Chef Marshall O’Brien is on a mission to inspire and make a difference. Through his culinary work and teaching, he hopes he can encourage people to “eat smart” by making sustainable and noticeable differences in their daily lives, which O’Brien says starts with education.
“We need to change the paradigm on how people view food. Most people know that some food is better than other food, but for the most part they believe food is food. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says O’Brien, CEO and founder of the Chef Marshall O’Brien Group, whose 14-person team includes registered and licensed dietitians. The team’s motto is “Nutrition with a mission.”
“You can consume two beers and a big piece of chocolate cake and you have eaten and drunk, but you have neither nourished nor hydrated,” he says.
“To lead a happy, healthy life, you need to have a plan that involves nutrition, hydration, sleep and some physical activity. Eating is different from nourishing, drinking is different from hydrating and resting is different from sleep,” O’Brien continues. “It is critical that you have the right strategy to be your best.”
Recently, the Chef Marshall O’Brien Group launched a program with the city of Minneapolis looking at nutrition, hydration and sleep for the Minneapolis fire, police and public works departments to improve safety and performance.
O’Brien says all three groups need all three components, but in different ways. The most important thing firefighters needed was to stay hydrated, as this minimized the stress on their body during a fire. O’Brien has also written a similar program for police departments and is in discussions to implement it and is also creating a program for public works departments.
O’Brien doesn’t want to stop at professionals in demanding jobs. He is committed to working with hospitals to help food become part of a larger wellness plan.
“We are helping Courage Kenny hospital to transform their meal program to be more than just a feeding process, but actually part of the healing process,” he says. O’Brien’s team works with kitchen dietitians at the Minneapolis hospital to remove foods high in sugar, preservatives and bad fats from patient menus and replace them with more made-from-scratch recipes, vegetable dishes and other foods to aid in recovery and rehabilitation.
The chef is also bringing his message to schools, focusing on the value of good nutrition for students, beginning at a much younger age. “Schools are also a great way to reach 5- to 18-year-olds. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act [signed into law by President Obama in 2010] was a positive move to correct the overfeeding and undernourishing that we had been doing in many of our schools for years,” O’Brien says. “We work with schools and child care centers across the state, supporting them with culinary training and marketing strategies.”
According to O’Brien, research indicates a strong school meal program has a multitude of benefits. “The right meal program leads to a calmer classroom and better mental clarity, both of which lead to better learning and higher test scores,” he says. “Teachers and principals need to understand this and support the meal plan to make it happen.”
The Chef Marshall O’Brien Group has a monthly newsletter sent to almost 200 school districts in the state, and is in partnership with a number of school districts to assist in their meal program. O’Brien also has a regular segment on Fox 9 news programs focusing on making meal time family time, getting kids in the kitchen, cooking and smart nutrition.
Now a father to 2-year old daughter Ayla, O’Brien says he and his wife don’t differentiate food from healthy food at their table: vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, etc. are all treated equally. “We always encourage [our daughter] to taste ingredients, stir, just be involved in any way possible,” he says. “This sends a very strong message to her that food is part of her life, and as she grows up, food will play a big role in her life in so many ways.”
Learn more at chefmarshallobrien.com