By Diane Henderiks
Aaron McCargo Jr., aka Big Daddy, is living proof that dreams do come true. It all began in 2008 when his wife saw a commercial for The Next Food Network Star contest and thought “my guy can do this!” She called Aaron, convinced him to apply and he won beating out thousands of culinary hopefuls for the ultimate dream job – his own Food Network show.
“Big Daddy’s House” premiered August 3, 2008 and ranked as the number one “In the Kitchen” weekend show during its initial six-episode run. On the show, Aaron shares his passion for big, bold flavors and fun, family cooking. I was curious how he was dubbed Big Daddy and just assumed it was a lifelong nickname…not the case. The name came from the other competitors in the contest because Aaron is a big guy, big eater with a big personality. Aaron is a real, down-to-earth, nice guy with a big love for life, family, faith and food.
Let’s get Aaron’s take on healthy cooking and eating:
Diane: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?
Aaron: I’ve seen a big trend with diners seeking better-for-you options and would say it is mostly due people experiencing their close friends and family suffering from either obesity or some other chronic illness which is probably caused by the types of foods we are eating and lack of exercise. The days of not caring about how much sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats you’re eating are gone. People are more conscious of calorie counting and observing menus to make heather decisions. This is allowing the diner to count the cost instead just going for broke, health-wise and financially.
Diane: What’s your definition of “healthy eating”?
Aaron: Healthy eating to me is more about moderate eating than anything else. It’s okay to have the foods you like, even if they may not be the best for you, if you have them once in a while and not indulge in them every day. Portion control is very important in healthy eating, as well as, reducing the amount of sodium, sugar, trans fats, etc. that are in foods. Prepare foods with minimal sugars, a healthier type of salt alternatives and use better fats in small amount to enhance natural flavor of certain foods.
Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?
Aaron: My secret to healthier cooking without sacrificing flavor is to use dry spices, fresh herbs, and the juice and zest of citrus fruits. Also, I use flavored grape seed and olive oils and low sodium stocks and Worcestershire sauce.
Diane: What is your favorite healthier dish on your own menu and why?
Aaron: I must say that I’m a true buffalo wing fanatic…I do dig a 18 oz NY Strip au poive with a twice baked potato with Gruyere cheese and a side of grill asparagus with sautéed wild mushrooms. However, if I had to pick one, today it would be my smoked mozzarella turkey burger with jalapeño-apple slaw and grilled fruit with fresh crema. I love burgers and this is a king’s burger. It has layers of bold favors and just enough texture. You don’t want to eat anything after it because you want to hold on to the flavor.
Diane: How about an update on what’s new and exciting in your world?
Aaron: Right now my world is truly blessed! I’m the spokesman for Fresenius Medical Care, the leading provider of Dialysis Care, where I have the opportunity to create renal-friendly diet recipes and visit facilities all over the country demonstrating the recipes and encouraging people on dialysis. I’m also working with with Family Dollar promoting fun time at the grill during the summertime. I will be appearing On Spike TV’s ” Bar Rescue this summer (late July, early-to-mid August). My non-profit Play to Win (PTW) completed its first year of students and we’re looking forward to continuing the mission of helping change the lives of inner-city young men ages 14-24. I’m promoting my cookbook “Simply Done Well Done” and also my spice line McCargo’s Signature Blends. Big Daddy’s House continues to run on Food Network but the time slot changes every two weeks so check your local listings. This is the world of AMJ.
Aaron McCargo Jr.’s Jalapeno, Lime, & Smoked Mozzarella Turkey Burger
1½ pound ground turkey breast
1 jalapeno or 2 Tbsp finely diced jalapeno*
Juice of 2 limes and zest** of 1
1 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup shredded smoked mozzarella cheese
6 hamburger buns
Preheat outdoor grill (a George Foreman® grill may also be used). In a medium-size bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients plus 2 Tbsp of olive oil.
Make equal size burger patties and lightly brush with remainder 2 Tbsp of oil. Cook for 5-7 minutes, flipping once, or until an internal temperature of 165° F is reached.
Top each with an equal amount of cheese and melt in a toaster oven or in oven on broil. Serve on a toasted bun. (If using George Foreman® grill, once cooked, unplug the grill and add cheese to the burger. Leave the grill open and allow the cheese to slightly melt.)
* When handling or cutting hot peppers, it is best to wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.
** To zest, hold fruit still and move a grating tool (e.g., zester, peeler, box grater) slowly back and forth across the peel. Be careful to remove only the outermost, colorful layer of peel and not any of the bitter, white pith.