In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

February 25, 2022

Life lived in the kitchen inspires Mayo Clinic chef’s focus, new cookbook

By In the Loop
Jennifer Welper

A new cookbook by Mayo Clinic Wellness Executive Chef Jen Welper is a love letter to her mom and grandmother, who inspired her in the kitchen, and a blueprint for eating in a way that is both nourishing and realistic.

When Jen Welper thinks of her childhood, she thinks of the kitchen.

It's where she bonded with her mother, who traveled all week for work and spent the weekends baking with her daughter.

And it's where she bonded with her grandmother, helping her cook during the week, when her mother was away.

"I grew up in the kitchen," Welper says.

It's a place that holds happy memories. "Cooking was about hospitality. It was about giving to others," she says.

Those lessons stuck. Welper, Wellness Executive Chef at Mayo Clinic, has made a career of cooking. And of teaching people how to make healthier choices. She brought that approach to Mayo Clinic, when she joined the team in the Healthy Living Program. Now she's bringing that philosophy to the world in a new cookbook, "Cook Smart, Eat Well," published by Mayo Clinic Press.

Healthy, tasty food

"We had weight problems in my family," Welper says. One family member had diabetes. Welper believed a different approach to cooking could help. "I wanted to find a way to help people learn to cook in a way that was healthy and tasted good," she says.

It's an approach she's perfected through jobs at Hilton Head Health and the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, where she gives cooking classes. Once upon a time, those were in-person classes. During COVID times, she's become a virtual virtuoso.

"My approach is straightforward and practical," Welper says. "I've developed recipes that use flavorful, meaningful ingredients and don't require a lot of direction."

She's captured many of those recipes in her new cookbook. It's a labor of love that was born after her mother passed away in 2019.

"People had asked me why we didn't offer a cookbook at the Healthy Living Center," Welper says. After her mom's death, she embraced the idea. "I needed something to strive for. I didn't want to give in to the negativity of grief. I wanted to make my mom proud."

A keepsake and a game plan

Jennifer Welper with her mom,
Jennifer Welper with her mom,

The book is dedicated to Welper's mother and was released on the third anniversary of her death. It includes a photo of the mother-daughter duo, as well as an image of Welper's mother's recipe box.

"It's a keepsake I treasure greatly," Welper says.

In addition to being a love letter to the women who inspired her in the kitchen, "Cook Smart, Eat Well" is a mix of tasty recipes, as well as guidance on how to think differently about cooking.

"I really hope people read the first two chapters before diving into recipes," Welper says.

Those chapters — "Healthy cooking essentials" and "Meal prep 101" — offer tips she shares in her cooking classes. They provide the foundation for eating in a way that is both nourishing and realistic.

"I hope the cookbook helps people find a healthier relationship with cooking and making memories in the kitchen. I have so many happy memories in the kitchen, and I want that for other people," Welper says.

"So many people struggle with weight and want to make a change," she says. "If I can help anyone do that, it fills my cup."

To see Welper in action – and get some recipes to try – check out these videos:

Mayo chef prepares healthy Valentine's Day dinner.

Mayo Clinic Minute: Take the guilt out of football food.

Tags: Employee Stories, Jen Welper

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