Back in the day—that is, way, way back in the day—our ancestors (cavemen and cavewomen) feasted on meat, fish, veggies and fruits—none of the processed foods central to many diets today. They did not suffer from many of the diseases that plague our society. Theirs was a paleo diet, one that has caught the attention of many looking for ways to eat healthier.
Jennifer Robins knows a thing or two about the health benefits of eating paleo. Robins is a co-author, with Simone Miller, of the forthcoming cookbook The New Yiddish Kitchen: Gluten-Free and Paleo Kosher Recipes for the Holidays and Every Day, scheduled for release in March.
Robins’ passion for healthy eating began in 2008 when she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, a condition that results in inflammation. She was subsequently bedridden with a variety of additional significant health issues. Over the next several years, her illnesses led her to cardiologists, nephrologists, general practitioners, neurologists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbalists and more.
Robins started to think about what she could do to rebuild her immune system. “Ultimately, I knew I needed to start with a clean slate,” she says. “For my immune system to function right, I needed the right building-block nutrients. I needed to avoid foods that were inflammatory and tipping the scales too far one way or the other.” In 2013, she started a paleo diet, and within a month, Robins, who lives in Northern Virginia, experienced positive results, was less housebound and more life-bound. “I could drive more regularly and I also had more energy and less bloating,” she says.
Robins wanted to help others in a similar situation, so she began to chronicle recipes she created on her blog, Predominantly Paleo. “The biggest reason I wanted to write this blog is that we see these food intolerances growing in the general population and especially so in the Jewish population,” Robins says. The blog focuses on gluten-, grain- and dairy-free whole-food recipes—everything from Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes to Paleo Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies—and health tips. Last month alone, her blog had 60,000 visitors.
Robins’ forthcoming cookbook, The New Yiddish Kitchen, will have a dedication that reads, “To bubbes everywhere, past, present and future. May your traditions continue to be passed down for generations to come.” Each recipe will have a photo of the authors’ grandmothers, and a great-grandmother as well. “We’re pulling in the voice of the quintessential grandmother to help and that reminds us of the strength of the Jewish family,” Robins says.
While Kwon Benowitz’s interest in food came from another direction, she, too, is committed to healthy cuisine. Benowitz, also known as Chef Kwon Crumble, runs Chef Kwon Crumble, LLC, a personal chef and catering company in Washington, DC.
Growing up, Benowitz loved to watch Julia Child’s cooking show on PBS and other top chefs of the 1970s and 1980s. “Food was a big part of my upbringing,” she says, recalling Saturday afternoons watching the show. “Everyone cooked,” she says. Her dad is a retired firefighter and a very good cook. Her grandmother was a short-order cook. Her mom also cooks, but she doesn’t measure the ingredients, so her meals, “don’t always come out as planned.”
Benowitz carried that love for cooking to the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu, where she transformed herself from a passionate home cook to an inspired professional chef. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree at Le Cordon Bleu, Benowitz started exploring paleo cooking in response to requests from friends who were striving to reach their fitness and nutritional goals. Before long, she was managing a prepared paleo-meal program for a chain of Washington, DC, health clubs. “It was the time when paleo was just becoming a thing,” she says. “People wanted lots of flavors without extra fat, carbs and dairy.” A key to that challenge was making veggies taste more like carbs.
From those early beginnings, Benowitz has gone on to work with clients individually as a personal chef, providing customized meals for their specific fitness needs and goals. Today her clients also include her rabbi and others with whom she has connected through Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC.
Benowitz also offers cooking classes that range from knife skills to how to make the most of your farm box. The lessons can be customized to the interests and skill levels of the participants.
Very soon, Benowitz will use her talents to create Passover recipes that combine African-American cuisine with Jewish cooking. ACCESS DC, the young professional arm of the American Jewish Committee, is gearing up for its second annual Black Jewish Unity Seder. Benowitz will bring a unique culinary twist to the program with her new recipes.