February 24th, 2012
02:00 PM ET

'Top Chef' Talbot: Cooking and diabetes can mix

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week meet Sam Talbot, executive chef at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, New York, who became known across the nation when he joined season 2 of Bravo's reality show "Top Chef." He is living with type 1 diabetes.

I remember being about 8 years old in Cleveland, Ohio, and going to the farmer's market with my grandmother, and getting eggs and making scrambled eggs and all those types of things that an 8-year-old doesn't necessarily just pick up. 

And I fell in love with it. As time went on, I'd try to make my parents breakfast in bed. It would be Saturday morning and they had to ban me from the kitchen because I was in there at 7 a.m. banging things around. 

My whole thing is about being as eco-sustainable as possible and cooking sustainable seafood, and food that makes sense for the mind, body and soul.  

I am a person living with type 1 diabetes, but I'm not necessarily cooking for diabetics all the time. Diabetes has never hindered me or stopped me from doing something I wanted to do.

The cookbook "The Sweet Life" that I just came out with is like a chronicle, almost like a memoir with a cookbook. It really goes into the story about when I was 12 and goes until present day.  It goes into, not just the healthy aspects of eating and the things you should be eating, but how to manage stress when you're living with diabetes; how to be able travel the world; how to be able to have syringes in your pocket or an insulin pump.  [If you] go to Budapest, they don't speak English - how do you explain you're diabetic to someone in Budapest? I go into those things because I've really had mishaps happen along the way of traveling [and talk about] overcoming those obstacles.

I think one of the key components that really makes up a good chef is really taking to heart what you're doing and knowing that basically the customers' lives are in your hands when you're cooking. You want to make food that makes sense, that nourishes, that fuels, that can be heart healthy and doesn't leave you just feeling like you ate a loaf of bread.  

If you take all those things into consideration and you're creative and that's your creative outlet and you really spend the time to know about the food you're serving, you can educate those who want to be educated about what they're eating.

I've made it my passion to take the food that I grew up on, to take the food I know, that I love and the food that I create on a daily basis and really just fine tune those modern, healthy tweaks and swap outs you can make. Instead of using heavy cream, try almond milk. Instead of using white flour, try coconut flour, almond flour, whole wheat flour or whatever it is and that's what I've dedicated my cooking to.

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