White House chef gets behind first lady's drive to improve eating habits

More than 500 chefs from 37 states gathered at the White House in June to join Michelle Obama's newest effort to fight childhood obesity, the Chefs Move to Schools program.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sam Kass may be the only White House chef named one of People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People. But the 30-year old-Chicago native also has a more serious title: As the senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives, he plays a major role in Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative to combat childhood obesity. And when the president wants a pie, Kass is his guy.

Last week Kass chatted with Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson. Excerpts follow:

Henderson: Will the first lady be able to get kids to change their habits?

Kass: We know that the goal the first lady has set is quite ambitious, but it has to work. I don't think the country has much choice.

Is there any proof so far that it's actually working?

There are tremendous signs that we are on the right track: Pediatricians have committed to screen for [body mass index] and are writing prescriptions around exercise and fruit and vegetables. Food companies are committing to really make meaningful change in their products and how they sell them. Schools across the country are taking a more comprehensive approach to wellness.

Did you think about healthy eating before you started working for the Obamas and came with them to Washington?

As a young chef, I'm sitting there at my cutting board chopping away, and I have all these farmers dropping off all of this food to me, and then I'm cooking it and sending it out of the other side of the kitchen into the dining room. It doesn't take long to start wondering what the effect of the food that I cooked has on the people who are eating it. These are issues that have personally meant a lot for a long time.

The pantries and refrigerator in the White House: Is there junk food there?

I'm not going to divulge top-secret information about what's in the fridge. But the first family lives and breathes this stuff. The basic lesson is this: If in general we are eating a healthy, balanced meal, with whole grains and fruits and vegetables, then having fries and a burger or having candy or cake or pie every once in a while is completely fine. That's how the Obamas approach it.

Mrs. Obama has talked about her weaknesses for fries, and I hear that the president has a weakness for pie. What are your weaknesses ?

I love it all, as long as it's done right. I grew up on good old South Side fried chicken. I'm a chicken-wing lover; I will really go after some spicy wings.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company