Andrew Brooks

Even though Chef Andrew Brooks is a fan of the kale-draped diet that much of our city espouses, he could do without that particular four-letter word: “diet.” Brooks established Spirited Food Company in 2007 and purposefully avoided association with the word for its often restrictive, negative connotations, opting instead for a more approachable description of a simple, balanced eating program that nurtures the body and promotes healing. And since starting the company, he’s found the perfect partnership to share his philosophy: doctors and their patients.

To say Brooks is passionate about his mission is a gross understatement—he says he can even pinpoint the exact moment his passion ignited to a single bite of fresh broccoli bought at a farmers market in San Marcos. “I literally felt my whole body just wake up,” he says. “That was the first time I consciously ate something, and I knew that what I was studying worked.”

Brooks began his education with a degree in food and nutrition at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State University) and later as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia. He credits his success in school to his first job at a local sandwich shop that provided a perspective about food that many of his classmates lacked. “[My classmates] subsisted on Doritos and Diet Coke,” he says. “Meanwhile, I would go home from class and try to learn how to cook in a super nutritional way.”

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He expanded his knowledge base by studying the methods of chemist Linus Pauling, who championed the role of food in curing disease. In the early 1990s, Pauling used his findings to treat patients diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease and hypertension by addressing the foods they consumed. It was this underlying principle that helped Brooks develop as a chef and nutritionist, and in 2008, led him to work with Central Texas Food Bank, Breast Cancer Services of Austin and the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas to help launch a pilot program meal service for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Brooks incorporates five components into healthful eating: Balance; local and organic; green vegetables; bone broth; and fermented foods. The goal is to keep these pillar principles in mind with every meal, but also to encompass variety. For example, “fermented foods” can mean more than simply eating sauerkraut at every meal. Innovating a salad dressing to include home-fermented vinegars or transforming peppers into hot sauce are diverse ways to introduce macrobiotics in a way that doesn’t feel forced or repetitive. 

Of course, Brooks knows that all of this information can be daunting and overwhelming, especially if you’re not feeling well, so he employs personal consultations and cooking classes to show people how to incorporate the appropriate nutrient-rich, healing foods into their culinary rotation. To minimize the shock, he starts with a person’s established foundation of food and then elevates it nutritionally, little by little, for a more successful result. Instead of completely taking away so-called “bad foods,” Brooks shifts and adjusts beloved food items to maintain an interest in eating well without scaring people away with a difficult experience. “I can tweak meals that they’re already making at home to make them more nutritionally dense,” he says. “And I’ve found that that is a highly impactful way because that’s something that they’re going to stick with…showing people that you don’t have to change everything in order to eat well.” For example, mac-and-cheese is often brought up as a comfort food that clients want to hold onto. Brooks encourages these clients to continue to enjoy the dish, but to simply scale back—eat a smaller portion and avoid toppings like bacon or extra cheese. Also adding green vegetables on the side presents a better balance.

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Recently, Brooks developed and implemented a 12-week program focused on nutrition and healing foods for diabetic patients, where hands-on meal planning and preparation allow participants to take better control of their health. “It’s so meaningful,” he says, “[when] I get these stories from families who tell me, You gave us so much more information than the hospital, and now we’re able to cook at home and know what we’re doing. We’re no longer confused.”

It could be a while before kale finally steps out of the food limelight in Austin, but rest assured that when it does, Chef Brooks will still be going strong as an active force in the healthy, healing food movement—encouraging everyone to become more aware of food and its pronounced effects on our body and health. 

By Rachel Johnson • Photography by Dustin Meyer

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