5 Questions for Executive Chef John Brand, Omni Hotels

By Mari Shirley, August 5, 2013

John Brand, an Omni executive chef based in San Antonio, sat down with Collaborate to talk about Omni Hotels and Resorts has expanded its culinary team with the addition of Cheryl Forberg as the brand’s in-house nutritionist. Forberg, a celebrity dietitian and nutritionist from NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” will help Omni as it expands its food and beverage menus and launches healthy culinary initiatives. Brand is working with her to create appetizing and nutritious menu choices for banquets and on-site restaurants.

1. Why did Omni choose Cheryl Forberg as its in-house nutritionist?
Her lifestyle represented what we wanted and what we were looking for. She had the right panache that fits our brand. We wanted someone who was approachable and down to earth, and has a familiarity with the customer. She has a depth of expertise and cookbooks, but first and foremost, she’s a chef and a nutritionist. She’s very food-forward, and her method is one that we believe in: She’s in it for better health. With her recipes, I didn’t have to add a pad of butter or tablespoon of olive oil. We just cooked her food and it tasted great.

2. What new options can planners expect to see on your banquet menus?
Last year, [Omni properties] had to put a modern menu on our banquet menus and focus on gluten-free, sodium-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian. We had to run a variety of menu options by meeting planners that they could present to the guests. We want planners to know we take it seriously, and it’s not a token menu or a quota menu. I need attendees to want to eat better and pursue better health. Some naturally want to do that, and for some it takes a little bit of help.

3. A lot of people have a hard time sticking to diet and fitness routines when traveling. Why is it important to focus on nutrition even on the road?
When you travel, your routine is broken up and different. The food options [on the road tend to be] heavy in carbs, glutens and high sodium amounts. There are more pretzels sitting around than apples. Smoothies are harder to make because you don’t have your equipment. When you travel, it reduces you to a state of “I need something now, so I don’t have to think about it.” You’re waking up earlier or going to bed later. You aren’t eating a well-balanced meal. You resort to the chicken fingers and mac and cheese, but you might have a better day if you didn’t have that in your system.

We fall off of exercise routines depending on what’s going on in our lives, but there’s no excuse for not having a healthy diet. When you stick to your normal routine, you perform better and you’re more alert. That trait will become part of your life so that if you fell off the wagon, you can get back and balance it out again.

4. You travel a fair amount. How do you maintain your health?
I’m hungriest the most when I travel, so I try to eat a really big breakfast or lunch so I don’t get those cravings. If you pack ahead and think ahead, you can sustain those cravings. Pack a bag of raw almonds or whole food snacks. Not so much pretzels, but an apple, dried fruits. Legumes and lentils have most everything you need and they’re so easy to do things with.

5. There’s a notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Do you agree?
Absolutely. And so is a glass of water in the morning. It helps set the right tone, and you have a much better start to the day. Add dried fruits and nuts to your oatmeal. Mix your oatmeal with cooked quinoa and add some cinnamon. You don’t need [to add] any additional sugar to your diet. I don’t recommend a heavy carb breakfast; being full doesn’t always mean having bacon and eggs. Just because somewhere has it all doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. It’s up to the consumer to make the right choice.

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