There's been a lot written about Dr. Andrew Weil, a bestselling cookbook author, the founder and director of the Arizona Center for integrative medicine, and a partner in True Food Kitchen, which opens today in Cherry Creek. And most of what's been penned about the doctor, who holds a medical degree from Harvard, advocates his healthy foods philosophy, which revolves around an anti-inflammatory diet.
But while there are plenty of self-described "experts" who extol healthy diets, not all of them practice what they preach. Weil, however, has a confession that leads credence to his mission: "I have the rare distinction," he declares, "of never once eating a McDonald's hamburger or French fries."
Weil, for the record, is seventy years old.
"I'm very conscious of what I eat," admits the doctor, whose diet precludes meat, but does include fish. And he cooks, too -- and well, apparently, since his dinner guests strongly encouraged him to open a restaurant. "I love to cook and I love food, and over the years, I was told I should open a restaurant, but I didn't know anything about the business," he says.
But Sam Fox, the founder and CEO of Fox Restaurant Concepts, the company that owns NoRTH in Cherry Creek, and a three-time James Beard nominee for Restaurateur of the Year, does, and when Fox and Weil met several years ago through a mutual business partner, Weil attempted to sell him on a concept that would promote healthy eating. Fox wasn't interested. "Sam was really skeptical," remembers Weil. "He absolutely didn't think it would sell."
The tide turned when Weil invited Fox and his wife over for dinner, turning out everything from a curried cauliflower soup to a frozen dessert made with cashew mill. "He definitely liked the food, and I could see his wheels starting to turn," Weil recalls.
Fox eventually acquiesced, and the first True Food Kitchen, a restaurant that serves seasonal foods that follow Weil's anti-inflammatory diet, opened in Phoenix in 2008. Still, Fox wasn't convinced. "From the moment it opened, it did really well," says Weil, "but it wasn't until the sixth month, when people were coming up to Sam on the street and hugging him for opening the restaurant, that he became convinced." A year later, recounts Weil, Fox woke up with chest pains and subsequently had a stent placed in his coronary arteries. "When that happened, Sam started eating at True Food Kitchen more than any of his other restaurants."
Four years after the original store opened, True Food is now the most profitable of all the Fox Concept restaurants, and Denver, says Weil, is an ideal location in which to further the growth. "This was a big step for us -- but there's nothing quite like this in Denver, and I think it's needed here," he adds, noting, too, that the Denver location is the first outside of Arizona and California, the only two other states that have outposts. Additional locations, he reveals, will open in Dallas, Seattle, Boston and Houston.
And the concept, Weil says, has been embraced in every market -- not that he's surprised. "The menu is based on a Mediterranean diet, with Asian influences added in, and we're using the right fats and carbs, minimizing sugars, using whole grains and the right protein sources," he adds. And most important, notes Weil, "We're really emphasizing fresh, local foods that are delicious. We're not rubbing people's noses in the fact that it's healthy, because we don't need to: It's honest food that tastes really, really good." The fact that it's good for you, suggests Weil, is just an added benefit.
The menu, which is a collaboration between Weil and Michael Stebner, who's the executive overseeing all the True Food Kitchen restaurants, will change seasonally, and since all of the True Food restaurants work with local farmers, Stebner is going to adhere to that here, too. "We have great relationships with local farmers, and we have a seasonally changing menu, so the goal is to definitely work with local Colorado farmers," says Weil, noting that the majority of vegetables and fruits are organic, with the exception of those that are included on the "Clean 15" list, produce that's least likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues. He adds, too, that the True Food Kitchens all serve sustainably farmed or wild-caught fish.
Last week, I had the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes from True Food Kitchen, as well as tour the quarters, which are bright and lofty, walled with Aspen trees and large windows and hued lemon and lime. It's a clean, modern space, whose focal point, a huge exhibition kitchen that's a true working kitchen, buzzes with a crew of what can only be called performance artists turning tricks with their knives. Fruits and vegetables -- not meat -- are their objects of desire, and watching the staff is nothing short of theater.
Herewith, a first look of what you can expect. True Food opens today and will serve lunch and dinner daily, along with weekend brunch. For more information, call 720-509-7661
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