Dan Churchill was always destined to have a fledging career in food. Not only did he self publish his own book DudeFood by age 19, last year he appeared on Australia’s MasterChef where he demonstrated his creative and no-nonsense cooking approach. Dan’s love of good health extends beyond the kitchen with a Masters in Exercise Science also to his name. As a trainer and consultant, Dan works with some of Australia’s top athletes to educate them on fitness and good health. With his eyes now fixated on opportunities in the US and beyond, I spoke with Dan about all things food and what we can expect to see next from The Healthy Cook.
When it comes to eating I think its important to be realistic and not put into action something for 12 weeks, but rather practice something that is sustainable for the rest of your life.
How would you describe your personal philosophy towards food?
Well my number one rule is everything must be delicious. You never sacrifice anything for taste and I don’t want someone thinking they have to put unflavoured meat into their mouth to remain healthy…that’s just not on.
I have this strong connection with what food does for us. Not just in terms of preventing grumpiness (I call that #hangry) but when we eat we generally do it with friends and family. It forces us to have conversations. The power of food helps us form positive relationships and keeps us happy. When it comes to eating I think it’s important to be realistic and not put into action something for 12 weeks, but rather practice something that is sustainable for the rest of your life.
As a foodie, what are your favourite types of food?
I grew up in an Italian culture so pasta and gnocchi alike were the things I first learned to devour! They are still so close to home.
I definitely go through phases. For example I have just returned from the US for work and loved my American BBQ along with Mexican. But there are also plenty of European cuisines that I find so amazing; Thai and Indian too.
How would you describe your personal cooking style?
I definitely love taking a classic dish and turning it into something healthier, or more specifically something of a paleo foundation whilst still keeping as much authenticity as possible. For example, paleo carbonara, toasties, curries, etc. I still make burgers for the boys every so often and of course there is the rare occasion where I will make pasta from scratch for some traditional spaghetti bolognaise. But more or less I challenge myself to recreate classic dishes so that people can do the same back in their own kitchen.
What are your top five essential ingredients in your kitchen?
As a well-known Australian personality, how do you balance good health while juggling a busy lifestyle?
People do often ask me how the hell do I find the time to keep fit? It’s actually quite simple. Before I schedule my working week I have already booked in my training. So although I may be busy, part of my busy lifestyle does not sacrifice my health. It’s the same when I travel; before I leave I research local gyms and eating destinations that tickle my fancy. That way when I rock up in another country my routine is still somewhat kept.
The same goes for my eating habits. Days when I know I will be hectic I cook ahead and take it with me. If I’m in another city or country you can always find something with protein and quality carbs and fats. It’s also important to experience new cultures and I am never shy of that when it comes to my food. A lot of it comes down to motivation. For me I train as I feel the mental benefits for being healthy. I don’t go to the gym or do stair sprints to look great, I do it because I know it will keep me energetic for meetings, blogs and most importantly keep me happy…because at the end of the day happiness is the key to health.
During your recent and current trip to the US you have met some incredible people and places. Can you tell us about your most memorable cooking and dining experiences over there?
I was fortunate to meet some amazing people who I have now forged some epic relationships with.
To be honest when it comes to cooking/dining experiences for me a lot of it is based not just around the food but the company or the layout of the restaurant you are dining in. For example on one of my nights I went to this place called “HomeTown BBQ” which was your typical Kansas City / Texas BBQ Pit down in Brooklyn, but it also had the culture of the south with a live band. Everyone was wearing cowboy hats, flannelette jackets and singlets alike. It just made the experience that much better. I sat down with a dear friend of mine and the food just topped it off. We had Beef Short Rib, lamb belly, brisket, pork baby back ribs… soooo awesome.
Cooking has been something you have shared with your family since you were young. What’s some of your favourite family meals that you enjoy together?
It’s funny – some of my earliest memories revolve around those Italian favourites like Spaghetti Bolognaise (which I claim to have the best haha). Dad has always done an amazing Chilli Con Carne – it’s actually his thing every Sunday night. When I left home it was one of the things I missed the most (apart from my mum of course!) so much so that every Sunday I either went back home or I made it for my mates.
Being from Sydney’s northern beaches we are big on seafood. There was always plenty of prawn dishes, seafood marinara and various assortments of fish. Mum nails a roast lamb and her salads are seriously epic! I secretly think it’s because she puts so much avo in, but we never complain they are that good.
What exactly is ‘Dudefood’? How would you describe it?
Well the genre of Dudefood in the cooking world is based around American-Asian dirty grub i.e. burgers, hot dogs, wings etc. But my first book was more indicative of the context and scenario. I was building a book specifically targeted at males – those who wanted to cook but didn’t know how and were intimidated to get involved. The perfect housewarming gift.
My mates kept asking me for recipes so they could impress the girlfriends. After a while whilst typing away on the computer on my floor, I realized I was putting a book together and a couple of months, 4 days of shooting and an epic graphic designer later I had self published my very first book. It’s not based around breakfast, lunch and dinner, but rather guy-friendly scenarios eg. sandwiching the gym, The Hangover Cure, How to Impress a Girl… you know all the important ones!
Your book ‘DudeFood’ is set to be published in the US. Tell us about what’s next for The Healthy Cook and DudeFood?
That is seriously a great question. DudeFood is awesome and so different to a lot of things I have been a part of. The Healthy Cook justifies my lifestyle and what I like to teach. The Healthy Cook has actually been picked up by Simon & Schuster Australia and will be re-released over Christmas. In terms of the US and the rest of the world, you are going to see a lot of my books fit into that category, regardless of the title. My goal has always been to be The Healthy Cook of the world.
What’s your favourite ‘go-to’ healthy snack or meal at home?
It definitely goes through phases and is influenced by the seasons, but right now it’s something on my paleo bread. For example my paleo toastie or smoked salmon with avocado on toasted paleo bread, or even simply almond butter spread on top. I love spiced almonds or even cayenne cashews.
What does a typical day on Dan Churchill’s plate look like?
Usually it starts with an almond and banana butter bowl; by early morning a 3-egg omelette; lunch is usually leftovers which last night was green masala curry; some nuts in the afternoon and then salmon with broccoli pesto or perhaps a miso butter.
Lately I have been intermittent fasting, just to try something different, but that’s generally a day on Dan Churchill’s plate.
What are some of your favourite restaurants / cafes and what do you like about them?
To be honest cafes are where I work so I have definitely done my research on my favourite places.
I’m not just saying this because I am their ambassador but THR1VE is honestly one of my favourite lunch time spots. It has the tastiest smoothies with names like cookies and cream that are seriously really healthy. But the best things are their diverse range of bowls. My favourite is the salmon with avo, spiced broccoli and greens.
My local cafe is Zubi Expresso in Narrabeen. You will see me in there for at least three hours, five mornings a week on the computer. They have the best coffee and I know I’m getting the best because if they aren’t happy with it, it’s not being put in front of me. They do such a good acai bowl too.
Showbox in Manly is epic; it has a great breakfast/brunch menu from the Protein Plate to Tuna Poke.
Market Lane Cafe near the corso (Manly) does a really good piccolo latte with coconut milk.
Jo & Willy’s Depot on the North side of Bondi is one of my favourites; great staff, food and coffee.
Don’t ask me about dinner you won’t have enough time…
Visit Dan’s website for more information about his cookbook range.
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