Chef and father of three Max Schlutz combined his love for his family with his love for food by creating healthy gourmet dishes that even his baby and twin toddlers gobble up. The Executive Chef and Partner at Sessions West Coast Deli in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Irvine shares his story of what led him to go from lawyer to culinary master, advice on how to be creative with cooking, and his epic pea guacamole recipe for families to try in their own kitchen.
City of residence: Santa Ana, CA
What inspired you to become a chef? After graduating from Law School and working for a boutique criminal defense firm in Newport Beach, I thought I had my future all mapped out. Up until that point in my life, the only thing I had done longer than go to school was cook — for my family, through small catering jobs, and for myself almost daily. As soon as my first opportunity to open a restaurant emerged, I took it — and haven’t looked back.
What is the process of creating healthy culinary treats for your family? Because our oldest are 3-year-old twins and our youngest is 9 months, we have the opportunity to educate every day and instill healthy habits. I believe that food should be fun. When you make meals about togetherness and family, kids aren’t focused on what they’re eating, but that they are doing it with us. We do focus on ingredients that they seem to like — right now, they love broccoli, so we take advantage of that, while we can. We set the example for them to follow, and that seems to work best.
What is the most difficult part of getting your little ones to eat healthy? The best thing that ever happened for our kids’ development was starting school, especially with the structure it provides and, most importantly, the daily interaction with other kids. However, it is also exposes them to things that we may not have given them access to — it’s amazing how many times the kids will come home from school and ask for “this cereal” or “that cookie” or “those chips.”
How did you come up with the pea guacamole? The recipe for pea guacamole was born out of necessity. This little gem of ours was created as an alternative to traditional guacamole because of the massively escalated prices and inconsistency of avocados. I found that when you puree peas with olive oil, it takes on the same rich texture and mouth-feel of a ripe avocado. The rest of the recipe was put together to best enhance the natural sweetness of peas and incorporate the bright Mexican flavors.
Besides pea guacamole, what are other healthy meals/treats you have created for your family? Some great ways to introduce nutrients are in smoothies and green juices. We have been successful in doing this, because if it comes with a bendable straw, it just seems to be more fun and delicious! Also we started slowly. Our kids loved apple juice and grape juice. We just gradually added other leafy vegetables that increased the vitamins and antioxidants. Another thing we found is that texture is a big selling point. As kids they obviously love french fries, because they are crunchy and you can dip them. It wasn’t easy, but broccoli and cucumbers are two items that are both crunchy and can be used for dipping, just like fries!
Do you have advice for parents who want to cook both for healthy and gourmet food for their family? 1.) Plan Ahead. The food industry has given us so many unhealthy alternatives and shortcuts that sometimes outweigh the health benefits in our minds when we are stressed or pressed for time. 2.) Shop wisely. Focus on ingredients that can be used in a multitude of ways, just in case the first idea doesn’t succeed. 3.) Don’t impulse buy. Have a plan, and involve your kids in the shopping process, as it gets them interested from the first step. 4.) Don’t get discouraged if they don’t like something. You can always go back to it at another time. Children and their tastes constantly evolve. Just keep providing positive reinforcement.
Sweet Pea Guacamole
- 1 lb peas, sweet frozen
- 1 cup olive oil, extra virgin
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 red onion, minced
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 2 serrano, minced/seeded (optional)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 roma tomato, chopped
- In a food processor, blend olive oil, lime juice, cilantro and Serrano until all items are roughly pureed.
- Add peas, cumin and salt and blend until smooth. If you are able to leave slightly lumpy, it further adds to the texture of the guacamole.
- Transfer to bowl and gently fold in red onion and tomato
- Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, plantain chips, or atop crusty sourdough bread (as a fun riff on avocado toast!)
By Jackie Moe