A Conversation with Chef Ward Alper – The Decadent Diabetic

A candid conversation with the one and only Decadent Diabetic, Ward Alper, about his inspiring way of living life with diabetes.

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Ward Alper Interview - The Decadent Diabetic Everyday Diabetes

Visiting the website of the ‘Decadent Diabetic’ Ward Alper, one could be excused for being overwhelmed by the recipes and writing on tap there. You would also easily be forgiven for soon thereafter ditching your job, buying a house near a well-stocked market and living your life making magic in the kitchen for yourself and your friends.

And while I might be venturing off a bit on the side of extreme, I suspect that Ward Alper would wholly agree with the basic concept that life is best lived as a passionate pursuit –regardless of your endeavor.

A Type 2 diabetic, Alper has over the past several years taken his passion for cooking and distilled it into one of the more enjoyable websites for lovers of good food and the good life –diabetic or not.

For diabetics in particular, Alper describes his mission best when writing about his family’s history with diabetes: “I am determined not to have that happen to me or any other diabetic I can reach that wants to control their disease and still eat decadently.”

Everyday Diabetes recently caught up with the “technically retired” New York native at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he is turning a barren backyard into a charming Asian garden. That is, when he is not making magic in the kitchen and sharing it with the world through his writing.


Your motto is “Taking back my life and my table.” Can you talk about that?

When first diagnosed I thought it was the end of eating as I knew it. I was going to be good and eat to keep myself healthy. For the first weeks I faced a tin of tuna or a slab of meat and a salad. I got bored very fast. I left the table unhappy and unsatisfied.

Those of us who work in restaurants learn to eat on the run. I have always been a fast eater. With what I thought was going to be my meals for the rest of my life, I all but inhaled my food, refueled rather that ate, and moved on to do something else….anything else.

One day I saw Julia Child making a Buche de Noel on her show. Spun sugar flew everywhere. That was the moment for me. She was having so much fun.

When it dawned on me that there were plenty of foods out there that I could still eat, and even more to be created, my eyes, and my world, opened up.

I learned about foods that I had never used much before, could now be substituted for some of the poorer choices. It became a challenge to recreate dishes and make them Diabetes –Compatible.

The art of cooking took on a whole new meaning. Where there seemed to be hopelessness, there was hope.  Cooking became an entirely different art form. It became a pleasure that I thought was lost forever. Putting these new dishes on my table became an adventure. The first time a guest said: You have Diabetes and you can eat this wonderful ______, wow!” It brought back all of the joy of entertaining.

Strawberry and Lemon Italian Cream Gallette The Decadent Diabetic Ward Alper
Strawberry and Lemon Italian Cream Galette (Ward Alper)

You grew up in the family restaurant business and have worked in a kitchen since a very young age. Was there a particular time when you fell in love with the art of cooking?

When I was a kid, it wasn’t an option for me to work in the family restaurant. It was what you did if you were a male member of the family. Decades later the light went on. I had four sisters. None of them ever stepped into the restaurant except to eat. It was simply expected of me and my brother.

After my dad gambled away the restaurant, he tried many other restaurant ventures. He decided to go into completion with Mcdonald’s but…..with wait service. That is right. His plan was to have a waiter or waitress, serve you your then, 15 cent hamburger.

Nobody with Diabetes has to think they have to eat like a second class citizen. The world of wonderful foods is out there. All one has to do is choose to find their own way to them.

To help make it work, I was in the kitchen or on the griddle. It failed miserably. He went to work for somebody else. I became the family cook and filled in at the restaurant he worked in on the weekends. I Hated it. Still those skills helped me pay my way through school.

After college I did everything/anything but restaurant work. I was a buyer for Bloomingdale’s and Korvettes, I managed a ballet company in Venezuela, I did office work.

One day I saw Julia Child making a Buche de Noel on her show. Spun sugar flew everywhere. That was the moment for me. She was having so much fun that when I got offered a restaurant job I took it without hesitation. I was in love with the fun of cooking that I never knew as a kid.

The new love and passion is sharing my thoughts and recipes with others. If I have anything to do with it, nobody with Diabetes has to think they have to eat like a second class citizen. The world of wonderful foods is out there. All one has to do is choose to find their own way to them.



You’ve dubbed yourself the “Decadent Diabetic, a title which we love, by the way. What advice would you give to someone on eating decadently in the face of diabetes?

I think the answer is really easy. The first day that I had a tuna sandwich on Joseph’s Lavash instead of just tuna and lettuce on a plate, the sensation was as good as a chocolate cake with rich vanilla ice cream. More than that, it was being “normal”.

Being “decadent” has more to do with not being deprived, than with eating rich foods.

Richly flavored is an entirely different matter. It is great not feeling like a sick person eating to fuel the body. It puts you in the position of making the foods you can eat into the foods you want to eat.

A steak, beautifully prepared is absolutely Diabetes Compatible. Remembering that is the key. Can you have a _____, maybe, once in awhile in a smaller portion. Making the lower carbohydrate side dish or the dessert that will go with it so good takes the sting out of feeling that you can’t have all that you want.

As someone who’s got a love of great food embedded in their DNA, was there something that you had trouble giving up after you learned you had diabetes?

Pasta would have been my first response. It wouldn’t have been true. It is bread. I have found many things like spaghetti squash to give me the sense of pasta. Bread, slathered in butter or olive oil is the treat for my birthday. I already created a birthday cake (King of the Night) that was better than many of the cakes I made pre-diagnosis. Bread…definitely bread.

Is there a history of diabetes in your family?

My paternal side of the family is rife with type 2 Diabetes. My father and two of his sisters suffered from it and their deaths in some ways can be attributed to Diabetes. My Brother and sister both had Diabetes.

I am the drastically younger sibling. Each of us was diagnosed in their late fifties, early sixties. Despite my brother being a medical scientist, he never knew much about eating to manage his Diabetes, My sister never paid much attention to it and ate what she ate and took medication after medication.

When I was diagnosed, I made it my business to learn as much as I could and create an eating plan that helps me manage my disease. It was a very clear choice for me.

When it dawned on me that there were plenty of foods out there that I could still eat, and even more to be created, my eyes, and my world, opened up.

What advice would you give someone newly diagnosed?

Ask questions like crazy! Don’t allow anyone to intimidate you! Make certain that your medical profession team treats you with the respect that you deserve and if they don’t, find a new team. Second to that is getting yourself ready to do what you need to do. Your team can say do this, ‘eat that’, but until you realize how important you are to managing your Diabetes, it will be a struggle.

The other thing is that everybody is different. What works for me may not work for you. What works for you may not work for me. Each of us, with or without help, has to figure out what works. It is trial and error. It is very hard work. It is worth it.

If you were king of the world for a day, what sweeping changes would you make in the fight against diabetes?

I don’t know how to answer that question other than king is not good enough. Now if I were a Deity I would just get rid of Diabetes and be done with it. I don’t know if there is a cure that is not being pursued. Maybe I am naïve and there is a great medical conspiracy. I don’t want to think that way.

Whole Wheat Pancakes Net Carbs 3.5 grams for a 4 inch pancake Ward Alper
Whole Wheat Pancakes Net Carbs 3.5 grams for a 4 inch pancake (Ward Alper)

If you had to pick one favorite dish from all you’ve eaten in a lifetime, what would it be?

Moules marinieres as much as a concept as the dish itself. I love the dish but it is the full memory of eating it in a sidewalk café in Cannes, being in love/lust, eating all the crusty bread, hearing French spoken all around me.

In my house, dinner is in the dining room. There are candles, there are flowers, and there is music (sometimes jazz, sometimes classical) and yes, some nights we are in our sweats. I have my table back. Life is an occasion!

Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

A few of my readers have generously dubbed me their “Kitchen hero” or “Kitchen best friend” or “Kitchen angel”. When the day comes for them to realize and tell me that they are their own “hero, best friend, and angel because of what they have accomplished, I will be hauling out the bourbon and toasting their elevation to DECADENCE… there might also be some crusty bread as well.


We highly encourage all of our readers to visit Ward on the web at the Decadent Diabetic.

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