November 3, 2004 Wednesday
REAL LIFE; The Curious Cook; Pg. C7
Low-carb Gourmet: Chef reinvents her cooking, and her life
Dee Hobsbawn-Smith, For The Calgary Herald
It's fascinating to watch an intelligent person change her mind and, in the process, reinvent herself and her life. Karen Barnaby, executive chef of Vancouver's Fish House in Stanley Park and prolific cookbook author, has done what few chefs do: She has examined her reasons for cooking and eating, and when they came up short, she changed her diet, then changed her life, too.
When her weight reached 235 pounds at the age of 40, Barnaby attempted to lose weight on a traditional low-fat diet, but gave up after 10 months and a meagre 10 pounds. Instead, inspired by a book she had read, she took a low-carb approach. She lost 70 pounds, and her old life left with the weight.
Now, 51/2 years later, energized, healthy and happy, Barnaby maintains her changes go deeper than altering her body image. She has chronicled her journey to low-carb lifestyle in her new book The Low-Carb Gourmet (HarperCollins
), with recipes to guide and inspire. Barnaby's previous books include Pacific Passions, Screamingly Good Food, The Passionate Cook and the collaborative (Vancouver) Girls Who Dish trio of titles.
Food has long been Barnaby's comfort and emotional barometer. But it was also the cause of her daily ups and downs. An avid baker as well as a chef, Barnaby is surrounded by food at work. She routinely snacked, and "turned into a banshee" at 5 p.m. each day, due entirely, she believes, to blood sugar crashes stoked by her penchant for sweets. Within two weeks of her diet change, the banshee disappeared, replaced by a happy, buoyant woman full of energy.
Barnaby has opted for fat over carbohydrates as her fuel of choice. She does not eat any sugars, including honey, maple syrup and all the ingredients related to sugar (those ending in "ose" on labels). She has also chosen to eliminate all grains from her diet, so no pasta, barley, spelt, rice or pulses show up in her latest book, in direct and complete contrast to her earlier books, each of which included enough starch and sugar to dub her the queen of Canadian carbs. (There is a wildly inventive high-fat baked cheese "noodle" in Barnaby's new book that she layers into lasagna.) (Thanks to Digwig and Donald!)
Desserts in her new book are sweetened with a combination of Splenda (sucralose) and Canadian Sugar Twin (cyclamate), and she frankly suggests sweets be served only as an occasional treat. What she does cook is still wide-ranging and richly seasoned -- heavy on fish, meat, salad and vegetables. Her predilection for mayo and whipping cream in generous amounts takes a new mindset, which is her purpose entirely.
Following a diet with far-reaching implications has meant Barnaby, on tour to support her book, has learned to plan ahead, travelling with a case of oil-packed tuna and macadamia nuts and almonds in her pockets.
Barnaby has reexamined her life from other perspectives, as well. She is co-founder of the Internet's largest low-carb support group, www.lowcarber.org
, which she says gets 5,000 hits daily. Seeing the struggles recorded there is a constant reminder diet is a process, without instant results. There is a contingency for starting a diet, and for ongoing maintenance.
Her advice: Don't expect instantaneous miracles, a diet is not a lifestyle in a box. It takes persistence, so keep a list of small ways in which you have succeeded. Perseverance is an amazing tool, she says, but it is the only tool that works
For Barnaby, the ups and downs of unstable blood glucose levels are gone, although she admits to falling off the low-carb wagon in Beijing in 2003, tempted by foods she had only read about. But after crankily dragging herself about the Chinese city, Barnaby realized she had sacrificed the quality of her trip for foods that did not serve her body chemistry.
The chef's self-described New Age tendencies led her on a personal journey after she exorcised her "sugar demons." She adopted a regular Pilates exercise program, a kinder chiropractor, cranial-sacral therapy and a belief in a larger force in her life. As for why cooks cook, she says: "Health does not drive most people who cook. Sheer taste and sensation is what drives most cooks, and that's fine for them. I can only lead by example."
Dee Hobsbawn-Smith is a food writer, chef and author.
Her newest book, The Curious Cook At Home: Recipes and Secrets Of An Adventurous Cook, is published by Whitecap Books.