The former personal chef of Gwyneth Paltrow, Lee Gross helped launch M Café in 2005, and his keen perspective on how to bring macrobiotic cuisine to a mainstream dining audience has been instrumental to the restaurant’s success. “Macrobiotics allows me to feel good about the food that I cook and serve,” Gross says. On a personal level, he notes that after his first month on a macrobiotic diet, “I was jumping out of bed in the morning clear as a bell, where I used to be foggy and groggy until about noon.”
Writer Zoe Alexander recently spoke with Chef Gross about his passion for macrobiotics and more.
Q: Was being a macrobiotic chef part of your career plan?
A: Not originally. At a certain point I began to think more about the social, political and ecological impact of our food choices. I realized that there was a big gap between what I was doing as a chef, and what I felt I could be doing as a human being. I decided that I needed to re-orient myself and my career path. Soon after I discovered macrobiotics, and immediately saw it as a way to mesh my ethics and ideals with my skills and talent.
Q: You studied at the Kushi Institute. How did this experience inform your goals as a chef?
A: Studying at the Kushi Institute was a life-changing experience. As a chef it was totally mind-blowing. Tasting vegetables cooked simply, in a traditional Japanese style, with barely any fat at all.. was like tasting vegetables again for the first time. And learning about the energetics of food… the yin and yang aspects of a carrot… now that was definitely something I hadn’t learned at culinary school!
Q: What draws you to macrobiotic cuisine?
A: I think it’s the honoring of the ingredients, and the way that good macrobiotic cooking brings out the natural taste of the food. It is elegant in its simplicity, and requires a focused, disciplined mind… so it helps keep me present and tuned in to life.
Q: What kind of feedback do you get from people who may be new to macrobiotic cuisine? What are the benefits?
A: Once people focus their day-to-day eating on whole, natural foods they reliably begin to change. For most it is an extremely positive experience. Some go through junk food withdrawal… and it is tough to get through. But the benefits of sticking with it are well worth it. After a month of macrobiotics I was jumping out of bed in the morning clear as a bell, where I used to be foggy and groggy until about noon.
Q: I assume you prepare macro food at home for your family—any tips on making a kitchen macro-friendly?
A: We do eat well at home… we have a good supply of whole grains and beans in the pantry. Half the battle is just remembering to soak your goods before going to bed. But once you have the routine down you are never without the makings of a good meal. Tonight’s leftover rice becomes tomorrow morning’s breakfast congee (porridge)… it’s economical, and I enjoy the continuity from one meal to the next.
Q: Are there any macrobiotic resources you can share with our readers?
Q: Can you share some details about your current ventures?
A: I continue to serve as the Chef Consultant to M Café in Los Angeles, and cook privately for clients in New York. I am also working on a community garden project in my hometown, and cooking up good food daily for my two hungry little girls Eliana (4) and Norah (2).
Learn more about Chef Gross’s background. You can also watch him prepare a Vietnamese Salad with Gwyneth Paltrow.
After five years at Bon Appetit magazine, Zoe Alexander is now a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Clean Plates LA, her articles have appeared in Southbay and Ventura Boulevard magazines. Zoe blogs at A Civilized Life.
Image of Lee Gross courtesy of M Café; image of M Café by Flickr user Muy Tum; image of macrobiotic food courtesy iStockphoto.