An Interview with Paleo Chef Arsy Vartanian

The incomparable Arsy Vartanian of Rubies and Radishes

How did you come across the paleo diet?

Shortly after I started Cross Fit in 2008, a friend at the gym started talking about the paleo diet. Paleo was just starting to get popular in the Cross Fit scene at the time. Honestly, the first time I heard anyone talking about it, I thought it sounded weird to “eat like a caveman”. At the time, I had recently started following the protocol outlined in Dr. Frank Lipman’s book Spent. I soon realized that how I was eating wasn’t far off from paleo. It wasn’t exactly paleo, but fairly similar—no gluten, no sugar, no dairy. I had started feeling great. It was the first time in years that I had been headache free. So, as I learned more about paleo from one of my trainers and some friends at the gym, it seemed like the logical next step for me. Soon after, I started reading The Paleo Diet by Dr. Cordian. One chapter in and I was sold. A light bulb went off and I immediately understood the connection between nutrition and health. I haven’t been able to stop educating myself since.

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What is the biggest challenge with paleo eating?

Preparation.You really have to plan out what you are going to eat and cook ahead at first, especially if you lead a busy lifestyle. It takes commitment. But, after a while you get the hang of it and it becomes second nature.

What advice would you give to those new to the paleo diet?

Stick with it and don’t cheat at all for the first 2 weeks. My first Cross Fit trainer gave me this advice and it served me well. I found focusing on 2 weeks to be much less daunting than 30 days. After 2 weeks of clean eating, you start feeling so light and energized that it motivates you to keep eating this way and the following weeks become much easier. For some people, they experience the benefits immediately, but I have found that for most people it takes a couple of weeks.

What’s your favorite recipe in your book Paleo Slow Cooker? 

I love the Lamb Meatballs with the Cilantro-Mint Pesto. I love appetizers and I love condiments, so this is a perfect combo for me! The meatballs have a middle-eastern flair to them, which makes them more interesting than your classic meatballs.

What is your favorite ingredient to use?

Cumin by far! It has such a unique flavor. It adds depth to such a variety of dishes—from a classic chili to an Indian curry. I even use it in my chimichurri.

Why slow cooking? 

We are very busy. We both work full-time and now have a young baby. The slow cooker is so convenient. I can prep ingredients the evening before and start the slow cooker before I head to the office. When we return in the evening, we have a delicious meal ready to go. Another thing I love about the slow cooker is that it’s a great way to increase the amount of grass-fed meat in our diets. Premium cuts of grass-fed steak such as filet and rib-eye are pricey and are definitely not everyday eats around here. But inexpensive tough cuts such as roasts are very affordable. By slow cooking, these tough cuts of meat become tender and tasty. In short, it’s healthy, convenient and simple! The perfect combo for any busy person trying to follow a paleo diet.

How many slow cookers do you have?

I own 2, but I borrowed many more from family, friends, and neighbors while I was testing recipes. It was interesting to see how different slow cookers worked; some cooked more evenly than others. But, honestly for the vast majority of recipes this wasn’t an issue. What I learned is that even budget-friendly slow cookers worked really well!

How do you create your recipes?  

We belong to a both a meat CSA & a vegetable CSA. Often I develop recipes around what we received that week. The veggies come from a local farm and are picked that day or the day before. I am usually creating recipes around what is in season and available in Santa Cruz at the moment. I also look for inspiration everywhere. I love ethnic cuisine. I sometimes try to recreate meals I have had while traveling or I jump on an opportunity to ask a friend questions about their native cuisine. I even get inspired by other people’s travels. If a friend just got back from another country, I always ask about what they ate.

What is (or who is) your biggest food inspiration?

Early on, it was my grandma, mom, and aunts. They cooked amazing meals from scratch daily. My grandma used to even make fruit leather for us, which my aunt does now. I learned from them that it always tastes best when you make it yourself. Currently my inspiration is Anthony Bourdain. I have read several of his books lately. I love how adventurous of an eater he is and how he appreciates all good food, be it ethnic, a hole in the wall joint, or classic fine dining. Although, he is not by any means a paleo chef, he cooks with whole ingredients, so many of the recipes in his cookbook are paleo by default.

Walk me through an average day in the life of Arsy. 

I’ll take you through my most favorite day—Saturday. These tend to be the most slow-paced and relaxed for me. We wake up early, basically whenever the baby wakes, so around 6:30. Sip coffee, hang out with the baby, catch up on emails and blogs. We then tend to make a huge late breakfast—almost always eggs, some meat (bacon, steak or sausage), avocado, sauerkraut, and a fruit salad. After breakfast we try to get outdoors if the weather is nice. We are so lucky to live in Santa Cruz, and within 5 minutes we can be hiking in the redwoods or along the coast. Saturday lunches are usually quick—either leftovers or a favorite go-to, which lately is smoked salmon and avocado wrapped in nori. I love spending the afternoon in the yard. Our daughter is 7 months old and loves playing under the magnolia tree. I usually hang out with her in the sunshine for a while and then get some work done on my blog while she plays. Saturday night is my favorite evening to cook. It feels leisurely, I’m not tired from a full day of work and I am not trying to get ready for the upcoming week. It’s nice to sip a glass of wine and take your time making dinner; this is usually when I will make something more elegant like a duck confit.

Sunday is my prep-day. I go crazy in the kitchen on Sunday. On any given Sunday, I might have 2 slow cookers going, a SousVide and a Le Creuset on the stove top. Sometimes my mom comes over and helps me on Sundays. She acts as my sous-chef, prep cook, and dishwasher. Basically, helping with everything and anything. The Sundays that I have her help are the best! After we are done cooking, I take photos (if needed), put food in containers for the next few days, and vacuum seal and freeze the rest!

Want to try out Arsy’s Duck with Yams recipe? It’s right here for you. And I’ll be sharing her favorite recipe, Lamb Meatballs with Cilantro-Mint Pesto, tomorrow!

Preorder your copy of Paleo Slow Cooker today!

Arsy Vartanian (Santa Cruz, CA) is a foodie and paleo diet success story herself. Her blog Rubies and Radishes (formerly 30 Days of Paleo) features tasty and inventive meals for those paleo obsessed. She is also doing Cross Fit like many of her fellow paleo dieters.

The paleo diet has been the latest health movement, taking the low carb diet a step further by eliminating grains and legumes and eating only lean, grass-fed meat. In short, they consume only what was available to ancient humans or cavemen. The theory says that by eating what human bodies were designed to eat, people will be healthier, have fewer illnesses, and lose weight. In many cases, paleo diet consumers are also fueling their P90X or Cross Fit exercise routines, the two most popular fitness regimes in the country. The health benefits have been supported by major studies. This is a popular trend much like the low carb diet. It is combined with the great bookselling topic of slow cooking. While the cavemen didn’t have slow cookers, they certainly used slow cooking techniques over fires which make the meals in this book one step closer to the origins and theory behind the diet. The delicious dishes are as homey as they are healthy—and ready when you are.