As the Dallas-area arrival of LYFE Kitchen looms, so does the opportunity for an explanation of what it is, exactly, and how it differs from other restaurants.
An acronym for "Love Your Food Everyday," LYFE is a fast-casual concept where everything on the menu is 600 calories or less. It was launched in 2011 by a group of food industry veterans, including Oprah Winfrey personal chef Art Smith and former McDonald's executives Michael Donahue and Mike Roberts.
The first DFW location is scheduled to open June 7 at 1900 Preston Rd. in Plano. LYFE is the third "healthy" chain to enter Dallas, following Seasons 52 and True Food Kitchen.
"People are not willing to make sacrifices on taste," Bringardner says. "That's what we're about. We know how to get things to taste good."
A nascent chain-in-the-making, LYFE has a team of celebrity chefs who've devised a menu that they hope delivers flavor without using the usual — and not-so-healthy — vehicles of fat and cream. That team includes executive chef Jeremy Bringardner, who recently ramped up his fame quotient by competing on the TV cooking show Chopped — which he won handily.
For 18 months before LYFE ever launched, Bringardner and Smith worked together to come up with flavorful ways to replace sugar, salt, butter and cream.
"People want to eat healthy and be healthy, but the problem is, a lot of folks don't understand what the healthier option is," Bringardner says. "They're also not willing to make sacrifices on taste. That’s what we're about. We know how to get things to taste good."
That means a focus on getting the most out of ingredients, using herbs and spices strategically, and embracing "good" fats like avocado and coconut oil.
"I have nothing against fat," he says. "But dishes with a lot of cream, not only do they make you feel gross, but they also have the highest concentration of saturated fats."
Bringardner seems uniquely qualified to be doing what he does. This 39-year-old Michigan native made the connection between diet and a sense of well-being at an early age.
"I can remember when I was young and would ride my bike to corner store and eat this food and drink pop," he says. "I'd get back onto my bike to cruise, but I'd sit there and no longer be interested. My mood would change. I'd lose all my motivation.
"I listened to what's going on, and I figured out at a young age that I was not going to eat junk food."
He's also part of a generational shift in which people are more interested in what they're eating.
"I think my generation is awakening to food," he says. "I was working with chef Charlie Trotter in Chicago 12 years ago and witnessed how the whole country snapped out of it and decided they love food. They discovered what I've known: that one of the greatest luxuries in life is to have delicious food."
He used his abilities to focus as a contestant on Chopped, where he let his competitive nature fly. "I studied the show to focus on the skills I'd need to practice, so when I got there, I'd have the greatest chance," he says.
"It was similar to the tastings I often do for our menu team, which I'll be doing when we open in Dallas. I just had to practice my spontaneous creative thinking."
Following the opening in Plano, a second branch will open in Preston Center in mid-June. A third restaurant will open in West Village in mid-July.