Jeremy Bringardner practiced speed-cooking for weeks after he was picked to compete on “Chopped,” the Food Network’s wildly successful show where chefs race the clock to wow a panel of expert judges.
“I sat down and watched the episodes of ‘Chopped’ over and over and over, and as soon as they revealed the ingredients, I’d press pause and set a timer for two minutes,” said Bringardner, an executive chef at LYFE Kitchen, among the latest entries in Southern Nevada’s healthy eating scene. “I had two minutes to come up with the dish I was going to cook.”
After a week, he narrowed his planning time to a minute, then 30 seconds. He drew a map of the food pantry where “Chopped” chefs get their ingredients and did yoga to clear his mind. On the way to the studio, he thought of possible mystery basket ingredients, which the chefs must use to make appetizers, main courses and desserts.
Bringardner brought the same focus and passion to Henderson. He is part of the executive team that helped blossom LYFE Kitchen, a natural and organic eatery that opened
July 9 at the District at Green Valley Ranch. LYFE stands for “Love Your Food Everyday.”
“LYFE Kitchen is all about great tasting, good-for-you foods, and bringing it to the masses in an affordable, fun, convenient and exciting way,” Bringardner said.
Chefs try to keep meals at fewer than 600 calories each. The sodium content and calorie counts are prominent on menus, which are organized by dietary needs, such as vegan, vegetarian and gluten free. The average order costs about $12 per person for lunch and $15 for dinner, General Manager Mike Mitchell said.
“Your quality of life is directly related to your food choices,” said Bringardner, who studied culinary nutrition at Johnson & Wales University.
LYFE Kitchen is one of a growing number of national quick-service restaurants that focus on health and sustainability. The chain began the year with four restaurants and expects to end 2014 with at least 13 locations nationally.
Its growth reflects the rise of health-conscious and “locavore” dining across the country. The National Restaurant Association’s “Top 25 Table Service Menu Trends for 2014” is dominated by locally sourced meat and seafood, locally grown produce and nutritional meals for children.
“There has been an increasing number of restaurant concepts out there that are focusing on nutrition, as well as farm-to-table inspired concepts,” said Annika Stensson, senior manager of research communications for the restaurant association.
Operators are answering customers’ call. Sixty-four percent of adults say they prefer restaurants with locally produced food, and 84 percent of restaurant operators say their customers are increasingly interested in nutrition, the association found.
Bringardner credits increased attention on obesity and the rise of foodie culture with encouraging Americans to focus on their diets.
LYFE Kitchen has been recognized nationally, not just for its food but for the juggernauts behind its rapid expansion and image.
Bringardner, who joined the company more than four years ago as a consultant, is one of two executive chefs nationally. The other is Art Smith, former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey. Tal Ronnen, author of “The Conscious Cook,” is the vegan-consulting chef. CEO Mike Roberts is a former global president of McDonald’s Corp.
The restaurant’s design also emanates “good for you,” with a vertical garden packed with spearmint, lemongrass, marjoram and other herbs. Inspirational quotes painted on the walls encourage patrons to “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”
The restaurant’s appearance is meant to send the message that operators value nutrition and locally grown ingredients, Chief Brand and Communications Officer Mike Donahue said.
“We don’t want to be preachy,” he said. “We want you to feel it.”
Donahue shied away from the term “healthy,” saying it’s too often used to describe inferior-tasting foods.
“We want to debunk the myth that nutritious and better for you don’t taste good,” he said.
Everything from LYFE Kitchen’s dishes to patio space is designed to make customers feel like they’re not at a typical fast-food place. But many of the menu options feel familiar, albeit with a twist. Quinoa buttermilk pancakes, for example, offer customers a familiar dish with lighter, more nutritious ingredients.
About 40 percent of the chain’s food costs come from vegetable purchases, and the menu features relatively uncommon ingredients, such as organic tofu and black rice.
By all accounts, the LYFE chain seems to be a success. But was Bringardner on “Chopped”?
During the taping — the episode aired May 13 — Bringardner used his breaks to stretch and focus. His Asian-inspired appetizer used a salty, 100-year egg in a Vietnamese sauce. He prepared a pan-seared halibut as an entrée, incorporating the curveball ingredient, mango custard, into a light butter sauce. He transformed sea-buckthorn juice into a sorbet for dessert.
And after three rounds of critiques and competition, Bringardner was a champion.