Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Vegetarian Chef Alters the Path of Mainstream Cooking

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Vegetarian Chef Alters the Path of Mainstream Cooking

Article excerpt

The word "diet" comes from the Greek word diatia, meaning "way of life." Ron Pickarski, Certified Executive Chef (CEC), formerly Brother Ron, uncovered his way of life one February day in 1976 during a lecture on the pros and cons of eating meat. The facts spoken that day veered him off the path of poor nutrition and down the road of enlightenment through a vegetarian diet.

Now twenty years later, Pickarski has developed into a pioneer vegetarian chef, bouncing between the International Culinary Olympics; his non-profit organization, American Natural Foods, Inc.; his work as President and Executive Chef/Consultant of Eco-Cuisine, Inc.; and his publishing of cookbooks (just to name a few) -- all in the name of inspiring the public, and the American chef, on the virtues of vegetarianism: healthiness, simplicity, practicality, and cost effectiveness.

Upon entering the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic religious order, in 1968, the 5-foot 9-inch Pickarski weighed 198 pounds and suffered from accompanying health problems. He sought work in the seminary kitchen to learn more about proper nutrition. After greatly pleasing the appetites of his superiors, Pickarski was encouraged to let his culinary talents flourish through professional training. In 1973, Pickarski graduated from Washburne's Culinary School in Chicago and spent the next seven years working as seminary cook in Oakbrook, Illinois.

In 1980, he left the seminary kitchen to involve himself in work with natural foods restaurants. "The Franciscans asked me to get a job in the world, because they felt I wasn't utilizing my talents as much as I could," Pickarski says. Later, in 1993, he left the Franciscan order "for a change of paths."

It was that same year that he entered the International Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany. Because no vege category existed in the Culinary Olympics, Pickarski competed head-on against meat meals. He pulled away, however, from the mainstream to become the first chef in the history of the Olympics: to win a bronze medal with a gourmet vegetarian display made entirely of plant-based foods (no meat, seafood, dairy, or eggs). Pickarski went on to win another bronze medal and two silver medals in the 1988 Olympics, and a silver and a gold medal (another first) in the 1992 Olympics. The 1996 Culinary Olympics, held in Berlin, Germany, brought about yet another first. Pickarski and his team won the first gold, and the only medal, awarded in the new "Alternative" (vegetarian only) category.

After 16-years of competing in the Culinary Olympics with plant-based foods, Pickarski says that "... [his] mission to spotlight vegetarian cuisine has been accomplished in this arena and this will be [his] last time to compete here -- especially since the Alternative category has now been established and a gold standard set for it."

Fortunately, however, Pickarski continues to spotlight vegetarian cuisine through his many other endeavors. His company, Eco-Cuisine, Inc., offers food service and technology consulting services and also conducts educational demonstrations and seminars for food service professionals. American Natural Foods, Inc., a non-profit organization founded by Pickarski, promotes vegetarian natural foods through educational information and presentations.

Pickarski has authored two cookbooks, both published by Ten Speed Press of Berkeley, California. …

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