People often tell children they can grow up to be anything they want to be.
"You could be a doctor, or a lawyer," they might say, or "You could be an artist, chef or performer." They usually don't say, "You could forge your own path between holistic medicine and cooking for health concerns." But that's exactly what Amanda Nahas has done.
The Ventnor native boasts a diploma from the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York and past experience as a chef-instructor at the Viking Cooking School at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City as credentials when she hosts her radio cooking show, "Gourmania with Chef Amanda Nahas" 5 p.m. Saturdays on WOND-AM 1400. She also works as a personal chef, preparing health-specific menus for people with everything from food allergies to medical considerations such as cancer.
"I have a strong foundation in holistic nutrition, I currently study all diets - more than 100 - and the theories behind different diets and lifestyles," she explains. "I become like a mentor or personal cheerleader for them. We assess what changes they want to make in their life and take advantage of my classic training in holistic diets and all that experience and education ties it all together."
Now she wants to show her audience things such as how to hold a knife safely or core an apple without a fancy gizmo, all while making simple, healthy meals. So, she launched a TV cooking show on WMCN-TV 44, available to Comcast cable subscribers on Channel 19.
On "Gourmania Chef," which debuted 2 p.m. Thursday, Nahas prepares nutritious meals that are easy to make at home with seasonal ingredients, such as last week's turkey, butternut squash and white bean chili with apple-cranberry-walnut crisp for dessert.
"(With the chili), I show one of the healthy variations you can do on something people think of this time of year, and how to season it for your flavor palate," she said of choosing the recipe. "It's different ways to do things that you may not see on other cooking shows.
"I want to highlight ingredients with healing properties and talk about the things it can do for your body, without getting into a lecture. I don't want to pigeon-hole myself, but I want to tie in the nutrition without saying 'This is how many grams of fat.' I'd rather say, 'Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is really good for your eyes,' or something like that."
If Nahas seems concerned with overall health, it's probably because she grew up surrounded by the doctors, surgeons and nurses in her family. She says she considered a career in medicine, but "the long and short of it is, I'm not strong in math; all those prerequisites like calculus and trigonometry, that's not my strong suit."
It took a little while, but eventually she found her calling while working for a Linwood caterer after high school. All the chefs at Nina and Co. Caterers were women and they all had studied at the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing. So after three years of hanging around the kitchen - Nahas was a server then - and asking questions, she enrolled at ACA.
Still, she was drawn to the healing arts. So she took a detour to study theories like the Ayurveda lifestyle - an ancient Native American tradition that "maps a healthy lifestyle for you based on your body" - raw- and slow-foods nutrition and why chicken soup seems to help clear up colds.
"Nobody knows why, it's one of those unanswered questions. We know it works, but not why," Nahas says. "There's no magical herb or broth or protein, it's more a combination of all those healthful things and just taking care of your health in a natural way. It's not going to have an instant effect, but incorporating healthy things into your diet can't hurt."
When she's at home, Nahas loves cooking the Lebanese dishes she learned from her grandmother Dolores, but she's not married to any one cuisine or style. She plans to share tips on everything from making sushi at home to vegan and vegetarian preparations to cooking for allergies.
Contact Felicia Compian:
Turkey, Butternut Squash and White Bean Chili
•2 tablespoons oil (grapeseed or olive)
•1 pound ground turkey
•1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
•2 cloves of garlic, minced
•2 tablespoons chipotle paste, or to taste
•2 teaspoons ground cumin
•2 14.5-ounce cans of white beans
•30 ounces canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
•2 14.5-ounce cans of chicken stock
•Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a large soup pot on the stove over medium high heat. Add the oil, you should have enough to just coat the bottom of the surface of the pot. Add the turkey, and use a spoon to break it up. When the turkey is fully browned and cooked, add the butternut squash, garlic, chipotle paste, cumin, beans, puree and stock.
Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the butternut squash is tender. If you have time, let the chili simmer for hours, the taste will only get better. Season again with salt, pepper, cumin, etc. if necessary before eating, depending on the simmer time.
Makes: 8 servings