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I Took a Plant-Forward Cooking Class. Here's What Happened!

Plant-based dishes intimidated me until a chef personally taught me how to create them!

I used to think these kinds of food were a bit more expensive and complicated to make because of the meat, egg, dairy, poultry, fish, and seafood substitutes that a recipe would often require. The carnivore in me might just have judged them too soon for thinking they’d taste nothing like their savory counterparts just because there’s lesser to no meat involved. 


But, everything changed when I attended a 2-day plant-forward cooking class at the Enderun Extension, in partnership with The Well Nourished Company. It was conceptualized and led by the latter’s founder and CEO, Chef Cinty Yñiguez—a yogi, a lifestyle medicine and culinary nutrition coach and consultant, and a plant-forward wellness chef.

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A Step To Becoming A Healthier Version Of Myself

I’ve always had the strong desire to live a healthy lifestyle but, admittedly, the temptation of comfort and settling with what’s instantly available (looking at you, cup noodles and other processed food!) is getting harder and harder to resist. What with the increasing demand for my time mostly because of work, I’d often find myself reaching for what’s familiar and easy to make—the kinds of food that may be filling for a while but not exactly healthy. 


I tried to shift to consuming healthier meals. But, I would often find myself stopping midway and going back to my old eating habits because, let’s be real here, the foods that I used to love to consume were inexpensive, easy to make, and, bursting with so much flavor. 

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The closest way that I thought I’d get to healthy eating was when I’d eat the usual meaty meal with a small portion of blanched vegetables on the side. Or the store-bought, ready-made vegan dishes that looked and tasted like real meat (which wasn’t as 100% healthy as I thought it was because of the preservatives incorporated in it, as Chef Cinty would later on share with us in the class). On hectic days, I would either just fry or pop them in the microwave whenever I wanted or needed my healthy food fix. It was an unhealthy cha-cha of sorts because there wasn’t any remarkable progress. I almost always ended up where I started.


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A Step Toward A Plant-Forward Lifestyle

Because I admittedly knew so little of the process of making a healthy “plant-based” dish from scratch, the mere thought of cooking one would hinder me from even trying, thus the regression. The idea of messing up the creation of healthier alternatives scared the heck out of me. I mean, what if the plant-based mayo I try to make don’t taste like the real thing or even close to it at all? What if my tofu version of a scrambled egg just ends up looking like an unappetizing yellow mulch?


These thoughts would often run through my head until I showed up in class where Chef Cinty slowly turned my intimidation into excitement, one recipe at a time. 


Armed with her years of experience and wisdom in the world of wellness, she explained the whole concept of plant-forward diet and lifestyle, at the beginning of our class. She emphasized the fact that this kind of diet is perfect for “the part of the population that doesn’t fall into vegan, pescatarian, vegetarian [categories]. They may commit to eating less meat in general and increasing their fruits and vegetables—in this case, not necessarily eliminating animal products all together…we refer to those people as Flexitarians.” Finally, something that I can identify and make a good start with.

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To add to that, The Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health-Department of Nutrition defined plant-forward as “a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, foods from plant sources—fruits and vegetables (produce), whole grains, legumes (pulses), nuts and seeds, plant oils, and herbs and spices—and reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.” 


And for those like me, who were hesitant to try this diet and lifestyle because it might be costly to maintain in the long run, Chef Cinty has this to say: “Contrary to what people think about plant-forward or plant-based lifestyle, it can be affordable in the short and long term. Nuts, seeds, green leafy greens, [and] fruits are abundant and easy to find in the markets. There is oftentimes a local equivalent to an ingredient. The key is to adapt.”

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Savory Punch of a Plant-Forward Dish

Our class of six was introduced to four dishes (plus bonus plant-based mayonnaise recipe!) that looked intimidating, at least for me, to do. But the ever so helpful and calm Chef Cinty walked us through each step while explaining all the ingredients that go into every dish. 


She also went on to share that a plant-forward diet is something that meat-lovers like me can try if we are looking for alternatives to manage our health. 


“[You’re] not depriving yourself of your other sources of protein like meat and dairy, but as I say, ‘eat well, mostly plants’, and think of the colors of the rainbow. That’s what we should always strive to have as the centerpieces of our plates,” she added. “You’ll never go wrong with a whole food, plant-based diet. Just make sure to also consult your doctor or nutritionist-dietitian.”

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The class was filled with “oohs” and “ahhs” as we tasted everybody’s masterpieces at the end of the day. Dishes ranging from Green Shakshuka with Poached Egg and Feta, Caramelized Mushroom Lentil Salad with Blackened Fish, to Thai Quinoa Meatballs, and Tofu Scramble (that looked and tasted like real scrambled egg, by the way!) were more than enough to make us shift and commit to a healthier lifestyle that day. After all, we didn’t expect plant-forward dishes to be this yummy and flavorful even without meat, egg, and dairy. 


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Desserts Can Be Healthy, Too!

I was often told to eat less sweets or completely eliminate them from my diet so I could achieve my health goals. But, instead of winning, I end up whining and binge-eating! So, as someone who cannot give up sweets and snacking, learning how to whip up healthier versions of the kinds of food I enjoy, instead depriving myself, might just be the solution I have been looking for.


We were taught how to make Biscoff Truffles (my personal favorite!), Ferrero Rocher Bliss Balls, Blonde Choco Nibs Cocoroons, Dark Chocolate Chip Edible Cookie Dough, and Vegan Cookies and Cream Cupcakes. 


During the five-hour session, I was made to understand that plant-forward snacks and desserts CAN be as tasty, sometimes even tastier, than the ones I’d usually consume. And surprisingly, they’re easy to make using affordable, local ingredients, too!

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The Recipes We Learned Were Simply Easy-Peasy

Remember one of my reasons for not pursuing the plant-forward lifestyle? Chef Cinty and her cooking classes have busted them all. I left the Enderun Extension kitchen more inspired than intimidated. I even went home with a stronger desire to cook up a dish and apply everything that I’ve learned stat!


“I take on a progressive approach where we start with more commonly found [or] local ingredients, simple preparation, and cooking methods,” shared Chef Cinty. “Then we bump it up in other modules and delve deeper, exploring with a burst of new ingredients, flavors. It really depends on the clients or audience’s preferences. We will adjust and personalize it, so they feel comfortable and ensure they are able to learn with ease.”


If this article has somehow convinced you to finally give the plant-forward lifestyle a try, Chef Cinty has a whole lot of exciting cooking classes lined up. Check out The Well Nourished Company’s Instagram @thewellnourishedco and website, and Enderun Extension’s Instagram @enderunextension and website for updates on the upcoming cooking classes. 


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