Before you take another bite of that doughnut, take a deep breath and slowly back away from the baked good. Let’s discuss your options. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chef Evelyn Stokes, founder of I Eat Super, a Detroit-based company dedicated to introducing people to healthier lifestyles. Stokes has built a career out of teaching her clients how to create healthy (and tasty) meals and incorporate nutrient-dense foods, or “super foods,” into their daily diets. She’s made it her mission to bring better options to the people of Detroit.
Stokes’ journey to become a nutrition consultant actually began in the confines of the corporate world. She started a career in telecommunications, which required her to travel on a regular basis to meet with potential clients. It was during this time that she started noticing the compromising effects that business trips, especially eating out, had on her overall health. Her lifestyle was sending her cholesterol levels through the roof, and her doctor suggested she start taking medicine in order to mitigate these effects. “But taking pills didn’t sit well with me,” said Stokes. “I knew I had the ability to solve my problems with healthy eating and exercise.” This helped ignite her passion for finding a better way, and in turn, a new career path.
Through research and perseverance, Stokes began attending culinary classes, and within two years, she graduated from Schoolcraft College in Livonia, MI. She quickly started incorporating the lessons she had learned from her work in marketing and sales, and she used them to jump start her company, I Eat Super.
For over five years, Stokes has been providing the metro Detroit area with nutrition classes, speaking engagements and quality catering that focuses on healthy and delicious eating.
Basic Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle
When I asked Stokes about realistic steps for healthier living, I expected her to provide food pyramid diagrams, book recommendations, and even calorie-counting phone apps. But she blew that out of the water with four simple words: “You have to cook.”
It is Stokes’ professional opinion that cooking provides you with a certain amount of control that you can’t get from a restaurant or a fast food establishment. When you make your food at home, you can choose to build your meal with good, nutrient-dense ingredients. Beyond the initial health benefits, Stokes considers cooking to be an essential part of the human experience. “As we cook, we come together,” says Stokes. “It strengthens relationships. And this is even more important for your family. Cooking is one of the most edifying things you can do as a family.”
Stokes often hears people say they don’t have time to cook, but she believes that this is largely a matter of priority. “It’s just like a budget,” says Stokes. “You may say, I don’t have enough money to do that. But if you look at your spending, and take a fine-toothed comb through it, you’ll see that maybe you do have the ability if you’re willing to make a sacrifice.” So, if you give up something less important, like a television show, for instance, you can use that time to dedicate to healthier living. As Stokes explains, “If you make time to cook, then you’ll have time to cook. It will be a difficult road, but if you’re willing to make the sacrifice, you’ll be headed in the right direction.”
At this point, it would be easy for me to say that cooking is an excellent first step to starting a diet, but Stokes doesn’t like that word. She firmly believes that “diets are just fads. They are not designed to last long.” Taking steps to build a better lifestyle is the bread and natural, salt-free butter of Evelyn Stokes’ methodology.
Super Foods and Where to Find Them
The first time I met Chef Stokes, I told her that I had a goal of one day making restaurant-quality food for my family, and she wisely said that it all comes down to the ingredients. Her company’s namesake comes from “super foods,” or foods that are nutrient dense and usually plant based. “I became obsessed with superfoods and their nutritional benefits,” says Stokes. “They promote heart health, as well as help prevent cancer, and they can even improve your hair and nails.” This list of superfoods includes blueberries, strawberries, avocados and carrots, just to name a few. I even learned during our interview that garlic and onions can promote long-term heart health. I assured Chef Stokes I would spend all of my days with a wonderful heart and horrible breath.
She encourages her clients to cook with these super foods, and she emphasizes the importance of freshly grown fruits and vegetables. She actively promotes Eastern Market, and she finds great joy in strategizing the best times of day for finding the lowest prices. In this way, she likes to incorporate many of the skills she learned from the business world.
When I asked about her favorite foods to create, Stokes explained that she loves working with different kinds of international cuisine. She received French training professionally, but she also enjoys making Chinese food, Thai food and other ethnic foods. Because Detroit is so diverse, she loves going to different markets that specialize in international foods, and she recommends them for some of the best seasoning. “Basically,” said Stokes, “you should be going to markets where certain ethnicities are concentrated. Here you will find really great seasonings that are fresh and readily available.”
Pursuing Your Passion
Beyond the healthy living perks that Stokes brings to the Detroit area, she also exhibits an entrepreneurial spirit that is thriving in our city. She has found something she loves, something that she can be passionate about, and she has achieved goals that capitalized on her talents. When talking about her journey, Stokes explained that she was doing everything she could to learn more about becoming a nutritionist and food consultant long before she started her business. She marketed herself and learned how to network, even though she didn’t have the same budget as the companies she’d worked for. What’s more, she built a support group, finding like-minded people who could surround her with community and their expertise.
In one story, she recalled a memorable conversation with a food consultant she had met. “And this woman said, ‘I’m a consultant and I have clients.’ I had to pull over. I was like, wait a minute. You can learn this and get paid to do it?” This was one of the first times Stokes realized she could take her passions and talents and turn them into a career that she loves. This is opportunity in Detroit.
Stokes wants to encourage others who have entrepreneurial aspirations, and she suggests that a good place to start is to get your logistics in order. She recommends taking advantage of the resources on Michigan.gov, and she strongly suggests that you go after the legal information first.
I Eat Super is now over five years old, and Evelyn Stokes has continued sharing healthy living throughout the city. She does catering, private classes, and even provides corporate wellness lessons for health insurance companies, hospitals and businesses around the area. She likes to meld aspects of the consulting side with the catering, going as far as to explain the health benefits of each meal as she presents it. “It’s really about teaching you practical knowledge to make food that is both healthy and delicious,” says Stokes.
If you’d like to learn more about Evelyn Stokes and the fine services she offers to the city of Detroit, check out ieatsuper.com. Chef Stokes wanted to impart a taste of her talents to you today, so she included one of her favorite recipes below. Take a swing at it, and let us know how it goes.
Warm Beet and Orzo Salad with Spinach
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium beets, roasted, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 cup orzo pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
4 cups spinach, trimmed, washed and dried
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
To prepare vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the mustard and vinegar.
While whisking vigorously, drizzle the oil into the bowl in a steady stream until emulsified. Taste
and season with salt and pepper.
Place the beets into a medium bowl and toss with vinaigrette until well coated. Leave to
marinate for at least 10 minutes.
To cook orzo: Place a large saucepan of salted water on the stove over a medium-high heat
and bring to the boil. When the water is boiling, add the orzo and cook, stirring occasionally to
prevent sticking, until al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain and transfer to the boil with the beets.
Place a large, nonstick skillet on the stove over a medium heat and add the oil. When the oil is
shimmering, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook
until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Transfer mixture to the
bowl with beets and orzo. Add walnuts, taste and season with salt and pepper.
To serve: Arrange the salad between 4 bowls and serve immediately.