theGrio’s healthy cooking series: Chef Presceia O. Cooper

For the past year, Presceia O. Cooper has worked as assistant general manager at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, an African-American restaurant in Boston. On the day-to-day, Cooper oversees kitchen operations. However, her true passion is cooking and she also serves as executive chef.

“I enjoy creating recipes, doing some cooking myself, and doing the dessert specials. It’s a great opportunities to have my hands in both,” she says.

Cooper also teaches healthy cooking to families for the Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters Program.

“In one class, we made fried chicken but it wasn’t really fried,” she explains. “We seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, did an egg wash, then added corn flakes and baked that off.”

Cooper says that this method provides a crunch without it actually being fried.

“I think that’s a great substitute for those who want that crust on chicken without deep frying,” she adds.

At Darryl’s, the chefs also regularly implement healthy cooking techniques.

“We try to stay light on the butter and salt,” Cooper explains. “I’m actively trying to make sure that things are appropriately seasoned without being saturated in a lot of fat, especially since high blood pressure is big in our community. We use olive oil as opposed to butter.”

The restaurant also offers specials with various vegetables, like root ragu, as well as greens and salads. And, Presceia believes a key to healthy eating is moderation.

“We should eat what is satisfying, and not just overeat because it’s there. [At Darryl’s], we’re good about our portions,” Cooper says.

“I also use a lot of fruit. I like things to be fresh and seasonal. I’ll do a cobbler or banana pudding with fresh bananas.”

Prior to her position at Darryl’s, Cooper worked as a baker at Babycakes, a bakery in Quincy, Mass. where she specialized in cakes. Although, she admits that it’s harder to substitute healthy ingredients when baking.

“Baking is a science and the textures and flavors change when you’re not using traditional ingredients,” Cooper says. “The healthiest of people are still going toward the traditional baking goods. I think the trick is eating in moderation.”

With respect to traditional African-American meals, Cooper shared with theGrio some tips making them a bit healthier.

  • Use brown sugar or raw sugar instead of regular sugar.
  • Use low-fat milk or low-fat cream instead of whole milk or heavy cream.
  • Opt for smoked turkey in collard greens instead of hamhocks or pig’s feet. “Another trick I learned is using smoked paprika without any meat,” she says. “It provides that smoky flavor while remaining a vegetarian dish.”
  • Adding a little hot pepper to collard greens adds robust flavor as well.
  • For baked macaroni and cheese, use whole wheat pasta, low-fat cheeses and milk
  • For sides, consider a green bean casserole or brussel sprouts with turkey bacon as healthier options.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.

Read more healthy cooking tips from other chefs here.