Something we don’t often hear kids say is, “More broccoli please!” But for executive chef Scott Winegard of CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa, healthy eating is deeply rooted in his life. “I loved vegetables as a kid! My grandfather had a beautiful garden while I was growing up. It was always my first stop when we visited on weekends,” said Winegard.
Born and raised in New York, Winegard is new to the desert southwest but has created a home for himself in the wellness industry. His career spans more than 20 years with stints at restaurants like Pure Food & Wine in New York City and Noma, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Denmark that’s often cited as one of the best in the world.
Now based in Carefree, Arizona, Winegard talked with us about why eating a plant-forward diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables is so good for your total and oral health.
JA: Thank you so much for talking with us, Chef Scott! Can you tell us more about your commitment to cooking with the seasons and plant-based recipes? Why are these things important to you?
SW: My commitment to seasonal cooking was adapted from my start at Angelica Kitchen (a New York City based vegetarian kitchen that closed its doors after 40 years in 2017). It just makes sense to get your produce without having it shipped far and wide. It’s fresher and has a better connection to the land you are a part of.
JA: Your menu leans heavily on vegetables. Eating a diet rich in vegetables and avoiding sugars and processed snacks is good for oral health because vegetables contain so many vitamins and minerals our mouths crave. How do you develop menus with health in mind?
SW: I like to eat healthy and clean foods myself, so I try to adapt my palate to what I think our guests would like as well. It makes me feel good to eat this way and I feel even better when I can serve this food to our guests. Chefs have a responsibility to serve what they feel is right. Our menu is developed around that philosophy.
JA: Do you have any tricks for taking a well-loved comfort food (maybe one that isn’t so healthy) and turning it into something nutritious?
SW: We make a butternut queso for our chickpea pasta that surprises everybody that it’s not real cheese. We fortify butternut puree with soaked and activated cashews and nutritional yeast and spices then blend it to a creamy texture.
JA: While we love cheese (dairy is great for building strong bones and teeth) this sounds delicious! You’ve worked in so many cities in the U.S. and abroad, is there anything unique about the way we eat in the desert southwest?
SW: I am surprised by how big and vast the area is. I’m still so new and I have spent most of my time here at the resort getting us open and the menu up to speed. I can’t wait to have more time to explore. I’m open to suggestions too!
JA: To get you started, we have some amazing hiking trails you should check out! What inspires you? How do you stay engaged in your industry?
SW: I am inspired by so much, there are too many chefs I admire—from famous ones to the talented line cooks I get to work with daily. I am inspired by the landscape, the sunshine, the starry sky, my wife, my friends I have from all over the world. And social media always lends a hand on filling me in on what’s going on too.
JA: What a beautiful way of looking for meaning in those things around you. What brings the biggest smile to your face each day?
SW: My wife and my cats and the opportunity to cook with some sort of purpose. And to find opportunities to stay tolerant and stay creative while traveling and meeting great people.
JA: Do you have any tips or tricks for home cooks who want to do with more with veggies?
SW: Visit your local farmers markets and see what’s growing. Chat with the farmers and don’t be afraid to try something new you haven’t had before. Ask the farmers about their practices and even how to cook. They usually have a great intro recipe for something you may not have seen or tried before. They’ll usually cut you off a sample as well if you’re that daring.
To see some of the creative ways Chef Scott uses vegetables in his dishes, check out his Instagram page.