Chef Gene Villiatora is keeping it fresh with My Healthy Meal
Thu, Jan 10, 2013 (12:32 p.m.)
Photo: Aeon Jones
- My Healthy Meal
- 10220 W. Charleston Blvd. #2, 605-6757.
- Daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Gene Villiatora has been cooking his way through Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He started his career as a dishwasher at the California casino and hotel, and spent time cooking in the kitchens of House of Blues, Rainforest Café, Tao, Roy’s, and the former Japengo at Lake Las Vegas. “I didn’t go to culinary school,” he says, “I worked my way up old-school, getting yelled at by chefs, going through stuff chefs can’t do now, like calling you names and throwing hot pans. That’s how I learned.”
A few years ago, a health scare changed the chef’s habits. After what he thought was a mild stroke at the age of 34, Villiatora went the healthy route: no smoking, no drinking, and a lot less bacon. “I do miss using foie gras and duck fat, but for the most part I like what I’m doing now. I’m into it.” His new direction makes perfect sense for his new gig as executive chef of My Healthy Meal.
Owner Candace Bailey opened what is planned to be the first of several My Healthy Meal locations in Las Vegas on December 19 in Summerlin. It’s a grab-and-go joint. New dishes are composed every day at an offsite kitchen and delivered fresh to the store, ready for customers to browse through banana nut muffins, vegetables with cucumber dill dip, furikake-crusted salmon, chicken enchiladas and much more. Heat at home or just get to munching, but rest assured the food is fresh, healthy and perfectly portioned.
“Getting healthy is not about going to the gym five nights a week and only having one night out drinking beers,” Villiatora said. “It’s something you need to do every day. And we know there’s a stigma that healthy food doesn’t taste good. But if you can substitute unhealthy flavors for natural herbs and spices, there’s a whole new realm of flavors to work with.”
If anyone can make macaroni and cheese healthy, Villiatora might be the man for the job. He said each component of each dish is built from a cold stage, so for example, the vegetables and chicken in a stir-fry are cooked separately so when you heat them at home, the right textures and flavors are shining through. So far, one of the most popular My Healthy Meal entrees is turkey meatballs with quinoa spaghetti and “raw” marinara. “People are flocking to the heartier stuff because it’s cold,” he says. “I’m getting ready to debut a baked tofu caprese. We’ll see how that takes off. I love tofu because you can really flavor it well.”
My Healthy Meal is more than just a place to maintain your new year’s resolution. Customers can request planned out meals based on dietary needs or goals, like gluten-free or high-protein. It’s almost like having a personal chef with a mission to make you healthy.