Q&A with Physician/Chef Rob Graham

As Chief Health Officer at Performance Kitchen, Doctor/Chef Rob Graham focuses on plates, politics, and policy.

On why chefs should keep up with the “food as medicine” concept

You cannot help but be inspired by Dr. Robert Graham. A native New Yorker of Latin-American heritage, Dr. Graham is an integrative primary care doctor with a Masters of Public Health, and a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute’s Chef’s Training Program. When not seeing patients, Dr. Graham trades his lab coat for chef whites so he can practice his food-first approach to healthcare. 

Dr. Graham believes that food is one of nature’s most potent medicines, and he has been prescribing dietary changes and medically tailored meals as a way to support health and prevent disease for more than 20 years. This includes teaching more than 1,000 healthcare workers, mostly doctors, how to cook whole food plant-based meals. With his healthcare and culinary experience, it’s no wonder that in the fall of 2021, New York City Mayor Eric Adams asked Dr. Graham to join his food transition team to help focus on institutional food service. This doctor/chef also volunteers his time to be a Meatless Monday culinary ambassador.

I recently caught up with Dr. Graham and asked him about his varied roles and how he continues to advocate for “food as medicine.”

Rob Graham Fresh Medicine
Robert Graham, an integrative primary care doctor, graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute’s Chef’s Training Program.

You’re a Harvard-trained physician. What made you pursue a chef’s certification?

Chefs feed people. They have an important role in the health of the people they serve. Chefs have crafted our cultural eating patterns. Given their “rock star” status, people listen to chefs when it comes to food and cooking. I became a chef to cook for people healthy nutritious delicious food

Why should restaurant and foodservice chefs pay attention to the “food as medicine” concept?  How can they effectively apply the concept in their business? 

The Meatless Movement, the plant-based movement, the health movement… these have become some of the tastiest and most profitable culinary trends in the past 10 years. People vote with their forks, and they have spoken, they want healthier foods, especially plant-based foods. 

Could you tell us how you’re applying your medical and culinary experience as Chief Health Officer of Performance Kitchen (PK)?

My role as Chief Health Officer at PK focuses on plates, politics, and policy.  Cooking is medicine, but I hear from patients and clients that they simply don’t have the time, skill, or money to cook. I wanted to feed people healthy nutritious food, so I started working with PK, a medically tailored meal food company. I helped create and prescribe food as medicine, focusing on patients with chronic diseases like diabetes. Through my role at PK, I work to make sure people know that medically tailored meals are an option for many Medicare beneficiaries. A lot of people are simply unaware that medically tailored meals are included under their health plans. 

Tell us about FRESH Med, which you co-founded with your wife Julie in 2016.

FRESH Med came out of a need and belief that medicine needed a FRESH start. Medicine needs more health care, that’s why my wife and I created FRESH. FRESH is a model of care which starts by addressing the 5 ingredients in your recipe to health. FRESH is an acronym for Food, Relaxation, Exercise, Sleep and Happiness.  In 2018, we launched FRESH Med U our online e-learning platform to allow people and companies access these simple concepts to establish these important pillars of wellbeing.

As a Meatless Monday Culinary Ambassador, how do you see Meatless Monday as a good strategy for chefs to get more people interested in plant-based meals?

As the late Sid Lerner, co-founder of the Meatless Monday movement, said, “Monday is the day all health breaks loose.” Meatless Mondays are win-win, on the slowest day of the week in the restaurant, chefs can create more plant-based meals and make money.  Meatless Mondays are good for both your personal health and planetary health.

Learn more about FRESH Medicine at their website and FRESH Med U at their website.

For Meatless Monday foodservice resources, visit the website.

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