One of the few professional chefs in the U.S. who is also a registered dietitian, Cheryl Forberg strongly believes you don’t have to sacrifice flavor to eat well, and that eating well can change your life.
• Co-wrote the eating plan for NBC's long-running hit show “The Biggest Loser” and shared cooking and nutrition tips with contestants and viewers for 17 seasons
• Graduated from California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and apprenticed in 3-Michelin-star restaurant in France
• Earned a BS in nutrition and RD credential from UC Berkeley
• Wrote or contributed to all of the books in the NYT best-selling “The Biggest Loser” series
• Former research dietitian at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles
• Named one of America's 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness
• Won a James Beard Foundation Award for healthy recipe development
• Celebrity private chef
• Fitness routine includes gardening, hiking, and CrossFit
Empowering Home Cooks to Eat Well and Thrive
Six months into life on a 40-acre farm in Northern California, Cheryl Forberg doesn’t yet have a fully functional kitchen, but she’s making do. She and her husband moved from a one-acre property in Napa to a fixer-upper on land they intend to plant with vegetables, fruit trees, and vineyards. “We enjoyed the one acre so much, and the garden, that we decided to kick it up a notch,” she says.
Forberg’s low-key manner contrasts with the splashy intensity of “The Biggest Loser,” the long-running NBC series she’s served as a chef and nutritionist for since its inception in 2004. But whether working with a reality television show or a more straight-laced health publication, Forberg marries her scientific and culinary backgrounds to create enticing, accessible recipes for wellness in the long game.
Growing up in Minnesota, Forberg wasn’t exposed to the various global spice blends she now loves so much, but she was surrounded by people who modeled eating and cooking as a shared social experience. In the summer, she enjoyed the produce of family members’ abundant Midwestern gardens. “We’d have whatever was ready,” she says, “green beans or corn on the cob, tomatoes, lots and lots of cucumbers.”
Forberg was drawn to cooking from a young age. “I always loved reading cookbooks, and my grandmothers were both great cooks. Even when I was little I’d taste something my aunt had made and ask for the recipe. I’d transcribe it on a card and started my own recipe box.”
“My mom went back to work when we were young, and my sisters didn’t like cooking, so I would make dinner after school or quick breads and coffee cakes on the weekends. I learned about the great gratification I got from making everybody happy,” she says.
After graduating from college, Forberg worked as a flight attendant, a job that exposed her to unfamiliar cuisines. “I used to fly around the world. I’d go to India twice a month. Coming from Minnesota, where you grow up on Wonder Bread and iceberg lettuce, it was a real epiphany.”
Eventually she followed the pull to do more with her love of cooking and applied to the culinary academy in San Francisco. Though she spent time cooking internationally and helped open Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Postrio, she knew restaurant life was not for her. “I like doing my own thing,” says Forberg. Gradually she transitioned to working full-time as a private chef for high-profile clients.
Those jobs nudged Forberg to consider the nutrition angle. “All of my clients had some kind of dietary restrictions, whether it was lower sugar, lower salt, lower fat. At that time, there weren’t many chefs that knew about nutrition. And there weren’t many dietitians that knew about cooking. I wanted to legitimize what I was doing with a nutrition degree.”
“The Biggest Loser” presented a different dynamic. “I realized our contestants personified overweight America,” she says. “With my private chef jobs, my clients were people who thought they needed to lose weight but probably didn’t need to. When I got the show, weight and health concerns were extremely serious: little to no exercise, way too many calories from beverages, little to no whole grain consumption, and not really taking the time to cook meals and sit down and enjoy them with the family.”
Enabling contestants to make major lifestyle changes was no simple task, but Forberg was not intimidated. “Had I not been a chef first, it probably would have been challenging. I had been modifying recipes for quite some time. It was the first time I got to integrate my unique skill set and implement it—a perfect fit.”
In her approach, Forberg emphasizes what you can have as much as what you can’t. “You can still have steak,” she says, “but you’re not going to have it heavily marbled with fat. With a dry rub or a simple sauce, it can be just as delicious and satisfying.”
She also converts vegetable skeptics to vegetable lovers. “Some people have grown up not having vegetables, or having them ill-prepared: overcooked, underseasoned. One of the first things I do is give a cooking class on vegetables. In an hour or less I’ll show them how to make ten different things that are really easy: caramelizing an onion, roasting a bell pepper, grilling an eggplant.”
Forberg is deeply aware that chefs can lose sight of how comparatively small the average American’s culinary comfort zone is. “I remember taking the contestants on the show on a grocery store tour. We went to the onions and garlic and shallots, and somebody said, ‘Oh my God, that’s a shallot? Every time I saw a shallot in a recipe in a cookbook, I’d just turn the page.’ You can’t intimidate people when they’re trying to learn how to cook. I tell them to take a class, go online, read, be inspired. Start with simple recipes. Build your confidence and you’re more likely to try more challenging things.”
For now, Forberg’s challenge is to finish getting her new home kitchen together. Then she can move on to what’s outside, and the wonderful possibilities of growing vegetables on all that land. “I always like to say my favorite thing is ‘picking dinner’—going to the garden and getting whatever’s ready.” Soon enough, Forberg will get the garden going, and be picking dinner once again.
Peppery watercress is a welcome change from lettuce in this salad of many textures and flavors