B ill Klar wants you to eat dirt. “See, people just cut off these roots, and the skin, the leaves on top, and throw them away. I can’t even believe it. A little dirt is good, it’s a connection to the earth. There are nutrients in this skin,” he says, grinning, holding up a large, yellow squash.
Klar’s a classically trained chef, and he’s worked in high-end French restaurants across the Northeast. His technique and attention to detail are apparent even on a casual day of cooking in his home kitchen. A decade ago, he might have been dressing a nice roast or buttering a sauté pan. “I would eat head to tail of a cow,” he said. Today, he’s fermenting 100 pounds of homemade sauerkraut in his basement and marinating tempeh, a soybean cake often used as a complete-protein alternative to meat.
Why the change? Six years ago, Klar was diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer. The shock of the news forced him to reconsider his lifestyle from stem to stern. Klar left a nice home and job and wife, attended the Kushi Institute for natural healing in Massachusetts, and resettled in New Haven just a few months ago. Now, he’s intent on spreading the whole foods gospel.
“Sometimes I cringe just thinking about what the government allows us to eat. It’s as if they don’t care about us at all. But I care!” That’s Klar: he’s open, kind, a little animated, and he wants people to feel good. And that means eating well. Or, I should say, whole: whole grains, whole vegetables, whole foods. It’s called a macrobiotic diet: “macro” meaning large and “bios” meaning life. Large as life, just like Klar.
I should note that this “hippie food” is not what I’m used to, Nutmeggers. I love a good burger, a marinated pork loin. Even a PBJ or grilled cheese will do. But on a warm Friday afternoon in Klar’s Fair Haven kitchen, he’s pulling vegetable after vegetable out of his fridge, excitedly listing the whole grains and legumes he’s got stacked on shelves in his kitchen: brown rice, oat groats, barley, millet, quinoa, beans. He sources ingredients online and from the local Elm City Market and Edge of the Woods grocery stores. Clad in chef pants and a lime green, Chip ’n’ Dale t-shirt, Klar sports a shock of white hair with a matching moustache and eyebrows, and a near-permanent smile. He talks and moves and chops and purees all at once, a blur of energy and emotion.
“Cancer wasn’t an evil thing,” Klar says, known to tear up spontaneously when talking about his health transformation. “It was an awakening, a gift, a sign that I needed to change.”
And change he did. A true macrobiotic diet contains no white flour or processed foods. The focus is on whole, unprocessed grains and locally sourced, organic vegetables and herbs. Fish is okay, but no dairy or other animal materials. “No four-legged creatures.” Klar includes fermented foods like homemade miso (a thick fermented rice, barley or, most often, soybean paste) and sauerkraut. It’s sometimes claimed as a way to combat cancer by ridding the body of toxins and organ-clogging elements, replacing them with the nutrients, fibers and vitamins human bodies really need.
While talking away he’s somehow managed to produce a beautiful, lightly pureed soup in a gorgeous, warm pumpkin color—a mix of olive oil, sauteed carrots, onions, celery mushrooms and root vegetables, spices and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. And miso (the key ingredient). Next comes a plate of fresh seaweed salad, seasoned quinoa, carrot and barley salad and sweet-and-sour marinated, sauteed tempeh. It sounds strange but it’s actually good. The flavors are deep but subtle, with real taste and a sense of invention.
“Cooking is imagination, and these ingredients are wonderful. We even deep-dry in this diet!” Klar says while sauteeing a little kale for a side dish.
A New Haven resident for less than a year, Klar is already a man about town. He’s offered macrobiotic cooking lessons at Elm City Market, plus demonstrations at fairs and festivals across town. Coming up this Wednesday and Thursday nights, he’ll offer a whole foods sushi rolling class at greenwell Tea & Coffee on Crown Street (for more info and to sign up, click here). He’s available for consultations and willing to work with people on pricing depending on what they can afford. A consultation can include a simple cooking demonstration or a trip to the grocery store to help explain the do’s and don’ts of a macrobiotic diet. He’s even trained in full body detox massage along with eastern meditation and energy practices. And he’s put together an 8-week, comprehensive cooking class tailored to beginners.
“My job is to get people eating whole foods. Processed foods are dead, they’ve been stripped of all nutrition and health. Whole foods are alive—and there’s actually life within us. So we should eat life.”
I’m surprisingly stuffed as I leave Klar’s neighborhood, as if I’d mowed down a juicy burger. And as I’m writing this now, I find myself craving a little grilled tempeh. Weird.
Bill Klar Healthy Living
203-430-1035 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Written and photographed by Uma Ramiah.