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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.


soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. amayda

    I wish there were more cooks out there like this. I am not diabetic, I am actually the opposite, reactive hypoglycemic. Meaning, if I put in simple carbs into my body, my body then overreacts, creating too much insulin and throws me into a hypoglycemic episode. However, I LOVE to create food, eat food and feed the people I love. They have all learned how to love new foods like I have had to, but I still am able to make them their favorites, I just have to make two meals so I can still eat with them too. I need more recipes!!

    February 24, 2012 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MashaSobaka

      Remember that hypoglycemia can lead to diabetes too. Keep a close watch on it, okay? Good luck keeping your sugars balanced. I have a hell of a time getting my numbers above 90 no matter what I eat or drink. It's not fun.

      February 24, 2012 at 23:21 | Report abuse |
  2. ksmahoney

    It's nice to see a chef embrace the needs of diabetics, but not be defined by disease.
    http://www.losingtogether.com

    February 24, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. J D

    Word! I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my son. I took it as a challenge to create healthy, wholesome, and tasty meals for my family. It forced me to rethink food and create new habits, so in a way I'm grateful for it. It taught me the value of creativity in the kitchen and eating fresh and healthy foods.

    February 24, 2012 at 17:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. MashaSobaka

    "Diabetic diets" are balanced and healthy and pretty much everyone should be on them. Some of us need a few more carbs than would be advisable for a diabetic – balanced with protein too, of course, to keep the sugars balanced – but the basics of diabetic cooking are a good idea for everyone. Eat whole grains, fruits and veggies and legumes, lean protein...life will be better before you know it.

    February 24, 2012 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Primal

      Wrong about the grains. Grains are the worst things any human can eat. We should all be cutting them out.

      February 27, 2012 at 19:01 | Report abuse |
  5. Doug

    " [If you] go to Budapest, they don't speak English – how do you explain you're diabetic to someone in Budapest?"

    Umm...learn the appropriate Hungarian words? 'Cutorbeteg', for instance? Or am I misunderstanding, does this guy think that no-one outside the English-speaking world understands the concept of diabetes?

    February 26, 2012 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Marie

    Of course, cooking & diabetes can mix if you're eating tons of the wrong kinds of carbs. You can cook good food and make it healthy, too.

    February 26, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Anna

    The Anti Obesity drug makers and diabetes drug makers take in 10 billion$$$$ every year with no cure!!

    Food Chemicals are the cause of the diabetes and obesity crisis

    The FDA and Drug makers know this and are laughing to the Billionaire$$$ bank

    The food chemicals break the gut(insulin) and this is the cause of the diabetes and obesity crisis

    A filmmaker has been reversing diabetes and Obesity WITHOUT MEDICATIONS in now 10 countries and the drug makers do not promote the story just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

    February 27, 2012 at 07:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Just a thought

      You cannot live with Type 1 diabetes without medication. Type 2 is different. You should clarify.

      February 27, 2012 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
  8. Primal

    Follow the Primal Blueprint. No need for any meds. You will never get type 2 diabetes if yo do.

    February 27, 2012 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jirawat

      The folks at Betty Crocker have done it again: given us mere mortals great, easy reepics my whole family can enjoy. The best thing about this book is that the reepics aren't made from weird food you have to hunt for; they are made from items already in your kitchen. And they are reepics anyone can eat for good health. So, if one member of your family has diabetes, the whole family can eat this food and love it.The reepics are great, especially the desserts. And you thought you couldn't eat dessert with diabetes! The Carbohydrate Choices is a great counting device. I've never seen it in any other cookbook and I find it much easier to use than exchanges. Plus, it's not just a cookbook. There's doctor's advice and management plans inside. This book is very uplifting and practical.GET THIS BOOK! IT'S THE BEST DIABETES COOKBOOK, hands down.

      April 8, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse |
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.