Kitchen Doors: Let’s Eat

Local First: Experience Nutrition

Melanie Albert was inspired by her mother to dedicate her life to healthy eating, which led to her business, Experience Nutrition, in 2010.

Melanie Albert

“I first became interested in nutrition and the power of food more than 25 years ago when my mom, who is now 91, was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Albert. “This was the turning point when I decided to learn everything I could about healthy eating and good nutrition for my mom. As it turned out, it was also the turning point for my entrepreneurial business to share my passion with others.”

Albert is the author of “A New View of Healthy Eating” and worked for Dr. Andrew Weil for several years. Working with professional athletes also inspired her. “Many years after my mom’s cancer diagnosis, my passion was again ignited when I learned about former NFL players’ health issues and taught many of them 
how to cook simple, healthy meals,” she said. “I believe that people can learn about good nutrition through hands-on experiences.”

Like most business owners, Albert had to make some changes due to the pandemic. “Prior to COVID, nearly all of my programs were live cooking demos, events or retreats,” she said. “When all my in-person events were canceled, I started to produce cooking videos for corporate clients and our local community who were cooking more at home. Experience Nutrition continues to offer plant-based, farm-to-table cooking experiences, now with an online and virtual interactive culinary program.”

Albert channeled her passion for helping the community during the pandemic. “I am very proud to have participated in the Feed Phoenix program with Local First Arizona and the City of Phoenix,” she said. “With this incredible program, chefs created meals with our local farmers’ food to serve our community. Experience Nutrition had the honor to prepare 380 healthy, delicious, plant-based, farm-to-table meals.”

Albert is more passionate than ever about nutrition and working with local suppliers. “I love beautiful food and enjoy sharing how to prepare healthy, eye-catching dishes with our Arizona farmers’ produce, herbs and edible flowers.”

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Caring Chef: Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots

Chef Sasha Raj opened 24 Carrots in Tempe in 2008. “24 Carrots started as an all-natural juice bar and grew into a full-service, plant-based eatery. We serve hearty, healthful, botanically rooted cuisine that is inspired by global flavors and local harvests, centering our menu around approachable dishes,” she said.

Chef Sasha Raj

Community support has always been important to Raj and the staff at 24 Carrots. “We volunteer time to further conversations around food security and to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches. I am so blessed to be able to serve my community in a way that I love,” said Raj, who is involved with the Blue Watermelon Project, a community program that educates local students about healthy eating.

When COVID hit, 24 Carrots offered takeout and delivery, as well as family meals and holiday meals, and opened the patio for dining. “While we are not anywhere close to our pre-pandemic sales levels, it has been enough to ensure our team is kept safe and employed, and we are so grateful for that,” said Raj.

Raj and her team jumped in to support the community during COVID. “A core principle of our business is to give back,” said Raj. “It’s something we have always done, either with direct service or alongside our nonprofit partners. It became so much more important when this pandemic hit. We set up a partnership with the Wish Foundation to accept monetary donations.”

Donations were used to purchase supplies to make meals for over 500 first responders across two hospitals and provide hundreds of meals for nonprofits as well as gift cards for meals for foster children. 24 Carrots utilized its closed dining room to collect supplies for the Navajo Nation, an endeavor organized by Republic Empanada, and is supporting the efforts of Mutual Aid Phoenix with collection drives and supplies.

24 Carrots’ community efforts continue, and they are accepting donations for its Carrot Cares community program through the Wish Foundation. “We are in the process of formalizing our efforts to create our own nonprofit to better serve our community now and for years to come,” said Raj.

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New in Town: Cielo at Adero

The Adero luxury boutique resort opened in North Scottsdale in October, featuring amazing views, amenities and activities highlighting the desert terrain and a signature restaurant called Cielo, which means sky in Spanish, offering sustainable cuisine and a spacious patio. 

“The atmosphere is one of casual comfort, allowing guests to experience the grand views while enjoying exceptional food, wine and cocktails,” said Adero’s director of Chef & B, Bryan Dillon.

Guest favorites include Kansas City steak with Southwest grilled corn and whole roasted branzino with fennel and blistered tomatoes. Popular libations on the extensive beverage menu include the scotch-based Trailblazer and the Adero Especial Margarita.

Dillon and his team work closely with producers around the state and country to provide the highest quality products, including Crow’s Dairy in Buckeye, Hayden Flour Mills in Queen Creek, Noble Bread in Phoenix, Rango Honey in Tempe and Queen Creek Olive Mill.

“I spend a lot of time with small producers such as Petaluma Creamery, which provides us with organic cheeses and butters,” said Dillon. “Tempesta out of Chicago provides dried and cured meats for our charcuteries. Our chickens come from the Amish country in Pennsylvania, where the Bell & Evans team has been humanely raising their poultry since 1894. Our shrimp are wild-caught Mexican whites and never farmed. We utilize Diestel Family Ranch in California for our turkey, which we roast in-house every day.”

The restaurant has received good feedback from diners since it opened. “We believe that we owe it to our guests, as well as the planet, to provide the best product on earth that gives back to the community and Mother Nature,” Dillon said.

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Blue Watermelon Project Keeps Students Connected to Healthy Eating

Chef Charleen Badman of FnB restaurant in Scottsdale is one of Arizona’s most celebrated chefs as the winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2019.

The award-winning chef is passionate about teaching kids about nutrition. For 11 years, she has been volunteering at Echo Canyon School in Scottsdale. In 2017, she helped found the Blue Watermelon Project, an initiative of Slow Food Phoenix, bringing farmers, chefs and the community together to advocate for nutritious food in schools and educate students about healthy eating. “My goal is to continue to grow the program and have chefs at every school in the Valley,” Badman said.

Before COVID, Badman and other chefs would regularly visit local schools for hands-on lessons focused on nutrition, Arizona ingredients and more. “At first it was about getting kids to try new foods and eat better,” she said. “The program has evolved to include more lessons and interactive experiences to get students involved in preparing meals.”

When the pandemic forced many schools to close, the Blue Watermelon Project found a way to continue to reach students, funded by a grant from Sprouts Farmers Market. Badman and other volunteers provide kits to students and teachers containing plants and ingredients supplemented by online videos. A recent lesson focused on chickpeas. Students received a kit with supplies and seeds to plant chickpeas and create a dish. The kit was paired with video instruction on how to plant the chickpeas by master gardener Lou Rodarte. The video lesson also included Badman teaching students how to make a chickpea pancake.  

The Blue Watermelon Project has always been a collaborative effort and continues to be with several chefs and vendors volunteering to keep the program going, including Cotton and Copper, Gallo Blanco, Vilardi Gardens, Noble Bread, Hayden Flour Mills and Dakota Press, to name a few.

“The Blue Watermelon Project is about teamwork and growing together,” said Badman. “Chefs, restaurants, suppliers and the local community have been very generous, and we will continue to educate these students about healthy eating and Arizona’s indigenous ingredients.”

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About Shoshana Leon

Shoshana Leon is a culinary writer for Frontdoors Media and creator of Foodie Fo Sho.

From Frontdoors Magazine

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