Q&A with Chef Charlotte Puckette

Charlotte Puckette is a Grand Diplôme graduate of Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu, co-author of The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, as well as a cooking instructor, food consultant, caterer, and private chef. Charlotte met Jillian Pritchard Cooke, the founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, several years ago while doing research on a book based on ingredients and the toll of the industrial food system on our health and the environment. She immediately realized the Wellness Within Your Walls message of creating a non-toxic interior environment was a critical and often overlooked link in the farm to table story.  

Charlotte feels that so many of us strive to make healthier choices in the kitchen by asking more questions about how our food was raised, taking advantage of the growing number of farmers markets and getting to know the producers. She wants to ensure that all the thought and effort that went into making those healthier choices are not compromised by the equipment we use to cook and store our food, the products we use to clean our kitchens, or the built environment itself.

Q: Where should I begin in creating a non-toxic kitchen ?

A: Proper ventilation is vital to your family’s health and comfort. Kitchens can produce hazardous levels of pollution. According to a growing body of scientific evidence, the quality of indoor air can be significantly more polluted than outside air, even in the most densely populated cities. In recent years, as more attention has been paid to making homes more energy efficient, ventilation has become increasingly important. Without proper ventilation the indoor air quality can become a toxic brew of gasses that can cause serious health problems. Cooking is a major contributor to poor air in the kitchen but it is not its sole source. Conventional cabinets are another large source of air pollution in the kitchen, with most brands using some kind of pressed wood, MDF, plywood, or particle board which typically give off hazardous gas. Kitchen appliances also contribute to indoor air pollution if not properly off-gassed. While most kitchens come with some sort of ventilation hood, studies have shown they are often the wrong size, have an inadequate fan, or are improperly used. 

If building a house from the ground up a balanced ventilation system that moves outside air into the home and exhaust stale air is best. A well designed ventilation system whisks air from rooms where moisture and pollutants are most often generated, such as the kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry rooms and brings in make-up-air on an as-need basis to prevent back-drafting of fuel burning appliances and negative air pressure from polluting the indoor environment.

On a remolding project or in an old leaky house you can you can begin to control toxins in the kitchen just by opening your windows. 

Q: Do appliances play a role in a health and safe kitchen?

A: Yes, appliances play a huge role in a toxic free kitchen in their make-up and in their function.

Many appliances contain plastic components that can come in contact with food. Plastic is an amazing material but it’s important to understand that it is not an inert substance. The mix of chemicals and additives contained in plastic can leach into foods or beverages. Small appliances such as blenders, choppers, mixers, and mills with plastic jugs or bowls, only hold food for a short period which means there is little time for toxic chemicals in plastics such as BPA to migrate into your food. However plastic appliances that heat, such as electric kettles or dishwashers (with plastic drums) or appliances with containers that you store food in should eventually be replaced with models made of stainless steel or glass.

Refrigerators are one of the most important pieces of equipment in the kitchen for keeping our food safe and toxin free. Temperature is key, just a few degrees difference can dramatically affect food safety. Older refrigerators controlled the temperature with a turn of a dial that was more or less accurate. Today’s smart fridges have multiple temperature zones that can keep our wide variety of foods at maximum freshness. Today’s fridges are also much roomier to allow air to circulate and keep our food stuffs cool.  If you are not ready for an upgrade to one of these new generation refrigerators, do yourself a favor and buy a fridge thermometer!

WWYW promotes natural, sustainable and also responsible choices for our homes.  Before discarding perfectly functional appliances, take into consideration the potential health risk verses an expensive and non environmentally friendly choice.

Q: What about cookware?

A: This question comes up frequently in my cooking classes because cookware is such an important part of the kitchen. We spend so much money buying healthy food in order to reduce our exposure to pesticides and harmful chemicals but fail to realize we undermine our good intentions by using cookware that may also contain harmful contaminates. 

Non-stick is the most popular cookware in the U.S. according to the Cookware Manufacturers Association. Its slick surface makes clean up a breeze and allows cooking with less butter and oil. But many health conscious consumers question their safety. Non-stick pans release toxic gases when overheated to 500 ° F that can be dangerous to humans and pets. Most of us do not cook at 500° F intentionally – which is hotter than the smoke point of cooking oils or the point where food is burned – but an empty pan left on a burner set on high easily reaches 700° F  in as little as three minutes. With so many other options, why take the risk of inhaling toxic particles when you forget to turn off the pan when you go to answer the door?

Stainless steel and cast iron will always be my top choices. They are considered to be extremely safe materials for cookware. Both brown food beautifully and when properly seasoned, cast iron is practically non-stick. They require a little more energy to clean, but I consider my health and that of my family worth it.