Mexican Chef Aquiles Chávez with Boyle Heights youth.
The somber cafeteria at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights is perhaps the last place in Los Angeles you would expect to find Aquiles Chavez, the high profile, Mexican celebrity chef that has his own show on the Utilisima
network (Mexico’s equivalent to the Food Network). But last week, the Mexico City-born chef that sports dreadlocks and a handlebar mustache was called to duty in the battle against obesity and diabetes awareness in East Los Angeles.
The battle for health consciousness in this part of town has been relentless since it was first declared a “food desert” last year, calling in such moneyed campaigns as liquor store health-ifications. Last Thursday’s effort was privately sponsored by Avocados from Mexico and White Memorial’s medical services. The Mexican produce organization underwrites $15,000 annually for the not-for-profit, faith-based, teaching hospital’s “Healthy Eating Lifestyle Program,” which buys a week-long, avocado intensive menu for the hospital’s regular cafeteria and community workshops such as this one.
Starting them out young
The interactive all-Spanish workshop started at 4 p.m. and taught children, local families and nurses on their lunch break how to make low-sugar avocado preparations in dessert. A group of six young children acted as the chef’s helpers as he prepared a quick avocado-fruit salad sweetened with honey and lime, and an avocado-banana ice cream sundae. Chavez urged his fellow immigrant compatriot parents to “go back to basics,” alluding to return to their healthful Mexican diet back in Mexico filled with unprocessed, whole foods. However, the stiff Americanized Mexican audience proved to be a tough crowd for the amusing Mexican chef. At times, he put the parents of the children helpers on the spot, by asking them what foods they fed their first wave Mexican American children at home. The helping kids’ faces turned strawberry-red when Chavez asked them similar questions in Spanish, their first, unpracticed language.
White Memorial employees learning about diabetes prevention on their break.
César Espinoza with his 5-year-old daughter Melody and 11 year old son Nicolás.
César Espinoza immigrated to Boyle Heights from Ciudad Juárez in 1985, he’s been a resident of Boyle Heights ever since. His wife regularly attends the hospital’s workshops through their “Iglesia Hispanoamericana Partnership” and had informed César about the workshop since it was his turn to pick up the kids from school. He argues “they are plenty of healthy foods and workshops available in the neighborhood, but the community doesn’t use it.” When asked about his diet, he pridefully admits to eating “comidas caseras,” Mexican home-cooked dishes that are often slow cooked, centered on complex carbs, legumes and moderate amounts of meat.
White Memorial Hospital’s Executive Chef Veronica Rodriguez
The hospital’s new executive chef Veronica Rodriguez prepped all of the fruits for chef Chavez and has also been hosting free vegan cooking workshops every Friday since she started. “People are receptive,” she says. Rodriguez is not vegan herself but wanted to create a healthier menu that reflects the health-giving properties of a hospital. So far, the West Covina native that has Cuban roots has introduced a vegan chocolate cake as one of the hospital’s weekly offerings.
Is all this enough to change lifelong eating habits? Only the growing generations of Latino-Americans will tell.
Chef Aquiles Chavez’s Helado de Aguacate y Banana (Banana-Avocado Ice Cream)
1 lb of Ripe Avocado
Sugar to taste
Cinnamon to taste
Oreo Cookies (crushed)
Combine ripe avocado flesh, banana, sugar and cinnamon and freeze until completely frozen. together. Place ingredients in a food processor and blend until completely smooth. Serve immediately and garnish with whipped cream and crushed oreos.
Banana-Avocado Ice CreamPaola Briseño contributed to this article