A Lighter Side To Soul Food

Healthy Concepts Inc. finds success in development of ethnic cuisine

To some, nutrition means bean sprouts and beet juice. But eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean having to sacrifice a tasty meal. To give health buffs some flavorful choices, Wilbert Jones launched Healthy Concepts Inc., a Chicago-based food consulting business, in 1993.

Specializing in ethnic cuisine, Healthy Concepts helps food manufacturers and restaurants prepare nutritious menus that include African American, Caribbean, Creole, Mexican, Italian and Asian dishes. Revenues in 1996 reached $360,000.

The seven-employee firm provides a number of food services such as nutritional labeling, education and consulting, product-and-recipe development, analytical testing and shelf-life studies for food products. Clients include the Chicago Public School System, Professional Foodservice Inc., a food service referral company, and Romeo’s Exotic Juice and Butterball Turkey Co.

Jones, 33, developed his culinary skills while studying French regional and nutritional cooking at the Ecole de Gastronomie Francaise Ritz-Escoffier culinary school in Paris.

In 1985, he worked as a food scientist with Kraft General Foods, and after eight years with the company, he decided to branch out on his own. “I wanted to start my own business, so I requested a release package to leave the company,” says Jones.

Using $31,000 of his $35,000 package, Jones purchased some basic office equipment: a fax machine, two computers and a modem. He also solicited the help of consultants from the University of Chicago’s Student Consulting Program to get the business off the ground.

By maintaining a strong relationship with his former employer, Jones was able to secure Kraft as a client in 1996. “We worked together on developing six to eight recipes for the African American market that would be appropriate for Kwanzaa,” says Maria Alamo Cameron, a former consumer food manager for Kraft.

The recipes were used on coupons distributed to grocery scores in African American neighborhoods nationwide. Kraft also used the recipes at a Kwanzaa expo in New York, on the company’s Web site and as a promotional mailer during Black History Month in 1996.

“To be able to work with someone who understood what African American foods and Kwanzaa were all about was important to me.” says Alamo Cameron. “That’s where Wilbert’s expertise came in.”
Jones’ dedication to nutrition doesn’t end with his consulting business. In his book, The Healthy Soul Food Cook Book: Healthier Recipes Traditional Favorites (Carol Publishing Group, $12.95), Jones offers cooking alternatives for some favorite fattening dishes. He also provides interesting twists to traditional recipes such as smothered cabbage with smoked turkey, macaroni salad and his very own unfried chicken.

Jones came up with the idea for the book during a family Christmas dinner. “Everyone was so full after eating such a fattening meal that they asked if there was any way to make the meals healthier,” he says.

Through analytical food testing, Jones found a way to strip the fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium from a number of popular dishes without losing the food’s unique flavor. He is currently working on a book of favorite soul food desserts, Momma’s Tea Cakes.

Jones teaches restaurant management courses three times a year at William Harper College

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