Kitchen Clinician: Chef David Bouley's Mission to Boost Our Brains Through Food

Drew Ramsey, MD


August 10, 2017

A Chef's Search for the Science of Food

Drew Ramsey, MD: We have a special guest today on Brain Food for Medscape Psychiatry: chef David Bouley, who is here at the American Psychiatric Association annual conference.

David, we think that you're the first-ever five-star chef who's attended our annual meeting. What message are you here to deliver to psychiatrists and others, in terms of how to think about food and mental health?

David Bouley

David Bouley: I'm very honored and happy to be here, and I'm learning a lot. I realized before that I have to become a member of the team, and what's exciting is that the health world is inviting people like me to do so.

My focus today is trying to understand more about healing our biome. Specifically, how does food, and the living bacteria it contains, support the functioning of our bodies? Food has a direct connection to our digestive systems and brains, which can either function properly or have huge challenges, particularly when it comes to mood. I'm also interested in how food can give you a better night's sleep and help with other health issues.

Many healthcare professionals whom I work with feel that an imbalance in our biomes and in how we metabolize food might play a role in many diseases, including those that affect the brain.

Food is powerful—it can even affect our DNA both positively and negatively, the scientists tell us. So how do we get people to make better, practical choices? How do we give them the necessary tools to work with?

Dr Ramsey: One of the things you spoke about today was "the living pantry," and all of the different techniques that you're using with lesser-known "superfoods," such as orange peels and vanilla bean. Tell us a little more about this concept and how we can help our patients engage with it.

Chef Bouley: In the 1980s and 1990s at my restaurant, we made orange, grapefruit, and blood orange powder—basically, every kind of citrus powder—to enhance our recipes without using anything with negative side effects. I loved working with orange powder 30 years ago, roasting chicken in it along with rosemary; the whole restaurant would smell great.

I started to send these kinds of products to food physiologists at Cornell University, who were really impressed with their nutritional value and thought that these elements were greater than just providing enhanced taste. These are the type of correlations between food science and health that we're trying to understand. Certainly, we're learning how our biome can create all kinds of problems with many conditions. I don't think that these associations are so controversial anymore. They've become more transparent with technology.

"Chefs, at least those who are working beyond their own egos, respect Mother Nature, [and] understand [that] we can't deviate too far from her and the necessity of bringing in nutrient value."

The digestive system is more than we thought it was, and the biome communicates with our organs, including our brains. This has led to a lot of interest in the biome, which is something that chefs know a lot about. We have learned what people can and can't digest, [and] what foods they're attracted to. Chefs, at least those who are working beyond their own egos, respect Mother Nature, [and] understand [that] we can't deviate too far from her and the necessity of bringing in nutrient value.

We have to learn more about the complexity of things in nature and how it affects our bodies. If we really want to change people's health and not just address symptoms, then clearly, food is the best resource.


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