In Spicebox Kitchen, This Doctor-Turned-Chef Finds Medical Wisdom in Her Spice Cabinet


Patients visiting physician Linda Shiue’s exam room are just as likely to leave with a recipe for kale chips or frozen banana ‘nice cream’ as they are a prescription. For more than a decade, the practicing internist, culinary medicine teacher, travel blogger, and San Francisco Cooking School–trained chef has been bridging the gap between food and medicine. In her new cookbook, Spicebox Kitchen, Shiue shows us how a stash of spices can act as the cook’s equivalent to a doctor’s bag.

Her Taiwanese roots and love for travel yield pages of globally-inspired recipes, taking readers on a journey through California (where she lives), Asia, Trinidad (where her husband grew up), the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. From whole wheat scallion pancakes laced with Sichuan peppercorns to coconut-creamed callaloo, Shiue proves that eating healthy can, and should, be delicious.

Of course, the healing potential of food and spices is nothing novel; this philosophy underpins the way many cultures have eaten for millenia, long before mass production lines left us with sugary cereals and over-processed ingredients. By highlighting dishes from around the world, Shiue’s cookbook nudges us back to the origins of wellness. As she sees it, there are more definitions of nutritious eating than the modern health industry might have us believe. “We have to embrace what other cuisines bring to the table, literally,” she says. “This is how we’ll help everyone get well.”

Just before the Spicebox Kitchen launch, I called Shiue to chat about her journey from clinic to kitchen, what’s missing from Western medicine, and why joy is an essential ingredient.

I grew up surrounded by international visitors in eastern Long Island near the major national laboratory where both my parents worked. We would have these potlucks at our house periodically where people from all over the world would make a dish they loved; those dinners really opened the world for me.

I thought cooking had nothing to do with medicine… and that being a chef was a nice diversion from being a doctor. My practice was, I think, very similar to most doctors’ practices in the Western world. I would see patients, figure out what their problem was, and then prescribe a pill. Unless you have a medical condition, insurance doesn’t cover preventative treatment.

My light bulb moment happened… at a Harvard Medical School conference in 2012. The event brought together chefs and doctors and dietitians to talk about the latest updates in nutrition science and how we could help our patients integrate them into cooking practices. I’d often felt like I wasn’t doing enough for my patients; that they weren’t able to make the lifestyle changes they wanted to. In that moment I realized food could be a really great, creative way of guiding them towards healthier choices. I literally taught my first cooking class for patients a week after that, and have been doing so at my clinic since.

I started writing recipes for my patients… on my prescription pad, which felt very radical. I would ask people what they’re eating, where they got tripped up, and what they thought was their downfall. I thought, Okay, how can I take what they like and make it a little bit more nutritious? And so my first two recipes were for kale chips and banana and ‘nice cream’ (where you take frozen bananas and whip them up in a food processor or blender). Even with all the kind of highfalutin medical training I’ve had, those recipes were what earned me the most passionate letters of gratitude from patients.



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