Last week former Dallas chef Calvin Harris stopped into his hometown to talk about his new line of products, The Biggest Loser/Simply Sensible. Harris visited the D Magazine offices where he spent time with intern Kelsy McCraw.
Chef Calvin Harris was born and raised in Dallas, but he now lives in Miami. Since we are in the midst of the fiery rivalry between the two cities, I had to ask the former “Colonel of South Garland High School” who he was rooting for in the NBA finals.
“I’m trying to figure out how to brainwash my son in Miami, but I don’t think I’m going to get him off the Heat, he’s just too involved in it,” Harris said. “I’m rooting for both of them in an odd way because I’ve been there [Miami] for so long, but I’m still a home-team guy.”
Harris may be evasive when it comes to talking sports but he is direct and passionate when he talks about food. He founded Harris Food Group in 2006, a commercial foodstuffs research and development company. Before that, he worked for the likes of T.G.I. Friday’s, Arby’s, and Burger King—all major international corporations where he has won dozens of awards and recognitions for his culinary skills and innovations. But, he just describes those as “fortunates.”
His company’s recent product epitomizes his enthusiasm. Harris partnered with NBCUniversal, the network that features the reality TV show “The Biggest Loser” where teams of obese contestants compete to lose weight. However, the show has morphed from a simple competition to a striking commentary on America’s obesity problem.
Hence the January debut of the Harris/NBC collaboration: Simply Sensible, a line of refrigerated, good-for-you meals, branded with “The Biggest Loser” television show’s name.
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What becomes more evident from our hour-long conversation is Calvin Harris is passionate about people. His soulful, brown eyes widen when the conversation moves away from his resume and towards the people his food touches.
“I always ask myself, ‘How will I impact people’s lives? How will I, and food, help do something in a positive way for people,’” he said. Five years ago, while attending his 81-year-old grandfather’s funeral, it hit him. “I’m at this funeral looking at all these beautiful black people walking through the door…and I realize that half of them won’t even live to [my grandfather’s] age because of obesity,” he said.
It might seem unusual that Harris moved from researching and developing meals for fast-food chains to creating healthier meal options for “The Biggest Loser.” But, he says that everything is about balance.“I don’t have to eat the whole pint of Blue Bell ice cream, especially that Banana Pudding. I could probably woof that up just like that,” he says, snapping his fingers. “But, I only take a couple of bites.”
Growing up in Dallas with a stepmother who owned Deborah’s Creative Cakes and a father who owned Big Man’s BBQ restaurant, he must have developed restraint as a basic survival mechanism. For the rest of us, putting down the spoon after a few bites might be something more like giving up our first-born child.
Harris insists his Simply Sensible line caters to that problem so I decided to put it to the test.
I bought and prepared a package of Zing Chicken. The chicken wasn’t dry and brittle and the Asian-style sauce wasn’t thick and gummy like some frozen variations I’ve tried. The texture of the rice rested between mush and unintentional al dente. I was slightly irked by the suggestion on the back of the package to “add a one-cup serving of fresh steamed vegetables to make an approved Biggest Loser meal.”
I was also disillusioned to learn that each package contains two servings. After listening to the pitches and reading about the product, I was under the impression that each meal is only 250 calories per serving so I assumed each package was one serving. However, each package contains two servings. I ate them both and it was a full meal for me. But, I couldn’t help but wonder about the people trying to lose weight who didn’t read the labels.
However, Simply Sensible is not just about losing weight. Each product contains miniscule amounts of sodium and cholesterol and fits the change-your-life-style mantra of the TV show. If you’re looking for a quick-fix diet, look elsewhere.
Here are some fast facts about the Simply Sensible food line:
Unless your mom is one of the seven million fans of “The Biggest Loser,” the meals are nothing to write home about. But, for what it is, it’s good. I’d pick a Simply Sensible meal over a Lean Cuisine.
Bottom line: Simply Sensible entrees may not boast the smaller calorie content of some frozen entrees, and may not be an elaborate, pre-packaged meal (oxymoron?) But, you’ll actually feel satisfied after eating the two portions of healthy, not-so-bad-tasting food, and will be less tempted to bust open the cookie dough a few hours later.