HURON, Ohio - You could hear the buzz around Chef Jon Ashton's arrival at the Lodge at the Sawmill Creek Resort overlooking Lake Erie. He was easy to spot: mirrored sunglasses, a Florida tan, and an Armani sport coat paired with jeans and sandals.
The celebrity chef had arrived.
His message was direct: Bring kids into the kitchen.
"It's all about 'stealth health' with children, and how to incorporate good foods each day," says Chef Ashton, who changed into his signature dark blue chef's jacket as a dinner speaker at the Ohio Dietetic Association's 86th annual conference held in the Lodge. The presentation was sponsored by the American Dairy Association Mideast as part of their 3-A-Day program that promotes three servings of dairy products each day.
"Kids are not getting enough calcium," he said, adding that 9 of 10 girls and 7 of 10 boys don't have enough calcium in their daily diets.
He encouraged registered dietitians to pay attention to their taste buds and cook flavorful foods.
The chef has a 7-month-old daughter. "I intend to take her taste buds around the world," he told me in an interview prior to his food demonstration.
Mr. Ashton was born in Liverpool, England. He attended culinary school for four years at St. Helen's College, and was trained in French food in the style of Escoffier. "I was a French chef. Now I try to keep things as natural as possible," he says.
He confessed that he was an "obese child. I was 35 pounds overweight when I was 15," says the 33-year-old. "I loved food. I was always the last boy to be picked in sports."
With a British accent that captivated the dinner audience, Mr. Ashton recounted how he learned the joy of cooking from his grandmother. "She took me in the kitchen when I was 8. We made egg custards and homemade bread," he told me.
After college he worked in several restaurants, including the Derby Lodge Hotel's French restaurant. His flair in the kitchen led to appearances on British cooking shows.
Six years ago he arrived in America, eventually finding his way to Orlando, where he resides today. He began producing his own low-access TV show, The Mad Chef, which aired in Disney's town, Celebration, Fla. He is currently the resident chef for WB's nationally syndicated The Daily Buzz. He makes media appearances for clients such as Cabot Creamery, J.M. Smucker Co., and the national Dairy Council.
In Huron he demonstrated several recipes using milk and dairy products. Vegetable Lasagna is made with Cabot's 50 percent light cheddar cheese and low-fat goat cheese. (Locally, The Andersons sells one variety of Cabot Lite cheddar 50 percent reduced fat cheese. Also, goat cheese is lighter in fat naturally, says Diane Schmody of The Andersons, which carries several lines, including Laura Chenel.)
The chef prepared Strawberry Frozen Yogurt Squares for a refreshing dessert. Orange Yogurt Smoothie was a three-ingredient recipe: 1 cup Cabot Nonfat Yogurt (vanilla or fruit-flavored), 1/2 cup orange juice, and 1/2 cup frozen or fresh fruit combined in a blender until the fruit is pureed.
The next day Mr. Ashton was on to Solon, Ohio, for an Iron Chef competition at Solon High School with chef-owner Rocco Whalen of Fahrenheit restaurant in Cleveland. Mr. Ashton talked with students on how to incorporate more dairy products and how to add flavor.
The weekend before he was in New York City, where he taught healthier eating to 2,000 Girl Scouts ages 9 to 16. The girls were working on their Calcium Badge with the 3-A-Day logo. They learned about the importance of calcium and dairy products for growing bones and bone health for girls.