Ian McNulty: Flavorful and healthy all in one spot

Dr. Timothy Harlan, a physician known as Dr. Gourmet, likes to talk about food, and that includes with his patients.

“I’ll ask these 80- and 90-year-old women how they make their gumbo,” he said. “And they all browned the flour first, to start the flavor. They didn’t use a lot of fat. They don’t add a lot of salt. That’s why they’re 80 years old.”

And that’s part of the sensibility Harlan wants to help revive in his role as executive director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine.

The center is a project of Tulane University’s School of Medicine, and it just opened in a new home in the ReFresh Project, the development at 300 N. Broad St. that includes a Whole Foods Market, the nonprofit teaching cafe Liberty’s Kitchen and other community organizations.

The gleaming new facility was designed as a culinary classroom for Tulane’s medical students. The upshot isn’t just teaching tomorrow’s doctors to cook, but giving them a culinary background to help their patients improve their health through the decisions they make at mealtime.

It’s an innovative model, the first of its kind in the country. But to Harlan it also signifies a return to practices that were commonplace before the rise of industrialized food.

“We aren’t teaching anything here that wasn’t taught 100 years ago,” he said.

The center’s new home also makes its outreach programs more accessible. In September, it begins a new 12-part series of community cooking classes, which are free and open to anyone who signs up in advance. Like the med school courses, they focus on making familiar flavors and popular dishes healthier, and also showing how subtle changes in grocery shopping and meal planning can make a difference in diet and health.

“People tend to think that healthy food is flavorless, expensive, hard to make,” said program director Leah Sarris. “We’re here to blow those ideas out the door.”

To support this programming, the center will host a dinner series with guest chefs in the teaching kitchen. It begins Sept. 13, with Adam Biderman of the Company Burger and continues through April with Justin Devillier, John Besh and Killer Po-Boys founders Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow. Tickets for the series are $800.

For details and community program schedules, see culinarymedicine.org.