You’d need just 5 minutes with Jessica Karp, founder of Hu Kitchen (the Manhattan restaurant and café who’s tagline is “get back to human”) to know that she’s on to something. That’s because although she’s an entrepreneur/business owner, and hands-on mother to a 5 year old girl and 6 month old boy; Jessica lacks the typical signs of someone with little time to eat lunch, let alone hit a spa. Instead, her skin is glowing, her hair is shiny and her body is fit: she looks…healthy!
Of course, that’s because she is. With unlimited access to some of the tastiest and most nutritious edibles out there, the woman knows a thing or two about healthy eating. But she wasn’t always this way. This spring, I sat down with Jessica to find out how she’s changed her life through food, and learn how maybe, just maybe… we too can capture a little of her glow.
[NATTY STYLE] What is your personal food philosophy?
[JESSICA KARP] My goal is always to eat “clean” meaning staying away from chemicals, emulsifiers, endless ingredient lists… to put it simply: I try to stay away from anything processed, and most ingredients that you can’t pronounce. I don’t eat gluten and I try to be paleo about 80% of the time. Of course I indulge occasionally. I’ll take a bite of a friend’s dessert, and I love wine - but for me everything is about balance.
[NS] When did you first become interested in this way of eating?
[JK] I used to be the type of person who just counted calories and fat. 100 calorie packs, Snackwells, all of that. As long as something fit into my definition of what “healthy” was at the time, I didn’t care about chemicals or anything else. But when I had my daughter, everything changed. I started being so vigilant about what I fed to her, that it made me really take a look at what I was putting into my own body. My brother (and co-founder of Hu) was already very into clean eating and had been begging me to change my understanding of food. So finally, I asked him to get me a book that I could read while on vacation. Something that would help me understand how to improve my lifestyle through food, without being boring or confusing. He gave me Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and it changed my life.
[NS] How do these concepts translate at Hu?
[JK] We’re heavy on the veggies, light on the meats. We are mostly grain free (fyi-quinoa is not technically a grain, it’s a seed!) and completely gluten free, aside from beer. We have organic, grass-fed milk for coffee but otherwise are dairy free. We don’t support industrial farming - our meats are grass-fed and pastured, our fish is wild caught and our poultry is organic.
[NS] What does a typical breakfast, lunch and dinner look like to you?
Breakfast at home with my children: Granola from Hu with unsweetened almond milk, or if I’m at the restaurant I will have our Primal Breakfast sandwich with an organic egg, organic kale, grass-fed bacon and homemade ketchup. And it’s on our amazing gluten free, grain free bread!
Lunch is usually here at work, so I’ll have something from our bowl station. My favorite right now is quinoa with Organic Moroccan Chicken with almonds on top.
For a snack, I love to get something from our mashbar. If I’m feeling decadent, I’ll do our Chocolate Chia pudding, otherwise I’ll have our Organic Berry Coconut Concoction. Or a square from our Almond Butter Puffed Quinoa Chocolate Bar – it only has 4, pure organic ingredients!
For dinner I will often do a kale salad with our organic baked chicken tenders. They’re grain free and so delicious, even my 5 year old daughter loves them!
[NS] What was missing from the New York food scene when you opened Hu?
[JK] For years the only way to eat this way, would be to cook at home. If you wanted to get something healthy from a restaurant, it was usually very boring and bland. At Hu, we prove that it’s possible to eat food that’s actually delicious, and never makes you feel like you’re missing out by eliminating unnatural ingredients.
[NS] What 3 tips would you suggest for someone looking to spring clean her diet?
- Remove gluten. Everyone responds to gluten in different ways. Some have no problems at all, and the extreme is Celiac’s Disease. I’m somewhere in the middle, but I know that most people feel better if they remove gluten from their diet. Whether it’s boosting energy or clearing up skin, there are so many benefits from eliminating gluten. Gluten now vs the gluten of 50 years ago before industrial farming, is very different. Even in Europe – many people say they can eat bread over there and have no problems compared with their reaction to bread in the US.
- Cut chemicals. Take out anything processed, anything with chemicals, emulsifiers etc. They’re just toxins being added to your body.
- Eat mostly organic. If you can’t eat everything organic, it’s great to at least stay away from the “Dirty Dozen.”
[NS] What about 5 things we can and should swap from our pantry right now?
- Honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar instead of refined sugar.
- Coconut or olive oil instead of canola oil.
- Almond butter instead of peanut butter.
- Nuts – raw almonds and cashews instead of pretzels or processed snacks. And even most roasted nuts are cooked in processed oils, so raw are the better choice.
- Almond milk without chemical additives or organic grass-fed milk instead of regular dairy milk.
[NS] How do you stay educated with so much conflicting information on the market?
Well that can be tough with so many fad diets and eating trends out there, all saying different things. But our philosophy is not a fad, it’s just about eating food: real, natural food and nothing else. I recommend reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food which is the book that did it for me, and my brother’s which was Dr Mark Hyman’s The Ultra Mind Solution.
[NS] What about when it’s time to indulge… What do you reach for?
It’s definitely important to recognize that it’s ok to indulge once in a while. Since I’ve been eating like this, I actually find that I don’t have the urge to binge the way I did when I was counting calories. My body feels satisfied by a well-rounded diet as opposed to being in a constant state of deprivation, so I’m easily satisfied by a smaller amount of sweets. I’m currently obsessed with our Persian Lime Pie, which is crazy delicious and rich despite being free of dairy, grain and gluten. But if you can’t come here, you can actually make your own “mashbar” style treats at home: just take some fruit and nut butter, maybe some dark chocolate (Hu’s is available at Whole Foods, Fairway, Balducci’s and other retailers around NYC and on mouth.com) and mash it all up yourself!