True Food Kitchen focuses on health but succeeds with taste

FAIRFAX, Va. — Several years ago, Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, approached restaurateur Sam Fox and pitched an idea for a new dining concept.

“The idea was to try to bring together the worlds of good dining and good nutrition, which I don’t think anyone has ever done,” says Weil, the author of several books and a frequent guest on “The Dr. Oz Show,” “Oprah” and “Today.”

But Fox wasn’t convinced.

“I think he thought I meant just tofu and sprouts,” Weil says.

Weil insisted on having Fox over for dinner to prove to him that healthy food can taste good. Afterward, Fox conceded to Weil’s idea, though he was “still very skeptical,” and the two opened their first restaurant, True Food Kitchen, in 2008 in Phoenix.

Just as Weil suspected, the restaurant was an instant success. Now, six years later, Weil and Fox have opened the doors to True Food Kitchen’s 10th U.S. location, in Fairfax, Virginia’s Mosaicdevelopment.

The menu at True Food Kitchen is based on Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet and the food pyramid he created to illustrate the diet. It includes a wide range of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, meat and fish options.

Weil says chronic, low-level inflammation is the root cause of all the major diseases of aging, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer.

“Therefore, containing inappropriate inflammation is your best overall strategy for health and longevity,” he says.

“Most people in our culture go through life in a pro-inflammatory state for various reasons — genetics, stress, exposure to toxins like second-hand smoke, but diet has a huge influence. And the mainstream diet in North America favors inflammation. It gives us the wrong kind of fats, the wrong kinds of carbohydrates, and not enough of the protective elements that are found in fruits, vegetables and spices.”

But plenty of those protective elements can be found at True Food Kitchen.

The menu is filled with natural drinks such as kale-aid, honey lemonade and seasonal sparkling tea. Starters include edamame dumplings; a caramelized onion tart with black fig and gorgonzola; and an herb hummus. Other options include an autumn salad, filled with Brussels sprouts, squash, white beans, pomegranate, mulberry and cauliflower; a butternut squash, walnut, arugula and smoked mozzarella pizza; a grass-fed bison burger; and spaghetti squash casserole.

And Weil says the kale salad, prepared with olive oil, lemon, Parmesan and bread crumbs, is one of the most requested items on the menu.

“We were one of the first restaurants to introduce a raw kale salad that’s incredibly popular,” he says.

For dessert, Weil recommends a vegan squash pie that’s “better than any pumpkin pie you’ll ever get.”

Weil doesn’t plan on slowing down True Food Kitchen’s momentum any time soon. He says in a few years, he hopes to have a total of 20 locations, and wants to open several more in the Washington area, including one in the District.

He attributes the growth and success of his restaurant to the food — fresh ingredients, prepared simply.

“This restaurant has a very coherent nutritional philosophy behind it,” Weil says. “Relatively simple preparation allows good ingredients to shine through. In a way, it’s incidental that it happens to be good for you; people feel good when they eat here.”

 

Want to make some of True Food Kitchen’s best dishes at home? Follow these recipes below, provided by True Food Kitchen.

Tuscan Kale Salad

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 cups of loosely packed sliced leaves of dinosaur kale, midribs removed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hot red pepper flakes to taste
  • 2/3 cup Pecorino Toscan cheese (Rosselino variety, if you can find it) or other flavorful grating cheese, such as Asiago or Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup freshly made bread crumbs from lightly toasted bread

Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and a generous pinch (or more to taste) of hot red pepper flakes. Pour over kale in serving bowl and toss well. Add 2/3 of the cheese and toss again. Let kale sit for at least five minutes. Add bread crumbs, toss again and top with remaining cheese.

Squash Pie

Crust Ingredients: For two, 9-inch pies

  • 2 packages graham crackers, pulverized
  • 4 Tbsp. sesame tahini
  • 5 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. grape seed oil

Filling Ingredients:

  • 6 cups pureed squash
  • 1 cup sugar (half light brown, half white)
  • 1-1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp. brandy
  • 1-1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 4-1/2 Tbsp. arrowroot powder
  • Scant dash of nutmeg, if desired

Choose a favorite winter squash (butternut, buttercup, Hubbard, Tahitian, etc.). Bake whole at 375° until soft enough to pierce easily with a toothpick. Cool, cut in half, remove seeds, and scoop out flesh. Mash and measure out 6 cups. Blend filling ingredients well in mixer and pour into crusts. Bake at 400° for 50-60 minutes until browned and set. Cool. Chill overnight in refrigerator. Serve cold or cool.

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