LATINO VOICES
02/03/2012 11:31 am ET

Sam Talbot, Chef Of The Week, Whips Up Healthy Food With A Latino Twist (RECIPE)

The day chef Sam Talbot was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 12, his mother, in a symbolic act, took him to 'Friendly's,' where he feasted on ice cream sundaes.

"This is the last time you will do this," he was told.

But instead of seeing it as the culmination of his relationship with sweets, Talbot said he made a mental note: "I am not going to live my life with the idea that I can't eat certain foods."

He kept his promise to himself.

Fast-forward to the present, and the 34-year-old chef from Charlotte, N.C., eats all types of food, including the supposedly forbidden sweets. Not only is he very alert to what he eats and where that food comes from, but through years of research and practice, Talbot has developed a style of cooking that strategically combines food pairings to make healthy meals that help manage diabetes but are still intensely rich in flavor.

His involvement with diabetes goes well beyond the kitchen.

Through his foundation, "The Sweet Life Kitchen," which partnered with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Wellness in the Schools in New York, Talbot works to raise awareness on Type 1 diabetes and healthy eating.

"I think diabetes is running very rampant amongst Latinos in the U.S., and I think once we are able to provide education in school systems, that will begin to change," he said.

For Talbot, it's important to reach as many people as possible when it comes to diabetes.

"It's important to reach all communities, including African Americans and Hispanics, to help them understand how best to cook and eat in a healthy fashion," he said.

Talbot's cook book, "The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries," which came out in October of 2011, has a myriad recipes for different food cravings. From "Beef Tacos with Charred Tomatillo-Pepper Relish" to "Fluke with Vietnamese Vinaigrette," there's an option for everyone.

But Talbot's first publication is much more than just a compilation of tasty recipes -- although there are plenty of those in there, as well -- it's a book about food and lifestyle, with tips on how to live a healthier life, whether you are diabetic or not.

"At a very young age, I realized the overall correlation between food and health," he said. "I cook good food that will nourish the mind, body and soul. I just wanted to make a kick-ass book for people living with diabetes and people who want to live well."

Talbot, who was the runner-up in the second season of Bravo's "Top Chef," is a big name in the New York culinary world. He is the former executive chef of the Soho restaurant "Imperial No. Nine," a position he now holds at "The Surf Lodge" restaurant in Montauk. Talbot is currently focused on promoting his book, his show for GMC Trade Secrets on AOL and keeping himself healthy.

HuffPost Latino Voices talked to Talbot about his favorite Latin American dish, his first restaurant job and the importance of meditation.

In your book you have an entire chapter devoted to traveling. How has this affected your cooking?

I've gotten inspiration for my cooking all around the world, even if it's from shaking hands with someone, or seeing fish in the water or just seeing different places, everything brings about inspiration. I've travelled to Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and getting to know Latin American culture and food has been really rewarding and inspiring. The arepas! 'Caracas Arepa Bar' here in [New York] is actually one of my favorite restaurants.

I saw a number of Latin American-inspired dishes in your book. What made you want to create dishes that had Latin flavors?

I've always been a fan of bold, vibrant favors and vibrant colors of Latin cuisine. I love recreating Latin classics and making my own healthier versions. This way I don't sacrifice flavors for calories I need. I look forward to exploring Latin cuisine even more in the future.

How about inspiration from home?

I remember visiting my grandparents in Strongsville, Ohio, and my grandma would take me to the market, and we would get fresh cheese, fresh butter and yogurt. We would cook very simple stuff, like fresh sausage with scrambled eggs and cheese. And today, when I'm 34 years old and I cook for myself, it's the things that she taught me then that I still use today. For example, she would tell me, 'Put some milk in the scramble eggs' and I'll do that. A healthier variation, I'll put some almond milk in my eggs. But it's what she taught me. For me it's all about taking the food that I love, and the inspiration from my grandma and my mom and all these people that grew up in the South that are so important to my life, and introducing that into my cooking.

When did you start working in restaurants?

A long time ago! My first job in a restaurant was as a dishwasher, then I became a busboy, then I worked in a pizza place where I got fired from. Then I was working in South Carolina, and my mentor said it was time for me to move on. That's when I moved to New York, where I've been for the past 11 years.

What other things do you do to stay healthy?

I do yoga, I surf, anything that feels good. Life is so short and you want to make sure whatever it is you're doing, it makes you feel good. I am very focused on anything that gives you a moment to self-reflect and meditate. That's very important for people living with diabetes, important for people who know someone with diabetes and important for anyone who wants to live well.

One of Sam's Latin American-inspired recipes:

Grilled Scallops with Chimichurri

CHIMICHURRI Ingredients:
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sambal oelek chili paste
1 teaspoon agave nectar
Grated zest, juice of 2 lemons
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2cup loosely packed finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

SCALLOPS Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 dozen large sea scallops, preferably diver scallops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
To make the chimichurri:

In a medium bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, sambal, agave nectar, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper. Whisk well until blended. Stir in the parsley, basil, oregano and mint.

Set aside at room temperature.

To marinate the scallops:
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, turmeric, cinnamon and Old Bay seasoning. Add the scallops, mixing well to coat in the marinade.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat an outdoor grill or a stovetop grill pan to medium-high heat.

Remove the scallops from the marinade and season them generously on both sides with salt and better.

Grill the scallops until they are golden brown on both sides and firm to the touch, 2 minutes per side.

To serve, arrange the scallops on a serving platter and spoon about 1/2 cup of the chimichurri on top.

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