What is The Doc’s Kitchen and what led up to this site?
I’ve been thinking about this website for years, but obstacles hindering its inception always seem to pop-up. After hearing more requests for recipes from patients and people I interact with during cooking demonstrations in the community, I realized that I need to get started and just do it. Life will give you excuses and opportunities; the life you live depends on what you choose. So, I guess I am making my choice.
What inspired the Doc’s Kitchen and my interest in nutrition?
The Doc’s Kitchen is a reflection of my experiences as a physician and a chef. My patients and people I meet in the community are my main inspirations. I remember the exact moment when I was inspired to focus on nutrition as a career and to also go to culinary school. It occurred while I was a medical student working at a community clinic on Chicago’s South Side during my pediatrics rotation. One day, I saw a young, overweight child who also had type 2 diabetes. As a part of the visit, I tried to stir up a conversation with the patient’s mom about what they eat at home. When I asked about vegetables, her reply was, “we don’t eat bird food.” The mom said that most of their fruit intake is from fruit punch and their dairy intake mostly comes from Cheetos. I just shook my head (no one was using smh back then). I didn’t judge her because I knew that society failed her at some point. When and where was she supposed to learn about healthy eating? It doesn’t actually happen in elementary school. It doesn’t really happen in high school. Truthfully, it rarely happens in medical school (and I went to an outstanding medical school). Nonetheless, I tried to send her to a dietician, but she couldn’t see one due to insurance issues. At that time, I didn’t have the knowledge or the resources to take on educating them about nutrition, so I decided to seek out those resources and skills.
I needed to learn nutrition for my own health
Simultaneously, I slowly started gaining weight due to the lifestyle changes associated with medical school and residency (not sleeping, eating late at night, not having time to exercise, et cetera). My medical training not only didn’t give me the skill-set for educating my patients, but it also didn’t give me the knowledge I needed to help myself. My tipping point came when I was discussing cholesterol results with a patient at the Jesse Brown VA hospital on Chicago’s West Side. He basically said I needed to lose weight before he would listen to anything I had to say. In that brief moment, I felt like all my student loan debt, the countless hours spent studying and enduring the stress of constant critiquing as a 3rd-year medical student was all for naught. It was like he ‘sucker punched’ me. As much as I disliked his comment, I understood where he was coming from. I gained 50-60 lbs. My friends and family would occasionally make slightly annoying comments, but it really hit me when it came from a patient. I had to improve my health before I could truly improve the health of others. Hence, I decided to seek formal training in nutrition.
Opportunities to learn nutrition were few and far in between
Sadly, at that time, I couldn’t find many opportunities to learn about food as a doctor (that’s crazy right?). I had already developed an interest in gastroenterology and came across a fellowship in clinical nutrition at the University of Chicago in the gastroenterology department. The fellowship didn’t focus on weight management, but I thought it was a great place to start since it focused on nutrition and gastrointestinal issues. I was accepted to the fellowship. To increase my overall food knowledge, I thought it would be amazing if I attended culinary arts school in the evenings. I’ve always had a passion for cooking, and I thought training as a chef would be fantastic. I shared the idea with some of my mentors (these were all respected physicians), and everyone thought I was crazy. They told me I would ruin my career and never become a gastroenterologist. I did what all reasonable people with faith and a dream should do… I didn’t listen to them. I enrolled in night classes at Kendall College. Aside from marrying my wife and going to the University of Michigan for college (Go Blue!), this was probably one the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Being a doctor and culinary student was one of the most difficult years of my life
Going to culinary school and being a nutrition fellow at a top-notch academic institution was one of the most challenging years of my life. I felt pressured to keep my culinary goals a secret from my preceptors. I felt like I had a secret identity. I was Dr. Bruce Wayne during the day and Chef Batman at night. Further, I had to work extra overnight shifts as a hospitalist to pay my culinary school tuition. I did this in addition to managing very sick patients in the hospital from 6 am to 6 pm and attending culinary school 3 days per week from 7 pm to 11 pm. To this day, I don’t know how I survived with my sanity and marriage intact. Despite all of the stress, I learned so much. I even had the opportunity to intern for the Food Network that year.
Life after culinary school has been amazing and definitely healthier
I eventually adopted more of a plant-based diet and went on to lose my extra weight while simultaneously becoming a better cook (it’s funny how those two things are connected). Thanks to my culinary training, I knew how to use a variety of cooking techniques and make food taste awesome.
After completing my gastroenterology fellowship at Rush University Medical Center (another place that I am grateful for), I came back to the University of Chicago to focus on clinical nutrition, start cooking classes, training medical students in nutrition/culinary medicine, and to start a weight management clinic. Now that I’ve reached those goals, I felt it was time to start working on my website.
The overall purpose of the site is shed knowledge on health and nutrition.
The goal of this site is to drop some knowledge regarding healthy eating and to share some practical recipes that I often give out in my weight management clinic. I know there are thousands of food blogs out there written by talented photographers, chefs, amateurs, etc. I’ve scoured these blogs for recipes and ideas. My site is different from other food blogs since it provides simple recipes with accessible ingredients and it highlights scientific studies that should guide food choices. The purpose of the site isn’t to show off sophisticated culinary techniques and ingredients that one can only find when hiking through the Himalayas. I want the site to be equally relevant to people living a small town America who may only shop at Wal-mart and people stranded in the food deserts of urban America. I think the phrase “Evidence-Based Eating for Everyday People” is a clear summary of what I offer.
Dr. Ed McDonald aka “The Doc.”
–Welcome to my kitchen