It’s a Wrap! This RD-Chef Dishes Up Sage Advice
Jan 31, 2013
Michelle Dudash is one of only a handful of dietitians who also holds the title of chef. I knew of her through social media and had seen her terrific presentation at FNCE 2011 in San Diego. Then I met her in person at FNCE 2012 in Philly and enjoyed a “girl’s night out” with her and two other RD friends where I got to pick her brain on all things from soup to nuts.
How did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD and a chef? Which came first – the Chef or RD?
As a competitive runner in high school, I learned how nutrition had an impact on performance, but I had no idea I could make a career out of it. The summer before freshman year at college, I was figuring out which classes to take. My grandmother asked, “Why don’t you take a nutrition class? That’s all you talk about!” So I signed up for an introductory nutrition class. It was love and first sight. That same first semester I met with the chair of the nutritional sciences department (lucky me) and she put me on the right path.
After I graduated college, my first job was as assistant dining director at a college. I worked there for 1 1/2 years and did a lot with catering and menu development. That is where I really became interested in food – dining at fine restaurants, discovering that I loved steak (via filet mignon), and tasting luxurious bordelaise sauce. I wanted to figure out how to make food taste that way. I read cookbooks and food magazines until the wee hours. One night, I saw an ad in the back of Gourmet magazine for the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. I called the next day and that same day drove to the school for a tour! Within weeks I signed up and just months later I moved to Scottsdale and began classes.
With both degrees, I thought I would become the head chef in a nice restaurant and even own my own restaurant one day. Then once out of school I soon discovered that working on holidays and weekend nights when everyone else was having fun was not for me. And I didn’t think it would be conducive to raising a family the way I envisioned. In 2003, I decided to start my own consulting business marrying both nutrition and cooking.
How great that your grandmother saw this interest in you and that you had good guidance at school. I wish I could remember the name of my college counselor who recommended dietetics when my chemistry major was not going well. I didn’t even know what dietetics was but he knew if I was good at science and wanted to work with people that dietetics would be right for me. As for culinary school it sounds like that was meant for you. You mentioned moving – but you went to college in Wisconsin, so moving to Scottsdale meant moving across the country, right?
After I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I knew I wanted to move somewhere warmer without the freezing winters. I was hired by Chartwells Dining Services (part of Compass Group) and was ready to move to San Francisco for a position. Due to their contract negotiations with an account there, plans changed at the last minute and they asked if I would be interested in moving to Tucson, Arizona! My bags were already packed and ready for the movers, so I thought, why not? Nearly two years later is when I decided to move to Scottsdale to attend culinary school.
Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
I firmly believe that food should taste good first and then be good for you. If you largely enjoy whole foods in their least processed state, and mostly fruits and vegetables, everything else will fall into place. Journalists have commented on how they like my realistic approach to combining delicious food with health. I get really excited helping people discover that food and health can deliciously co-exist, and that it can be simple and streamlined to prepare.
I agree and I’m so glad that more dietitians are embracing the culinary aspects of our field – after all, people should enjoy their food, just with health in mind. Can you tell us a little about how you developed your “brand”?
My brand has evolved over the years. I realized that I filled a gap in the need for culinary nutritionists, so I really highlighted this expertise that I had to offer, being both a nutrition expert and culinary expert. Social media played a large part in developing my brand. Blogging helped shape my writing voice and further extended my brand.
That’s really interesting to hear the role that social media has played in your brand and biz. Gives us RDs something to think about! What prompted you to start your blog and when did you start it? What is your motivation or what do you enjoy about it?
While I blogged here and there for various companies and for my own site, it was my participation in the SELF.com “Eat Like Me” blog-off that really catapulted me into blogging regularly. Then, The Arizona Republic took notice of the recipes on my blog and asked me to blog a weekly recipe that would also serve as my column in the paper and online.
I love writing my clean eating food blog. I wish I had time to do it every day. I just love sharing my thoughts, photos and news with the people in my online community and offering my perspective. I also love reading and responding to people’s comments.
What prompted you to write your new/first book Clean Eating for Busy Families?
For a long time, I knew I wanted to write a book, but I wasn’t exactly sure about what.
After I gave birth to Scarlet, I was sleep-deprived and completely overwhelmed. Before Scarlet, I was accustomed to cooking complex dinners with lots of ingredients and pans. After the first few months of Scarlet being born, I was tired of Chinese take-out, frozen dinners and the same old recipes. One day I was trying to figure out what would be yummy, exciting and healthy for dinner–my stovetop chicken curry recipe that required tending to. Instead, threw all of the ingredients into the slow cooker at once while Scarlet was napping that afternoon. That’s when I came up with the idea for a family cookbook. I knew there had to be other moms out there like me. Plus, any mom I talked to and tasted my food said, “You need to write a cookbook!” I wrote the idea on a Post-It note and stuck it onto the fridge.
Love it!! How/why did you decide to focus on “clean”?
The original title was The New Modern Moms Cookbook, about healthy, eco-friendly eating. My publisher Fair Winds Press really liked the proposal, but wanted to change the title to Clean Eating for Busy Families, which was totally fine with me. In fact, I loved it. The title is a perfect reflection of my original concept. Clean eating is a hot topic right now and people are hungry for “clean” recipes.
It’s so good to hear that the “sexy” title the publisher wants is sometimes just what you would have come up with yourself!
The book is absolutely gorgeous with tons of colorful photos! Tell us about developing all of those recipes and your vision for showing them in the book.
It’s such a coincidence that you ask that. I recently wrote a post about how my cookbook recipes are born.
My co-agent Sally Ekus gave me great advice, which was that recipe titles should make people feel excited to prepare the dish. So, I also assembled a panel of typical moms who cook for their families. All of the recipe titles were presented to moms and surveyed, and the most popular titles and concepts made it into the book. Then, my mom panel tested the recipes on their own families and many even got their whole family involved in the shopping and cooking process. It was fascinating discovering all of the factors that go into the final recipe results.
Wow! In a world where there are cookbooks that don’t even test the recipes – this is really great to hear! And I love the stories you tell along with each recipe and some cooking tips as well – tell us a little about how you decided what info to include in the book and how you went about compiling everything.
Readers really identify with stories. My recipe testers provided the hard data of evaluating how well the recipe worked for them, and then many of them also provided these great stories about how they enjoyed the recipe. The most unique stories made it into the book. Then, of course, I have many stories to share about these recipes, many of which I’ve been preparing for years.
A great tip I learned from Dorie Greenspan when hearing her speak, was to write the recipe headnote as soon as possible after making and eating the dish. That’s when the ideas, emotions, descriptors are flowing. So that is what I did and now always do.
Also, if there are any ingredients that might sound intimidating to some people, I wanted readers to feel rest assured that the ingredients are easy to find, simple to prepare and versatile in using in other dishes.
Fascinating. Thank you for giving us this sneak peek behind the scenes of your book! One more thing – I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet – do you have a favorite one or two that you suggest would be good to try first?
Pecan Crusted Chicken Tenders with Yogurt Dill Dip is definitely one of my favorites. They take like they are deep-fried, but are much healthier. Another favorite are my Oatmeal & Cherry Breakfast Cookies with Almonds.
Thanks – they look amazing and I can’t wait to try them! What other writing or media/communications do you specialize in? What do you enjoy most about it? How does social media help tie everything together?
I write a weekly recipe column for The Arizona Republic, which appears in their print edition, blog network and multi-media website.
I’m also a professional recipe developer and nutrition spokesperson. I spend a large portion of my time working with television, online and print media, pitching story ideas. It really energizes me knowing that my nutrition message can positively affect the lives of so many people. I really enjoy working as a nutrition spokesperson. Currently, I represent a variety of foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and milk, where I develop recipes, write articles, speak publicly, and appear in interviews.
Social media is fabulous for tying everything together and give it the longest life possible, allowing me to further spread my message and repurpose stories on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. It is especially fun to post behind-the-scenes footage leading up to media interviews. My fans seem to really enjoy this type of content.
Good to know! I’m a huge fan of “repurposing” – after all it is a lot of work and I love how social media helps you extend your reach and get more out of your efforts.
How have you been using those skills/outlets to promote your book?
In every single way possible. I use all social media outlets to post stories online. Content can go viral and it is always interesting to see what resonates most strongly with consumers. Pretty much anything I do that is related to clean eating or my book goes up on my social media. Some content appears on all media (like appearances) and some might just be appropriate for Twitter or Instagram (like a snap shot of what I’m eating in a cab on the way to an interview!).
I have to say – I haven’t dived into Instagram yet, but I love photography and I’ve seen some of your photos….and you are really talented!
What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to do nutrition communications like you?
More, more and more. Did I mention more?
More on-air practice, more media training, more time spent writing, and posting consistent, good-quality social media content. When the media calls, you must be available and meet deadlines or they will need to move on to the next willing candidate.
I am constantly looking for ways to improve on my media presence and am my toughest critic. I watch and re-watch my TV appearances. I attend writing workshops. And always picking up way to present my image in a professional, yet approachable way.
Great advice! What comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to your biz and nutrition communications?
Things that come naturally for me are sharing my thoughts on paper and in front of the camera. I have a lot to say and always have an opinion.
Over the years I have cultivated a very good palate and I am very comfortable creating new recipes and matching foods and flavors. My years of cooking experience in both professional and home settings, as well as my formal culinary training have provided a solid foundation in cooking technique, and I love passing that knowledge on to others. A big thrill is hearing from people who prepared my recipe in their kitchen and had delicious results.
Part of the deal of getting my newspaper recipe column was doing the photography. Oh yes, I do that, too. I’ve forced myself to step up my game in food and prop styling and I recently bought a good camera. I attended a food photography workshop that was presented at FNCE.
Like I said – you are a talented photographer! I guess that helps explain it. What is your number one tip for other RDs who want to follow in your footsteps?
The bigger the platform and exposure that you have, the better.
Please tell us more about what you mean by ‘platform’ – many RDs may not be familiar with this term.
Platform is the means by which you will promote your book, or how you are seen by your audience. It is how potential book buyers will know that your book even exists, such as writing for a newspaper, having a blog with a large following, appearing regularly on a television show, being the chef of a restaurant, or owner of a cooking school. The larger built-in audience you have, the more attractive you will look to a publisher. Having a large platform is also attractive to clients seeking a spokesperson or speaker. Once you have a book that also becomes part of your platform.
What are your top tips for other RDs who want to do other media/communications?
Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and get the tools you need to perform to your maximum potential.
Self-evaluating yourself as well as getting expert opinions on your performance is important if you want to improve.
Excellent! Please share one story/experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.
Oh, gosh, there are so many! Something that is top of mind right now is eliminating filler words on television, like, “you know”, “so” and “um”. Recently I did a satellite media tour and had to wake up at 2 a.m. to make a 3 a.m. call time and I was recovering from a bad head cold. When my energy levels began to waver after about the twelfth interview, that’s when the “you know’s” started cropping up. Being aware of those types of things is half the battle towards eliminating them.
A media expert suggested this to prevent saying the filler words: record yourself talking about a topic for 30 seconds and focus on just pausing instead of saying the filler word. Practicing this technique is one of my new year’s resolutions.
Thank you for addressing something that so many of us struggle with – and for sharing a way for us to improve. And speaking of doing TV interviews when you have a head cold – take it from me and try to lay off the zinc lozenges and decongestants when you’re going to be on TV. I did that once and my mouth and throat were so dry I didn’t think I would last the 3 minutes without grabbing a glass of water and chugging it!
A huge round of applause for Michelle – thank you for sharing your story and advice! Michelle is sharing something else, too…..She has generously donated a book to give away to one lucky reader!
One winner will receive a free copy of Clean Eating for Busy Families by Michelle Dudash, R.D.
To enter: Leave a comment below telling me your best idea for breaking into the media.
Giveaway ends at midnight CST on Monday, February 11, 2013. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 and Michelle’s publisher will mail the book.
Disclaimer: Winner will be contacted via the email address used to leave a comment on this blog post. Winner will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen. Open to US residents over the age of 18 only. No purchase necessary to enter. I was not compensated to write this post but I did receive a free copy of the cookbook. All opinions are my own.
Be sure to check out Michelle’s website and blog, “like” her facebook page, and follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Also – keep an eye out for what Michelle is sharing on the Tips & Resources page – coming soon!
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I’m the Guilt-Free RD® – “Because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!™”. So, on my Food for Thought blog I’m exploring the secret ingredients needed to enjoy your food with health in mind. I’m also a “Dietitian Enthusiast” so I’m showcasing interviews with dietitians. My “How To” Series shares practical advice to help boost communication skills and gain more visibility, influence and success.
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