Anne Marie Panoringan

Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for eight years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.

With as many diners who ordered takeout or delivery the last couple of years, there were even more people who focused on making meals at home for themselves and their families. Personally, I spent much of my free time researching recipes, grocery shopping, cooking and washing dishes. (So many dishes!) It reached a point where planning meals occasionally stressed me out, and I’d wonder whether cooking classes would help simplify the process or at least inspire me to do more in the kitchen.

I welcomed the opportunity to sit in on a special cooking class that’s a part of the Fierce Foods Academy (FFA) curriculum created by Orange-based nonprofit MaxLove Project. The project’s mission is to empower communities, families and youth fighting childhood cancers with whole-body nutrition and wellness in treatment, prevention and survivorship. As someone who lost multiple relatives to cancer, I believe one of the most attainable ways to preserve one’s health is by treating food as medicine. 

Class photo during a Fierce Foods Academy program. Credit: Photo courtesy of MaxLove Project

Prerequisites

Prior to the session, I was emailed a pdf file that included all the recipes we’d be going over; it outlined ingredients, nutritional breakdown, cooking instructions, optional Instant Pot directions, Fierce Food details regarding dietary contributions for individual foods, suggestions for how younger cooks can participate, plus photography of finished dishes. From reading over the materials, I discovered that the topic for class would be on batch cooking – a system involving the preparation of one base recipe that would later be the foundation of a variety of meals. 

The next day I located Fierce Foods Academy tucked in the back of the Farm + Food Lab at the Great Park in Irvine. Our classroom was a reception-style layout of chairs and table rounds outfitted with cutting boards and kitchen tools for myself and the three families (each with children varying in age from toddler through grade school with different stages of cancer or remission) attending. I’m welcomed by Veronica DeRosa, Alexia Hall and Andrew Johnson – our guides for the next two hours. 

Our Instructors

DeRosa has been a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Health of Orange County (CHOC) for 19 years, as well as a grief group facilitator for English and Spanish-speaking families. DeRosa realized early in her career that the patients and families she was treating weren’t in an ideal healing environment. It was by becoming a reiki master teacher that DeRosa learned mind, body, spirit and heart techniques that she could in turn educate families in incorporating these practices into their daily lives, reducing stress and promoting healing.

From left, Paige Kim, Samantha Johnson, Andrew Johnson and Alexia Hall of Fierce Foods Academy. Credit: Photo courtesy of MaxLove Project

Hall is a registered dietitian specializing in food allergies and intolerance as well as gastrointestinal ailments. Her holistic health belief is that the origin of nearly every disease begins in the gut, stemming from a combination of a tainted environment and inadequate diet. Her nutrition therapy and mantra of “food as medicine” has been preached to sports teams, schools and corporations. She is one-half of the group Kitchen Curative

Chef Johnson is not only the other half of Kitchen Curative, he is co-founder of The Meal Prep, a local delivery service for healthy meals. He’s previously been the resident chef for San Juan Capistrano’s The Ecology Center. A master food preserver from UC ANR, Johnson possesses over 30 years of culinary experience in the healthcare sector, higher education and the hospitality industry. He believes in growing his own organic produce and manages his type 1 diabetes through balancing an active lifestyle with responsible food choices. 

The Course

At the start of our program, DeRosa led a brief meditation to help our group focus and place us in a mindset for learning. Then came an icebreaker involving participants and instructors sharing a few details about themselves. The duration of class floats between explanation, demonstration and hands-on practice. An open dialogue between family members and Johnson clarifies questions such as the type of cooking oil he uses or how well specific flavor combinations go together. 

“Our Fierce Food Academy seeks to provide the education and tools of using food and nutrition as culinary medicine. It brings together the community of cancer survivors with the objective to thrive in the holistic space where traditional medicine approaches do not follow through,” Johnson said.

Hall’s educational perspective takes the course a step further by elaborating on the nutritional density of the foods we are discussing. She subtly points out that a healthy metabolism is maintained by consuming responsibly raised animal protein, healthy fats such as nuts and low-sugar fruits and vegetables like avocado or cauliflower — one of the featured batch cooking ingredients.

Class topics are determined up to a year in advance. However, instructors welcome feedback and will adjust the curriculum accordingly. In a previous session someone requested a discussion on eggs, so our class benefited from a bonus tutorial on making omelets. 

Johnson, Hall and DeRosa are mindful of the varying needs and preferences of each child and his or her parents. They offer a listening ear and a wealth of knowledge to support families through their respective anticancer nutritional journeys. Their personalities complement each other as I watch Hall leading adults and young cooks to the handwashing station prior to prepping a pulled pork banh mi wrap while Johnson takes others on an impromptu tour of the garden. DeRosa stays behind, engaged in a discussion with one of the parents. 

Practical knowledge shared included the differences between grades of eggs, with AA being of the highest quality due to its high yolk-to-white ratio. Johnson’s advice on how to flip omelets without wasting eggs is perfect for novice cooks (Hint: it involves practicing with a slice of bread). I learned about utilizing cauliflower stems as they are extra fibrous. Hall also shares the FIFO method of “First In, First Out” with regards to using perishable and pantry items in a timely manner.

The End Result

By the conclusion of our class, our group grasped a better understanding of batch cooking – not to be confused with meal prep, which focuses more on assembling meals ahead of time than cooking many varied recipes. Chef Johnson’s featured ingredients were roasted cauliflower and pulled pork. With these two items our class prepared and feasted on cauliflower quesadillas, pork banh mi wraps and omelets incorporating both flavors.

Fierce Foods Academy may be geared toward the nutrition of kids, yet the culinary medicine philosophy one leaves with after a cooking program is truly beneficial to individuals of all ages. In addition, the interactive nature of a class allows for full participation, empowering children and adults alike to try their hand at creating a meal in a relaxed, nurturing setting. 

The biggest takeaway for me was the notion that healthy cooking at home could not only taste good (I really didn’t expect much from a cauliflower quesadilla), but also be affordable. In fact, I already plan to make both the cauliflower and pork over the weekend to flip omelets and quesadillas for dinner/lunch next week.

Recipe for Pulled Pork by Chef Andrew Johnson

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds of pork shoulder, cut into large chunks
  • (Acceptable pork cuts: shoulder roast, Boston butt, blade, picnic, sirloin, top loin)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 onion, yellow/white chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 ounce olive oil

Directions

In a large mixing bowl add the pork shoulder chunks with salt, pepper, smoked paprika and garlic. Toss and coat the pork evenly. The dry rub can be applied immediately before cooking up to 24-48 hours in advance. You can complete this recipe in a crockpot or Instant Pot.

Crockpot method: Place seasoned pork in a crockpot and add the onion, garlic and chicken stock. Set the crockpot to low and cook for eight hours.

Instant Pot method: Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the Instant Pot bowl and set to sauté. Allow the Instant Pot to get hot, then add the seasoned pork chunks to the pot. Cook for four to five minutes and stir to get even browning. Add in the onion, garlic and chicken stock. Secure the lid and make sure it is sealed properly. Pressure cook on high pressure for 60 minutes. Then let pressure release naturally for approximately 20 minutes. 

When done cooking, remove the pork and let it rest for a few minutes. Use two forks or your hands to pull the pork into bite-sized pieces. Save the liquid/fat in a large mason jar to use in other recipes as a flavorful pork broth. It is ready to enjoy or you can toss the pulled pork in your favorite bbq or teriyaki sauces. 

Fierce Food Facts: Pork is loaded with B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, all of which are helpful for energy, thyroid and strong immune function. Sufficient selenium has also been shown to improve mood!

Kids Can Cook Tips: There are lots of spices to measure in this recipe. Kids will enjoy seeing the colors of all the different spices. Ask them to waft their hand over each one to try to get its scent before mixing in the pot. 

Nutrition

18 servings per recipe

1 serving: About 4 ounces, 116 grams

Total calories: 278

Fat: 17 grams

Net Carbs: 1.5 grams

Protein: 28 grams

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.

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