Diary / Justbobbi / Sep 26, 2022
Epicured: Where Food is Medicine
Written by: Alexandra Perron, Managing Editor
Epicured is not your average meal delivery service. Started by Renee Cherkezian, a registered nurse and chef, and her co-founder Richard Bennett, Epicured is all about celebrating food as medicine. As the first low-FODMAP meal delivery service, Epicured was created with the goal of helping those eating on restrictive diets enjoy healthy food with rich flavors. “Eating is a lifestyle, it’s not a fad. It’s a lifestyle change that has one of the greatest impacts on people’s health and wellbeing,” says Cherkezian. “We want to be a tool to achieve your goals.”
The menu, which offers options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, includes three-spice turkey chili, baked lasagna and sesame crusted wild salmon. Dishes are delivered fully prepared (all you need to do is reheat!) within the New York metro area, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut by a team led by executive chef Chris Cortez of La Vara. Every item is hormone, antibiotic and gluten-free and meets the low-FODMAP diet requirements set up by Monash University.
Cherkezian and Bennett’s business not only provides nourishing food, but also acts as a tool for wellness professionals and healthcare institutions to navigate the world of restrictive diets with their patients. The team has developed partnerships with Mount Sinai (Mount Sinai Ventures is also an investor in the brand), working closely with clinical dietician Laura Manning, and with celebrity trainer Don Saladino, who offers the food in his gyms.
After sampling a few dishes for myself (I recommend the warm autumn salad and za’atar chicken), I caught up with Cherkezian to hear more about how they brought Epicured to life.
What lead you to start Epicured?
I’ve been cooking my entire life and the greater part of my adult career has been working as a nurse. Back in 2008, I was inspired to create Epicured when a friend of mine as battling cancer and I was taking care of him. He was put on a very restrictive diet and he was somebody who loves food. There is a strong social, psychological and physical relationship to food. He came back to me wondering how he would do this.
How do you make someone who is confined to a restrictive diet get to a point where they can enjoy the food process without feeling restricted? People shouldn’t be restricted to grilled chicken, rice and beans. I saw the power of food in providing comfort, enjoyment and nutritional value.
After this realization, I left my job and I moved to Paris and honed in on some of my culinary skills. When I came back from Paris, I worked at Weill-Cornell managing their operating rooms and this is where I really saw the need. Richard, my co-founder who also has a background in healthcare, and I put our heads together and several months later we launched Epicured.
I love the Epicured philosophy of “food as medicine” because so often when people think about diets or healthy eating, it can feel so restrictive. We often forget that food is meant to nourish and support the body.
There are definitely lots of misconceptions that healthy food cannot taste good. We can make healthy food taste delicious without compromising any flavors. It’s the food that you wouldn’t know is healthy. You feel better after it, but the process of enjoying what you are eating is everything. What we want to do is reverse that psychology and show people that they can eat well, they can eat healthy and all of that can be done in a delicious way.
There is so much buzz around gut health and the digestive system today, why did you decide to center Epicured around the low-FODMAP diet?
It’s really bringing the culinary and the clinical world together. We targeted low-FODMAP because 20% of the world’s population has IBS — 48 million Americans. There is absolutely no pharmaceutical treatment, there are antibiotics to manage symptoms, but for treatment long term there is nothing except for a low-FODMAP diet. And it’s considered one of the world’s most complicated diets. We wanted to be a solution to those people who struggle with this on a daily basis.
We are 100% low-FODMAP and gluten free. Our menu covers the 20% of the population with IBS, but also 28% of the population with other GI disorders like Crohn's, Colitis and Celiac. It covers a lot of people.
And how do you develop recipes to fit this lifestyle?
I develop the recipes through my science based knowledge. It starts wjth asking: How can we create the dish we want and how do we modify it? That is the process, it’s a creative and fun challenge.
All of the recipes go into a nutritional database and get reviewed and approved by a registered dietitian. Everything we do is measured to the gram. It is so necessary, especially when it comes to a low-FODMAP diet. For example, on low-FODMAP you can have up to 11 grams of celery. More than that might cause symptoms. We go by the Monash University approved guidelines for food restrictions and you have to measure by the gram. We want to give [people] a result they can trust.
The quality of our ingredients is paramount. Every single ingredient that we use or product we source, I have looked into it. When I’m choosing a peanut butter, it’s not just for taste. I’m looking at where it’s made, the story behind it.
You also have Chris Cortez as the executive chef in your kitchen bringing these recipes to life. Why was it important to bring in a chef of with this type of background?
We wanted high caliber talent in the kitchen when it comes to cooking techniques and the ability to train people so that a recipe upholds and presents as the highest quality to our consumers. We also wanted someone who can also understand more complicated cooking techniques and find creative ways to go about things.
What’s next for Epicured?
We like to keep a rotation on our menut that is not just seasonal but cultural. We have a low-FODMAP cheeseboard, Thanksgiving sides for the holidays and a low-FODMAP Bloody Mary mix coming around New Year’s. We create this way to give people options. We want to bring back that joy that comes with food and the social aspect that comes with food. We’re really here to make this social impact and to make people eat in the best way possible.