SERVING WITH THOSE WHO SERVED
With Veterans Day on Nov. 11, we take a look at chef and veteran Sean Walsh who teaches fellow vets to cook healthily.
WRITTEN BY SUE EDMONDSON
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO
Chef Sean Walsh is demonstrating knife-sharpening skills to participants in his cooking class. At one point he says, “Oops,” and someone comments that it’s not a good thing to say that when handling a knife.
“It’s OK to say in the kitchen, but not so great when it’s in the operating room, and the person saying it is the surgeon removing shrapnel from your neck,” Walsh says.
A few students laugh; others nod in agreement. That’s the first time it’s apparent that this is no ordinary cooking class.
Kitchen boot camp
Walsh is a registered dietitian and certified sous chef, making him one of only about 100 professionals in the country to have this combination of credentials. He also is a veteran, and today he is teaching the first of eight weekly cooking classes at the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System center in Reno. The course is the newest addition to a comprehensive healthy lifestyle program for veterans. This series, the Healthy Teaching Kitchens class, is designed to provide the basics of meal management such as shopping, planning, nutrition, and preparation. Each class has a different focus — he covers everything from soups and stews to sustainability, cheap meals, and cuts of meat. Organics, food safety, and cooking methods all are part of the curriculum.
“My goal is to show people you can easily make food that tastes good and is good for you,” he says. “I’m a foodie. If I don’t love to eat it, I’m not going to make it.”
Different kind of fight
During class, the nine men and three women joke with Walsh as he preps the vegetables for a salad with military precision. They poke fun at every branch of the armed forces, which all are represented in the group. Walsh served in the Marine Corps until a knee injury ended his career.
“The fact that I’m a veteran creates an instant rapport with the people who take my classes,” Walsh says. “I try to get here a half hour early so I have time to talk with everyone. It helps newcomers feel more comfortable.”
Many of the participants know Walsh from the VA’s weight-management program, MOVE, for which Walsh gives cooking demonstrations and doles out nutrition information. One of these MOVE participants is Ron Ramynke, a Navy veteran and type 2 diabetic.
“Sean makes cooking fun, and I’ve learned so much,” Ramynke says. “Just by changing my cooking habits and exercising, I’ve lost 25 pounds and I’m off the meds.”
Dave Petersen, a Vietnam-era Army veteran, had a heart attack in 2012. That was incentive enough to enlist in MOVE. Now, 40 pounds lighter and six pants sizes smaller, he’s in class to round out his education.
“The two courses work well together,” Petersen says. “MOVE teaches you why you should eat it, and Sean teaches you how to make it.”
Walsh hopes to start more programs — he’s recently taken his course on the road to the VA outpatient clinic in Fallon. Next on his list of goals is a hands-on cooking class.
“It’s how I learned,” he says. “Like my mentor, chef Joe Eidem, says, ‘You taught yourself how to cook, and I showed you how to do it right.’”
Freelancer Sue Edmondson writes for various Nevada and California publications. She feels privileged to have shared stories and food with chef Walsh and the veterans in his class.
(courtesy of chef Sean Walsh. Serves 8)
“I couldn’t think of a name for this salad,” Walsh says. “I ‘had to call’ it something, so that’s what I did. It only has three basic ingredients. Add a little of whatever else is in the ,fridge.”
1 six-ounce container nonfat sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
1 packet ranch salad dressing mix
Optional salad ingredients include:
½ yellow onion
1 to 2 tomatoes
3 celery stalks
1 chili pepper
Fresh garlic, mashed, to taste
½ bell pepper
5 green onions
5 fresh basil leaves
Dice vegetables. Drain and rinse beans. Use flat-edged utensil to mash most of beans until chunky. Put all items in bowl and sprinkle salad mix on top. Add sour cream or Greek yogurt and mix. Add more sour cream or yogurt to reach desired consistency. Enjoy!