Inside the Culinary Medical Program at Tulane University from Bon Appetit Magazine
Medical student David Ly struggled with his knife. It was his first day in class, and the blade felt awkward in his hand. But with an experienced instructor guiding his strokes, Ly’s slices soon became smooth and fluid.
Ly wasn’t performing surgery—he was learning to chop an onion. He’s a student at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, which in 2012 launched the nation’s first culinary medicine program. Acknowledging that diet is at the core of some of America’s most prevalent diseases, the program aims to arm doctors with cooking know-how, not just prescription pads.
The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine is run by Tulane professor Timothy Harlan, M.D., a chef turned internist who saw doctors struggling to really talk to patients about their diet. On average, U.S. medical students get fewer than 20 hours of nutrition instruction, and those lessons are of limited practical value. “No one goes to the store with a shopping list that reads ‘three bottles monounsaturated fats, five bunches of complex carbohydrates, four bags of Vitamin A,’ ” Harlan says.
The elective courses at the Center—along with an exchange program with Johnson & Wales’s culinary school—help students connect the classroom with the kitchen. A typical lesson starts with biochemistry and physiology, then moves to cooking with chef Leah Sarris. Students prepare to teach patients by offering free cooking classes to New Orleans residents.
This may be the start of something much bigger: At least two other med schools have already licensed the Center’s curriculum and are preparing to launch similar programs within the year.
New Orleans is the perfect kick-starter lab, says chef John Besh, who is on the Center’s advisory board: “Our identity is steeped in food. If we can build a program that teaches people here how to make traditional food in a way that tastes great and is healthy, then we can take this on the road anywhere.”
Not Just for Doctors
The Goldring Center isn’t just training nutrition-minded doctors—it’s teaching health-focused chefs. Every quarter, a handful of Johnson & Wales’s culinary students do a rotation at Tulane. There, they help design the Center’s curriculum and create recipes that will be part of the med students’ culinary education. The budding chefs get to try their hand at scientific research, too.
“It’s odd to me that chefs often neglect nutrition education as part of their training,” says Todd Seyfarth, chair of J&W’s department of culinary nutrition. “A chef who masters healthy cooking can deliver enjoyment to customers, and at the same time nourish their bodies.”
Get a Taste of Tulane’s Medicine
We asked the experts at the Goldring Center for a few lessons to try at home:
1. Use Your Herbs
Be generous with fresh herbs, says chef Besh. They bring vibrancy and dimension to a dish without adding fat and calories.
2. Bump Up the Acid
Acid amplifies the flavors in food as much as salt does, so a splash of citrus juice or vinegar can reduce sodium intake, says chef Sarris.
3. Measure That Oil
Don’t just add oil to a pan—measure it, Harlan says. A tablespoon has around 120 calories, so this could save you hundreds of calories.