SYKESVILLE — A crowd of about 50 residents from the surrounding Sykesville area, Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties came out to Integrace Copper Ridge to hear Food Network star Madison Cowan talk about the “Mind Diet.”
Cowan, who has roots in London, Jamaica and Detroit, was the first-ever Grand Champion of Food Network’s “Chopped” television show and co-star in BBC America’s travel series “No Kitchen Required.” But more than that, he is recognized at Copper Ridge as the 2018 recipient of the Integrace Institute’s Proxmire Award for his work on Alzheimer’s awareness and proactive attitude toward cognitive health.
“As a global advocate I use my platform to promote living well, what is called the Mind Diet and also the Mediterranean Diet,” he said.
The former piggybacks off of the latter, he said, as they both emphasize olive oil, fresh citrus and herbs, poultry, and fish.
“I want you to remove the term ‘diet’ from your mind because that can put people off,” said Cowan. “People are intimidated, feel like they can’t eat.
“I say to be mindful to live and eat well,” he said.
But Cowan is not just passionate about good, healthy food. Alzheimer’s and dementia hit close to home.
The chef’s father suffered from Alzheimer’s before his death, and his mother is now living with dementia. His father-in-law and daughter’s grandfather have also both dealt with the condition.
Cowan was invited to the assisted living and research facility Wednesday to talk about how eating well and mindfully can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, dementia and the loss of brain function.
“Mind, body, and spirit, right?” he said. “I try to live the very best I can right and eat the very best I can with what I have.
“[My food] comes from my head, through my heart, out of my hands and onto the plate,” said Cowan. “You can tell if a chef puts a lot of love into the food. It’s not about how much you pay for it, but how much love goes into the dish.”
The event drew people from surrounding communities, and even surrounding facilities similar to Integrace.
Barbara Hedrick, director of social work at Frederick Villa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, came from Arbutus.
“I come up to a lot of [Integrace’s] events and I happen to love Madison,” Hedrick said. “I watched him win ‘Chopped.’ I already looked at his website and it has his story.”
She said she really wants to bring his ideas about the Mind Diet back to Frederick Villa.
“What this man said about cooking with love — that’s powerful, that’s spiritual,” she said.
Integrace Executive Director Tabassum Majid said that Cowan has also done a lot of work with underserved people and also emphasizes working with what they have in their homes, instead of spending money they don’t have on premium ingredients that might be unrealistic to sustain.
“I think he has a really unique way of combining really healthy meals with a simple flare,” said Majid, “making the most of what you have but elevated.”
There were also recipe cards on each table for two dishes Cowan and the Integrace staff prepared for the group: edamame hummus and lemon olive oil cake. He nicknamed the hummus “eda-mole” as it was similar to guacamole but prepared with an Asian flare — and he prepared it before the audience with ingredients like smashed garlic; ground, toasted sesame seeds; chopped chives and cilantro, and a touch of wasabi.
He served it with rainbow baby carrots, radishes, endive, cherry tomatoes, mini cucumbers and a multigrain baguette.
One Integrace employee, Kathy Harden, gave her review of the eda-mole.
“I like the texture,” Harden said. “It has a little bit of chunk to it and a head on the backside. It’s sufficient heat for me.
“I had it with bread, but I think having it with the [endive] would be more refreshing,” she said. “I love the edamame taste to it — and I like the color better than brown chick pea hummus.”
Cowan also said that it was an economic alternative to avocadoes, since some people may not be able to afford them and a bag frozen, shelled edamame costs slightly more than a dollar at the grocery store.
Local resident Janet Jew, however, said she preferred the ice cream.
Two ice cream flavors were provided at the event: lavender vanilla and rosemary chocolate.
“I thought both ice creams were very good,” Jew said. “I thought the chocolate was very good, and the lavender was very pleasant.”
Cowan also discussed simple recipes including a Mediterranean-inspired Thanksgiving turkey, prepared simply with only salt, pepper, smoked paprika and olive oil — and chicken with lemon, herbs, olive oil and garlic.
With so much talk of olive oil, Sykesville resident Mary Reed asked if others were acceptable, too.
“So they say canola oil is just as good as olive oil,” she said. “What’s your opinion?”
“First of all,” Cowan said, “I don’t know who ‘they’ are. They always say something, but as long as it’s not overly processed oil and it hasn’t been sitting out where it becomes rancid, make the best of what you’ve got. If that's what you got, that's what you use.”
Precious Hudson, another Integrace employee, then asked, “What about avocado oil?”
Olive oil has such a low burning temperature, she said.
“Ideally you do not use olive oil with high heat,” Cowan said. “If you’re going to stir fry, do it quickly. I use toasted sesame oil too. Avocado oil is good, extracted straight from the avocado — but I recommend olive oil.”
Reed then raised her hand again, and asked if he was working on a cookbook or if one was already available.
“Your story is so inspirational,” she said.
Cowan said he doesn't have a cookbook yet, but he is working on one that revolves around the Mind Diet.
“It has to do a lot with my advocacy for Alzheimer’s because people, they’re already down dealing with this diabolical disease, so we need something to help lighten their load and make life a little bit easier,” he said. “And when you're caring for someone, you really don't have the energy to get into the kitchen and make all these things.
“I'm hoping to take that burden away from you and help put these fun, fancy, brain-healthy dishes together.”
Next up at Integrace Copper Ridge will be a screening of the Alzheimer’s awareness documentary “Every Three Seconds” on Oct. 3.
A cognitive health fair focused on the Mind Diet will be held the following day, on Oct. 4 at Copper Ridge’s bistro. More details and registration information for the facility’s events can be found on its website: https://copperridge.org/.