Q&A with Chefs Jewels and Jill Elmore
Photo: Petrina Tinsley
As private chefs to Hollywood A-listers like Jennifer Aniston and John Travolta, Jewels and Jill Elmore have proven they know great food. In their first cookbook, The Family Chef, they're making it possible for everyone to eat like Hollywood's elite (it's easier than you think!). From tostadas to Thai beef salads, these sisters know how to make eating and preparing healthy food fun. Believe me, you'll never look at a lentil the same way again.Stephanie Snipes: One thing that really stood out to me when reading your book is that you manage to make healthy food exciting. That isn't an easy thing.
Jewels: Well, thank you, we try. It's really pushed us, being private chefs and working for people who have access to eating at the best restaurants and different places around the world. [We] really try to do the best job we can and really make this healthy food very tasty and not feel like you're on a diet, because I don't like the idea of going on a diet. It's just a way of eating all the time.
SS: I think that's key. People think eating healthy has to be all about plain chicken breasts and brown rice.
Jill: You'd have to want to like shoot yourself if you thought that's all you could eat for the rest of your life.
SS: There's definitely something to be said for eating a satisfying meal. If I'm bored with my food I want to snack because I was never satisfied to begin with.
Jewels: And that, I think, comes from using a variety of foods as well. ... In the book, we have examples of how to use some really basic items like beans and lentils, which I don't think we eat a lot of lentils here, and they are such an amazing food. We use a lot of those foods for our clients and in our homes. Our babies eat lentils ... they're really amazing for you. And the quinoa, that's another thing that Jill and I use a lot that is a really great food that you can really use in a lot of different ways.
SS: I think that there's this myth that celebrities have some kind of secret when it comes to staying trim and eating well.
Jill: Not at all. That's really actually part of the reason behind us writing the book is that people are always asking us: "What do you cook for your client? What kinds of things do you make?" We say, "They eat just like you and I do; they just eat healthy fresh food." It's stuff that you can make for your own family.
Jewels: If you want to say there's a secret to it, I think there's a couple different things. I think number one, because we've worked for these people who are used to really beautiful, great food, I think that making it visually appealing in their own refrigerator [is important]. ... They open the refrigerator just like you and I do, and they want to see something that's appealing to them and that they can just grab.
In the beginning of the book, there's a little section on glass containers. ... It keeps the food fresh, it's healthier to use a glass container if you can, it's also just more visually appealing and that's a little trick. Just make sure it looks beautiful.
Jill: I know for my husband, if it's not right in front of his face, he thinks we have nothing to eat in the fridge. So, putting stuff in glass containers and then putting it at the front of the fridge so everybody can see it [helps]. You end up not wasting food, as well, because you see what it is, and it looks good and appealing to you.
Jewels: Jill and I really focus a lot on the actual shopping, as well. And I think that if you have fresh tomatoes and those things out in front of you, those things are easily accessible to you and that's what you'll grab. It's much easier to make a quick salad if you've washed your lettuce and you have some fresh tomatoes on the counter and you have some leftover cooked lentils from a soup you made the night before and some cucumbers, and you have a dressing you've made that you use for the week. It makes it really easy.
SS: What's a trick to making home cooked food delicious?
Jewels: I think seasoning your food. If you want to say as a trick or anything like that, it's that people think that because they're eating healthy food, it can't taste good. It's as simple as seasoning that food. That is easy to do, and people sort of think they can't do that or skip that or are not sure. But for some reason, they don't season their food.
SS: That's a good point. I think at the end of cooking a lot of people get the salt shaker out and just poor it all over instead layering those flavors during the cooking process.
Jill: Exactly. It's so true. And we've found that if you season as you go, you actually end up using a lot less salt. If you don't season as you go, the food tastes really bland and then you go to poor that salt on top, and it's almost like you can't get enough of it.
SS: For a lot of people, taking the time to actually do all of this can be overwhelming.
Jewels: Right, and I think what we wanted to do is to encourage people to make themselves a priority. Take care of yourself. And let your kids see you doing that so they realize that that's something important for them to do. It is important what you're putting in your body, and you know, sometimes it does take a little extra time and effort, but you're certainly worth it, you know?
SS: Breakfast is a meal that a lot of people skip. I just reincorporated it into my diet, but I've basically been eating the same thing day after day. Any ideas for something new?
Jill: I don't know if you saw the recipe for Don't Waste Food, Make Fried Rice, but one of the things that we do for our kids is we always have cooked quinoa in the refrigerator. Just cook it according to the instructions—two parts liquid, one part quinoa for 15 minutes. And you can actually use that instead of rice, and kids seem to love it. I love quinoa. My 20-month-old loves the texture of it; it's a little bit softer to eat than rice. It doesn't seem as dry as maybe rice might get. It's also much better for you.
SS: Doesn't quinoa have a lot of protein too?
Jewels: Yeah, it's kind of amazing. ... One of the things that we do with the people that we cook for, and we do at home now, is that we kind of balance out their protein. So you can get protein from a lot of different sources. You don't have to be a vegetarian. Certainly, Jill and I are far from vegetarians. We love meat, and we love fish, and we love chicken and all of that. Lord knows I love dairy, but I think that if you have something that's meat, maybe have it for lunch. Like maybe a grilled meat salad or something like—we have a Thai beef salad [in the book]—then maybe for dinner you have lentils, or you have a salad with lentils in it. Or, you have a lentil soup that will fill you up, or you have a piece of fish.
I think fish is a big key. We try to include some ideas. ... Fish is really one of the easiest things that you can make, but I think people are, again, intimidated by fish.
SS: I'm actually glad you brought the fish thing up. Do you have suggestions for first-timers? Should they start with a tilapia or a salmon? What would you suggest?
Jill: I would say the very first thing, first and foremost, is that you have to make sure what you're getting is fresh.
Jewels: I think it's off-putting to a lot of people because they have a very strong fish smell. I mean, that's what they think of when they think of fish. ... I think that is such a big reason for people not liking fish is because they're unable to have access to really fresh fish.
Jill: It's hard to say, "Well, if you're going to start, you should start with tilapia," because if we tell people that, they might go to fish store and actually, the tilapia doesn't look fresh but something else does. You need to look at it yourself and decide, "Does it look fresh?" If it doesn't look good and it doesn't smell good, it probably ain't good.
Jewels: If you like shellfish, I do think that you could start incorporating even shrimp into your meal. Shrimp is actually something that you can get frozen and that if it was frozen fresh—again you still have to know where it came from—it still needs to be fresh. You could do that if you didn't have access. But we really believe in wild, fresh seafood. Wild and fresh-caught is really a priority. ...
I do think it will make a huge difference if you're trying to become more fit. I think that makes it. And there's obviously so many other great nutritional reasons to why you should eat fish. I mean, we feed fish to our children, and they love it. I have 14-month-old, and he cannot get enough of the fish. It's a beautiful texture for him; it's easy for him. He only has like four teeth. He ate half of Jill's Mother's Day lunch, poor thing.
Try Jewels' Fantastic Fish Marinade!
SS: I never in a million years would have guessed a 14-month-old would eat fish.
Jill: Here's the thing about kids too. I think a lot of times people don't give things to their kids because they have preconceived ideas of what they may or may not like, and you would be so surprised if you offer [different things] to them what they will eat.
SS: Right. I think people rotate the three foods they think their kid will eat, and that's all they're going to give them.
Jill: Exactly. For me, I didn't like fish as a kid, and so I sort of [thought], "Oh, my son isn't going to like fish." I gave it to him, and he loves it. That's my problem, not his problem. And I love fish now, so I'm so excited that he likes it.
Jewels: I also think another key thing to health and fitness—and this is what we've seen in feeding the people that we do who are the healthiest and most fit—is that a huge portion of what they eat in every single meal is fresh and green. And by green, I mean green-green. Like, you know, kale and broccoli and asparagus and brussels sprouts, and there's all kinds of different things you can do with those green vegetables and beautiful lettuces that have deep, dark color. Take a look at your plate, maybe 60 percent of what's on your plate should be fresh and green. ...
Jill: One more thing I wanted to say when you were talking about maybe getting bored with your food or not being satisfied. I think what happens is, it's sort of like, "Ugh, broccoli again." But you have to find different ways to prepare it and eat it. Even just chopping it up a different way and mixing it with something else will make it more interesting and will make it taste different to you.
Jewels: Yeah, like not just putting steamed broccoli on your plate because that is a little depressing.
SS: If you each had to pick your favorite thing to cook, what would that be?
Jewels: I am a big soup person. ... It's so fun to make a pot of soup and it's so easy, and you can just put all these different flavors in this one bite. And I think it's so satisfying.
Jill: I go on kicks. I mean, I love making any kind of Mexican food. We come [from] a Mexican-American family and we grew up eating that food, so to me it's easy to prepare and I love sort of putting a healthy spin on the food we ate growing up. So it's sort of like comfort food to me. And it's satisfying to me, and I love anything spicy.
Jewels: And it kind of feels like, to some people when we serve it, it either feels like you're having a party or it feels like you're on vacation.
SS: I noticed the tostada recipe in the book. I was surprised that was okay to eat!
Jill: Oh completely. It's so healthy. And we serve that to our clients all the time. Again, and all of those ingredients that are in there, you can utilize the same ingredients for other meals during the course of the day [so that it] won't take you quite as long to put together. If you want to sort of make something like that for your lunch or for your dinner, it doesn't mean you have to take all that time to make all the other meals in the day, because we know you don't have that kind of time. We don't have that kind of time. But you can take those pieces that you've used and cut them up a different way or use some of those other ingredients to make something else. It's a key way to keep this lifestyle sort of going. Like you said, it is hard to keep up if you're just thinking of it one meal at a time.
Try Jewels' Favorite Soup Jill Makes
SS: Thinking ahead will save a lot of time in the end.
Jewels: It's like, think outside the box; if you have a little bit of leftover shrimp or have a little bit of leftover chicken, scramble up an egg, throw the chicken in there, chop up a little bit of onion or a little bit of green onion, or maybe you even have some leftover from the salad that you had the night before and throw in a handful of quinoa because you keep that in the fridge all the time. And it's like, that's an amazing breakfast. Or, you know, you could even wrap that in a whole wheat tortilla and take it with you. So just sort of thinking outside the box and saying, I'm going to make a little bit of this extra, we're trying to empower people to say, it doesn't even have to be a recipe, like our recipes are just guidelines. They're not formulaic.
Jill: And I think one other thing that's important to Jewels and I, I know it sounds a little hippy-dippy, but we love what we do, and we love being in the kitchen together. ... We were fortunate to work for people that we really do care about, and you want to make them happy, so I feel like the energy you put into the food when you're making it, you're putting all that good energy and that love into the food, it really does come out and make a difference.
SS: What are your thoughts on dry herbs versus fresh herbs?
Jewels: I think that anything green, the more green you have on your plate, the better. And that even includes an herb. Fresh herbs are a wonderful way to change one single item. If you have a tomato, it's a tomato. Put a little salt and pepper on it, it's an even better tomato. If you put a piece of basil, it's an even better tomato. It's a totally different type of tomato.
Jill: Yeah, and that's not to say we're against dry herbs, because they certainly have their place in the kitchen and there are certain things that you use those for. They are great to have on hand, but using the fresh herbs really does add another layer of brightening up the food and freshening it up and making it pop and come alive.
Jewels: It doesn't have to be some exotic thing. Look, I'm not asking someone to use marjoram every day or something. But honestly, like even parsley. Parsley is my best friend. Parsley is totally inexpensive and completely underrated. I mean, I think a cup of parsley has as much vitamin C as like a cup of orange juice or something. It's got amazing vitamins and minerals, and you can use it as an herb or you can roughly chop it and throw it in your salad, and it gives it like this bright, fresh flavor. It's a basic herb that anyone could find.
SS: Lemons and limes are also important to your recipes.
Jewels: We're big on lemons and limes. We're big on the zest of lemons and limes, and we're big on the beautiful freshness of the juices getting in the food.
Jill: Again, it's about just brightening up the food and making the flavors pop. And the fresh herbs and the citrus really do that.
Jewels: I think it's psychological in the smell too. All of those things are all senses in a way that you take care of yourself. It's making that meal, even if it's a quick one, a really pleasurable one. It's pleasure to me; eating is pleasure to me.
SS: Do you have suggestions for good packable meals?
Jewels: I do think that taking the time to actually make yourself a cucumber and tomato and celery and parsley salad, and putting it in a glass container and putting it in your fridge at work is going to taste even better when you eat it at lunch. Don't be afraid to think outside the box and think that it has to be something that goes into a brown paper bag, although it can be. And also, soups are a great thing to take with you.
Jill: Yeah get a thermos. ... You can even be in your car and be sipping on your soup if you had to. And wrapping stuff in a whole wheat tortilla. You can make a burrito out of anything.
Try some of Jewels' and Jill's recipes!
Jewels' Fantastic Fish Marinade
Jewels' Favorite Soup Jill Makes
Halloumi Cheese with Cucumber Lentil Salad