A celebrity dietician’s take on D.C.’s food scene
Ashley Koff is about as famous as a dietician gets.
She coined the now widely used phrase “qualitarian” to describe a diet focused on the best of what’s available rather than strict adherence to a set of food rules (although she adheres to a somewhat pescetarian regimen herself). She publishes on her website a popular AKA (Ashley Koff-approved) list of some 50,000 products that make her personal quality cut, which consumers can use to guide their decisions. And, when she’s not meeting with clients, rating products or traveling the world (she’s just back from New Zealand), Koff is the go-to nutrition source for Dr. Oz and national news outlets. You may have seen her smiling mug featured on other shows or magazine covers.
Koff recently moved from L.A. to D.C. to fully participate in its “food culture 2.0” revolution. It’s a reference, she says, to the way DC trails some cities in food trends but then ends up improving upon them (now we’re blushing). I met her at a recent gala honoring REAL Food Innovators, where she was an emcee, and asked about what brought her to the nation’s capital. Here are some excerpts from a conversation with her about D.C.’s food culture, happy hour scene and the health-ification of fast food.
Koff said she was first intrigued to DC’s food culture during an afternoon macchiato at Georgetown’s Baked and Wired, which, she noted, was the best she’d ever had. It didn’t take her long to discover Glen’s Garden Market, Rasika and other flagships that slowly began to change her mind about the city’s food culture.
We chatted about the city and its food scene a few weeks ago. Here’s an edited excerpt from our conversation:
Q: What made you move to D.C.?
“I had started to come here for more events. I realized that there wasn’t as much going on and thought I could bring some resources to D.C., to health food companies.
Also, I do a fair amount of media work. So I was always traveling between New York and L.A. I love the idea of how environmentally friendly my life can be here. I don’t have a car. I feel like I have all the access I need to New York without living in New York.
It’s fun to help and be a part of a city that is discovering it’s inner health in a good way.”
Q: What’s struck you about D.C.’s food scene since moving here?
What I like to say is fast food is actually a reality in our life today. While I want people to be at home and cooking, we still need fast food. What I like is all of these restaurants, by improving the quality of their ingredients, they’re taking away the excuse of grabbing something junky.”
Q: What do you think of D.C.’s happy hour culture?
“As a dietician, I remind people that happy hour can be one of the worst spots for you. (But) if happy hour takes the place of you walking in the door at home starving and snacking, then it makes you prepared to make better quality options (at dinner).
I’m also seeing virgin cocktails creeping up and better snacks being offered.
One of the things I like to see is happy hour getting redefined. I go to a gym that has a happy hour class on Monday nights.
There are options to make you happy that don’t have to be defined by alcohol.”
Q: What eateries have impressed you here?
“I was at Doi Moi the other night. It’s fantastic to see great cuisine from different backgrounds that is high quality from a nutritional standpoint. Doi Moi is one of the only places to have (Southeast Asian) food like this that isn’t greasy. The same thing is true at Rasika. It’s so rare to find Indian that isn’t drowning in grease.”
Q: Explain this qualitarian thing.
“Basically, the thing that drives me is the quality of a food ingredient. My diet is plant-based, because there’s a limited amount of animal products that satisfy my quality goals and that I like.
I was a vegan before, but I love wild salmon and organic cheeses. I fundamentally believe that — paleo, vegan or vegetarian — quality has to be the overarching theme.”
A big thanks to Ashley for letting me pick her brain! Look for her name cropping up at more D.C. area events in the near future.