People to Know 2018: Tom Valenti
When he was first approached to write a diabetes-friendly cookbook, Tom Valenti recognized the responsibility he was undertaking. “My first two cookbooks were egomaniacal chef, shoot from the hip, with pounds of salt and butter everywhere,” says Tom, who learned his craft during an internship at the Michelin-starred Guy Savoy restaurant in Paris before cementing his reputation at New York City establishments such as The West Branch and Gotham Bar and Grill. “I said, ‘Okay, if I’m going to do a diabetes- and heart-friendly cookbook, I’d better do my homework.’ ”
Tom learned he had diabetes in 2001, soon after opening his signature restaurant, Ouest. By then, he was already focused on turning out more health-conscious fare, so he was confident in his ability to manage the condition. Still, when he began outlining his diabetes cookbook six years later, he consulted a nutritionist to fact-check every detail. Recipes incorporate fresh ingredients whenever possible but also utilize Tom’s studied techniques to create diabetes-friendly food without sacrificing flavor.
“I looked at the implementation of acids—citrus, vinegars, things like that—and textural contrasts. Soft versus crunchy; hot versus cold—interesting combinations I’ve always applied,” he says. As a result, You Don’t Have to Be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook: 250 Amazing Dishes for People With Diabetes and Their Families and Friends, coauthored by Andrew Friedman (Workman Publishing Co., 2009), includes recipes for dishes such as Almond-Crusted Mahi-Mahi, Braised Duck Legs With Egg Noodles, and Sautéed Chicken With Tangy Mushroom Sauce. Not your average diabetes fare.
Tom opened his latest New York City restaurant, Oxbow Tavern, earlier this year on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The focus is on French-influenced American fare, but Tom has also incorporated a menu he calls Simply Grilled, a selection of entrées that go straight from grill to plate. “It’s easy to identify for people with diabetes because of the absence of sauce or starch or carbs,” he says.
He also recognizes that eating out is an occasional splurge for most people, so flavor remains a top priority: “I’m charging a lot of money for people to walk away with a big smile on their face and a big, full tummy.”
Sam Talbot was the founding executive chef at The Surf Lodge in Montauk, New York. He appeared as a semifinalist on Bravo’s Top Chef in 2006 and is the author of two cookbooks, including The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, he cofounded the nonprofit Beyond Type 1.