the boneless loin roast and boneless loin chops can be enjoyed without the worry of too much sodium and fat; all which Allen is familiar with preparing.   You can enjoy his recipe for BBQ Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Braised collard Greens and Caramelized Onion in our Chef’s Corner.

On the horizon are plans to launch his all natural, low-sodium Chef Blend Hot Sauce, Chef’s Blend, which is made with no more than 10 ingredients and currently sold online at www.JudsonToddAllen.com.  With Allen's continued goal of changing the way people think and feel about healthier foods, you can certainly expect new products, more TV and a hint of a book in the near future.

Always encouraged and an encouragement to others, he says, “ I think a lot of times when we don’t get to where we want to get to, we think that is the end but there are so many other different paths that you can take to the end goal.”

For more inspiration on cooking with pork or just in following your dreams, visit Allen’s website at www.judsontoddallen.com and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, @JudsonToddAllen.

Infuse your recipes with these tips from Chef Judson Todd Allen:

  • Add citrus such as lemons or limes.  “I love working with citrus juice and zest to add freshness, acidity and a pop to most dishes.” 
  • Use a variety of spices to replace salt and create your own blend over time.  “My secret weapon is my no salt, creole seasoning, which incorporates things like garlic powder, smoked paprika, fresh cracked pepper and dried parsley.  I can't tell you the rest, IT'S A SECRET!
  • To add creaminess to soups and sauces without all the added calories included in things like heavy cream and butter, roast vegetables and beans like cauliflower and chickpeas and blend them with olive oil, parmigiano reggiano cheese and garlic until smooth.
  • Use dried exotic mushrooms that have been blended to a powder to add a unique flavor to dishes.
  • Experiment cooking with red and white wines. “I find that alcohol will literally take a dish to an entire new level of flavor sending someone into a state of sublime.  I love white and red wines and even stout beer that I use in my chili and greens.” 

Lastly, he says, “My favorite herbs are lavender, chive and thyme - I can use these with just about anything.  I also cook with flavored dried teas; this is a gem that many have not played around with but I love it!” 

 

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