Of all the cookbooks I've received recently, this one caught my eye. And not just because I consider myself an athlete (even though I'm now 13 years removed from my stint as a college softball player), but because I know the authors from their previous books, The Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables (in full disclosure, I helped calculate the nutrition analysis of all the recipes in Feed Zone Portables). So I was excited to see another title in the Feed Zone series, this one aimed at athletic types who love to cook and eat around a table with friends.
The author: Dr. Allen Lim brings the science and Chef Biju Thomas brings the savory. Together the two team up to create clean, science-based products for athletes via Lim's company Skratch Labs, most notably their natural hydration and electrolyte powders. Lim, an exercise physiologist who has worked with top athletes in cycling, climbing and ultrarunning, started making his own foods from scratch, such as nutrient-dense rice bars and sports drinks, when the athletes he was training grew tired (and sometimes sick) of all the processed bars and gels on the market. Thomas, a professional chef with a passion for fueling pro athletes and teams, has appeared on the Food Network and founded Little Curry, a chain of fast-casual restaurants featuring southern style curry.
In their previous two cookbooks, Lim and Thomas focused on real and whole-food options for athletes that were convenient, packable and easy to digest pre-, post- and mid-sport. But in this new cookbook filled with family-style meals, the pair took a seat … literally. The focus of Feed Zone Table is the importance of nourishment—with friends and family—at a table. Lim noticed that the daily life of a serious athlete, packed with hours of grueling training, intense travel schedules and extreme competition, was very isolating—and one that complicates an athlete's relationship with both people and food. In all his years working with professional athletes, Lim saw many of them cut off from friends and family by circumstance and by choice. However, those with the most success were the athletes who developed social connections, team spirit and a sense of belonging, all of which culminated at dinner, the most social meal of the day. Good nutrition, Lim discovered, was not just about feeding the body, but also about feeding the soul.
Initial impressions: In the book's preface, Lim and Thomas admit that they were both surprised and inspired when they heard that people who didn't necessarily consider themselves athletes were using their first two cookbooks to feed their friends and family healthy meals. They came to the humbling realization that the way athletes eat for performance is no different from how nonathletes eat for health and well-being. The social aspect of the family meal, whether it's shared with actual family, friends, co-workers, teammates or neighbors, is a real and very important part of the role of food, they discovered.
In fact, finding pleasure in what we eat is one of the 10 rules of becoming a more intuitive eater. The Japanese had the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. But in our fury to be fit and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. This Japanese principle states that when you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel nourished, satisfied and content.
I couldn't agree more. In fact, during the year that I photographed everything I ate and recorded my daily mood and energy level in a blog (yes, I really did this), I noticed that I was in an immensely better mood whenever I shared my meals with someone else. There's just something about eating, laughing and socializing while sharing a meal with people you like that makes life seem better. Believe it or not, I rated my mood higher on days that I shared meals with friends and family even when the food didn't taste that good.
It is on this premise of the importance of the social dining that Feed Zone Table aims to nourish people of all types and help them take better care of their bodies and families. OK, I'm totally into it. Who wants to come over for dinner?
What’s cool: Even though these recipes are designed to be made and eaten at home (many of them feature from-scratch sauces, spice rubs and even homemade pasta), they are completely approachable. Lim and Thomas took care to explain any lesser-known ingredients in the recipe head notes or to make simpler substitutions whenever they could, the ingredient lists are fairly short and the methods are explained in terms that even the amateur cook could tackle with ease. The recipes range from starters to sweets and feature many salads and main dishes in between, including seafood and poultry options, as well as meaty and vegetarian mains, most of which comfortably serve six people. I think the idea is to pick three or four of the recipes and pair them together to compose a menu that will make your guests swoon the second you say, "Cheers!"
And, let's face it: What's a cookbook these days without amazing photography? This one doesn't disappoint in that department. Photos of Allen's Ramen, Baked Ziti with Toasted Chickpeas & Squash, Chile & Lime-Spiced Bay Scallops, Kalamata Chicken with New Potatoes and Cashew Honey Brittle have made me pause for, oh, the better part of the last hour.
I also appreciate the "Technique" and "Change it Up" notes sprinkled throughout this book's pages, which provide Chef Thomas' insider tips for how to really make these recipes sing or how to tailor them to personal preferences. Also welcomed are the inspirational quotes that show up on chapter openers and other beautifully designed pages, such as this one:
Some of the very best things in life are simple.
Make it your focus to enjoy the people you're with,
and the food will fall into place.
And even if it doesn't, you'll be in good company.
Perfect for: Social butterflies and entertainers / Athletes of all types / Families / From-scratch cooks / People with dining tables and/or pretty backyards
When/Where to get it: Feed Zone Table was released in February 2016 and is available now on the Scratch Labs website for $25, as well as on amazon for a little less. Learn more at feedzonecookbook.com.
Sneak-peek recipe: Nourish friends and family with this recipe for Country-Style Hoisin Ribs (pictured below, and reprinted with permission from the publisher, VeloPress).