A few mayors' penchants for multicolored produce and preparing foods that are healthy are ripe for this year's annual Mayors' Healthy Cook-Off.

Tim Flaherty is already familiar with cooking for a crowd. He recalls his San Francisco boyhood and the delectable large family meals prepared by his Italian mother.

The Pleasant Hill mayor recently served his family a meal with grilled vegetables as a centerpiece, catering to his daughter's vegan diet; while Moraga's Mayor Ken Chew and his family routinely feast on wild-caught fish, free-range poultry and all things organic.

"We can play an important part in highlighting the importance of healthy eating," says Chew.

Starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 31, other local politicos and chefs -- with recent graduates of Mt. Diablo High School's Sustainable Hospitality Pathway serving as their sous chefs -- will join Flaherty and Chew at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, where they will concoct meals from a mystery bag of well-balanced ingredients surrounded by the farmer's market.

Jim Diaz, who serves on the Clayton City Council, comes to the table with no formal training, but a robust appetite for greens. Still, he's not daunted by the prospect of creating a nutrition-packed menu, instead relying on his culinary cohort's ability to tastefully pair foods.


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"It's important to have partnerships at all levels, from our political leaders to community health and nutrition education representatives, to ensure the public has the tools necessary to make informed decisions," says Pamela Singh, executive director of the sponsoring Walnut Creek-based Wellness City Challenge.

The cooking challenge continues to further the cause of advocating for healthier food alternatives in the local schools, such as Mt. Diablo's culinary program that has transformed fast-food fanatics into fans of such fare as ratatouille and tabbouleh.

Graduating senior Cyndy Gomez, who returns as a sous chef in this year's cook-off, is one of the students whose taste buds flourished as a result of what she gleaned in that program.

Her prior diet of eating solely Mexican cuisine has expanded, and she is now well-versed in using staples from other cultures.

"I learned how to feed myself ... and eventually for a family of my own," says Gomez, who will attend UC Davis.

"We're leading by example ... (This event is) addressing the same principles as these youth are experiencing in the schools," says Flaherty. "Frankly, it should be the other way around ... Something needs to be done."

Meanwhile, Concord's Mayor Tim Grayson, who refers to himself as a "self-taught weekend warrior cook," has firsthand experience with the benefits of eating a wholesome diet and the ensuing enhanced sense of taste -- and correlates a healthy populace with an overall vibrant community.

Grayson characterizes his approach to the upcoming competition as merely "letting the ingredients speak for themselves."

And, Martinez Mayor Rob Schroeder is participating for the sixth year, referring to himself as a "horrible cook but a good consumer," and each time taking on the role of slicing, dicing and taking direction.

"(The cook-off) is promoting healthy cooking and healthy eating, and it's all just friendly competition ... in a fun venue," he says.

if you go
WHAT: Sixth annual Mayors' Healthy Cook-off Challenge, with mayors or city leaders from across Contra Costa County cooking with professional chefs from their respective cities
WHEN: Thursday, July 31. Prep starts at 4 p.m., cooking at 4:30 p.m., and judging at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Todos Santos Plaza, at Willow Pass Road and Grant Street, downtown Concord
INFORMATION: Visit www.wellnesscitychallenge.org