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Healthy Pastrami & Other Makeovers

Los Angeles-based personal chef Nicki Reiss helps celebrities like Damon Dash eat well with dishes that seem indulgent but aren't.

The first day Nicki Reiss worked for hip-hop mogul Damon Dash, she emptied everything in his pantry into the trash. "It was all powdered cheese and other processed foods. Things I'd never wish upon anyone," recalls the personal-chef-to-the-stars. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and working in New York City for chefs Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Reiss moved to Los Angeles and catered a party for Capitol Records. That gig led her to other celebrity clients, including Mariah Carey and Billy Bob Thornton. "People put their trust in me to cook wholesome food that actually tastes like food," Reiss says. "There's always a way to make something healthier."

Celebrity Dish

Damon Dash is a huge fan of Nicki Reiss's low-cholesterol version of chocolate-coconut mousse, which gets richness from avocado and soft tofu instead of cream. The avocado also provides lots of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.

Billy Bob Thornton doesn't eat shellfish, wheat or dairy, so Reiss often uses spelt flour in his favorite dishes, like smoked-chicken gnocchi. He also prefers organic, sulfite-free wines such as Frey Vineyards Merlot and LaRocca Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ewan McGregor hired Reiss to cater a dinner party, where her healthy menu included dishes like bruschetta topped with wood-roasted vegetables from the Los Angeles farmers' markets and Humboldt Fog goat cheese. Reiss also prepared baked (not fried) spring rolls, wrapping nori around vegetables and almonds.

Chef Nicki Reiss's Healthy Habits

Yummy moisturizer I love Bee Yummy Skin Food from Live Live & Organic, an organic moisturizer that's just delicious for your skin ($24 for 2 oz; live-live.com).

Trampoline workouts I jump on a trampoline for 10 to 15 minutes every morning. It makes me feel happy and a bit naughty, and it's easy on my joints.

Hot yoga I've been practicing Bikram [hot yoga] for five years. It gives me energy, and I love to sweat—that's why I'm a chef!

Organic eating I always look at the sticker labels on fruit: The numbers tell you how the fruit was grown. Conventionally grown fruit has four digits; organically grown has five and starts with a nine; genetically engineered has five numbers and starts with an eight.

Published April 2006
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