San Francisco doctor’s new cookbook bridges the gap between the kitchen and the clinic
The idea of food as medicine has been around since at least 400 B.C., when Greek physician Hippocrates advised people to prevent and treat diseases by eating a nutrient-dense diet.
For thousands of years, India’s ayurvedic followers and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have taught that a healthy diet is a powerful tool for protecting one’s health.
But when Primary Care Internist Linda Shiue of San Francisco embraced the connection about 10 years ago, there were only a few other medical professionals in the U.S. willing to talk about prescribing food instead of drugs.
“Ten years ago, there were only a handful of people doing culinary medicine,” she said. “Now there are something like two dozen people doing what I’m doing. ...They understand this crazy idea and how fun and powerful it can be.”
About six months ago, the busy doctor and mother of two girls also published her first cookbook, “Spicebox Kitchen: Eat Well and Be Healthy with Globally Inspired, Vegetable-Forward Recipes” ( Hachette Go, 2021, $32).
Since then, the cookbook has been featured in the national media, from the Washington Post to CBS Bay Area, as well as in food magazines such as Bon Appetit and Eating Well.
“From whole wheat scallion pancakes laced with Sichuan peppercorns to coconut-creamed callaloo, Shiue proves that eating healthy can, and should, be delicious,” columnist Ali Francis wrote in the March 2021 issue of Bon Appetit.
“Spicebox Kitchen” has 175 vegetarian and pescatarian recipes featuring a range of spices from amchar masal to za’atar. There’s also a comprehensive introduction to healthy cooking, with lists of must-have ingredients for the pantry, including spices from all over the world.
“I like to think of a spicebox as the cook’s equivalent of a doctor’s bag, containing the essential tools to use in the art of cooking,” Shiue wrote in the book’s introduction. “Learning to use spices is the best way to add interest and vibrancy to simple home cooking.”
Her interest in culinary medicine started about 10 years ago, when she felt frustrated in her attempts to help her patients. The lightbulb moment came when she attended one of Harvard’s Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conferences at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.
“That truly was the door that I didn’t know I was looking for,” she said. “I was burned out, and I felt like I was treading water with patients. I didn’t know how to make them better.”
At the conference, everyone was fed meals that illustrated the principles of the Mediterranean diet, a way of eating based on the cuisines of Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries. The diet is based on plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Olive oil is the main source of added fat.
“The food was delicious, and they talked about how it was changed to be more healthy,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘This is what patients need.’”
So instead of telling her patients to eat more potassium, she started telling them to eat kale because it was good for their blood pressure. Then she would scribble out a recipe for kale chips on her prescription pad for them.
“I think that was always missing from how myself and other doctors were trained to talk to patients,” she said. “They need practical advice.”
Born and raised on Long Island, Shiue did her undergraduate degree in anthropology and medicine at Brown University, then continued her studies at Brown’s medical school. She moved to the West Coast for her residency at UCSF.
In 2015 to 2016, Shiue decided to take a self-funded sabbatical to pursue her culinary passions. She completed an online certificate in nutrition from Cornell University while attending culinary school at San Francisco Cooking School full time for six months, One of the best experiences she had was her externship at Mourad, a Michelin-starred Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco owned by chef Mourad Lahlou.
She chose the San Francisco Cooking School not only because it was convenient but because it embraced modern, global flavors, which is how she likes to eat. Her parents were born in Taiwan, her husband hails from Trinidad and she lived for a year in Singapore during college and traveled through Southeast Asia.
In culinary school, her goal was to learn cooking techniques, how to flavor food and how to become a better cooking teacher.
“I also learned how to cook more efficiently at home, which helps people cook more often,” she said.
In 2017, upon her return to medicine, she founded Thrive Kitchen, a formal cooking program that she runs at a major medical center in San Francisco.