Reimagine Summer Cooking and Entertaining for People Living With MS: Interview with Celebrity Chef Ben Ford

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Ben Ford Reimagine Bar-B-Que

Life with a chronic disease like relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS) can present unique challenges, especially when it comes to doing some of the things that you love.

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Just ask Chef Ben Ford, whose mother has been living with MS since he was a teen. Ben’s mom inspired his passion for cooking at a young age, and after she was diagnosed with MS, he witnessed firsthand how certain symptoms impacted her ability to cook and entertain. Ben is best known for his hands-on approach to cooking and large-scale home entertaining, and his 2014 cookbook, Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking. He officially earned his cooking stripes at some of the country’s most established restaurants and alongside several of America’s most treasured culinary icons. Ben is well known today for his love of outdoor grilling, smoking, and roasting.

Courtnee Roman, MSN, FNP-BC, MSCS complete her undergrad degree from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida with her BS in Biology and continued on to receive her BS in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner from Columbia University, New York, New York. She is currently a Nurse Evaluator-Adjunct Faculty for Western Governor’s University and Family Nurse Practioner for the Rocky Mountain MS Research Group and Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As we head into summer, Ben and Courtnee spoke with me today to share some advice and offer accessibility tips for summertime cooking and entertaining for people living with MS.

EmaxHealth: Courtnee, could you tell us a little bit about relapsing multiple sclerosis, please?

Courtnee: Of course. Relapsing Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological condition that causes demyelization of the central nervous system, which is comprised of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. It can cause various symptoms including numbness and tingling, weakness, difficulty walking, or visual disturbances. It affects about 2.3 million people worldwide and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. [MS is] more common in women than men, though certainly men or women could get this condition.

EmaxHealth: Ben, I understand you’ve become and advocate for people with MS because you have a personal connection. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that?

Ben: Yes, I grew up with a mother with MS. She was undiagnosed when I was growing up with her inside the household, but was definitely starting to show symptoms. We didn’t know exactly what was going on with her, but we knew that we had to bring our game up as kids and get involved in the daily activities of the house, and that’s what we did.

EmaxHealth: Because of that experience, you learned in the trenches about the challenges people might face like Courtnee mentioned - the heat intolerance, dexterity issues, visual issues, and mobility issues. Of course, we know that many people living with MS still enjoy entertaining, cooking, and having people at their homes, and that can be especially challenging during the hot summer months. So, what advice or tips might you offer for our readers with MS to help them make those tasks easier or more enjoyable , to conserve their energy, or to decrease their risks of worsening their symptoms?

Ben: Heat is definitely a big issue. [People living with MS] have to deal with [their symptoms] throughout the year, but heat is an issue, and especially during summertime. You know, I love the idea of entertaining in the back yard, and this whole campaign, and my involvement in the ReimagineMySelf.com website. It really has a lot to do with reimagining your life in living with MS. That’s something I got to watch my mother go through as a teenager, and [into adulthood]. But she really extended her life in the kitchen. She really loved to entertain. And watching her progress through this, and [have to give things up], but also watching her hold onto the things that were important to her was something that I learned from. And I was able to bring it now to the reimagine campaign, so, I’m really excited. We have added a lot of content to the website, so myself, along with other experts that are adding their own expertise as well. There’s a lot of great content on the website.

Ben says that during the summer months, backyard entertaining can be a great option for cooking and entertaining for people living with MS. “Although there are heat issues, and shade is important, it’s also a great time of year to cook with friends. It’s a little harder during the regular year to invite them into your home and share in the cooking activities--although we do add content throughout the year for that as well--but for summertime, it’s a great excuse to bring your friends over, let them get involved, let them help you in the process of throwing a great party and entertaining.”

EmaxHealth: Practically speaking, would you suggest modifications, such as doing as much of your prep work seated, or spreading out the prep work ahead of time?

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Ben: “Yeah, the practical parts of it are true throughout the whole year. I think that, depending on how much of this you are doing by yourself, recipes that are segmented, or broken up [into smaller steps] are a lot better to work with, so that you can spread that work out over a period of time. But the nice part about grilling, really, is that a lot of that hard work - the hot stuff - is really done in the more communal environment.

"Dexterity issues in grilling are also another challenge as well, and I’ll just say that there’s better equipment out there that’s suited for people with Multiple Sclerosis than others. A big part of that is the grill set up. I love these little kettle grills available now, because you can work all the way around them. That gives [you] a lot of angles to work with and helps with dexterity issues. I like the height of it as well, they can set it at about 21-23” height, which is easier for somebody who may be [mobility] compromised, and either has to sit or be in a wheelchair."

Ben has recently become involved, along with several other experts, with a project called “Reimagine MySelf” for people living with Multiple Sclerosis.

EmaxHealth: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Reimagine MySelf program? How do you hope to be able to help and inspire people through this program?

Ben: There’s a lot of inspiring information on [our website]. Everybody comes with first-hand knowledge of what they’re bringing to the table. Because it’s myself and other experts that are doing so, I don’t have to cover the whole gamut. I can stick to the stuff that I know best--and that’s the food and entertaining. There is lots of great content on there.

EmaxHealth: Is there content, as well, about other activities of daily living? Other ways to make everyday life easier for people with MS?

Ben: Yeah, [we focus on] lifestyle living. The whole idea of the website, really, is to reimagine your life living with MS, and realizing that there are ways of extending it; that there are ways of finding your niche, or finding the way to extend your life with the things you love.

EmaxHealth: I love that. That’s a fantastic program. So where can I refer our readers to go for more information about the Reimagine MySelf program?”
Ben: “Anyone who wants more information can go to our website, reimaginemyself.com.

EmaxHealth: Courtnee, is there anything that you would like to add that we didn’t cover?

Courtnee: Yes. It’s really important that people understand that we’ve really made a lot of strides in treatment of MS over the last couple of decades. We now have multiple medications with different mechanisms of action, and so if one doesn’t work for them, then there’s another one that may work a little bit better, and it’s just important to remain in communication with your neurologist and healthcare team. [We are making great progress], particularly with prognosis. We can slow down progression of the disease, and reduce the number of relapses fairly decently now.

Reimagine MySelf is a program dedicated to encouraging people living with relapsing MS to reimagine life with the chronic disease, and make small, but impactful changes in their lives. The initiative includes an online resource - ReimagineMySelf.com - which features personal stories, ideas, and tips from MS experts and people personally touched by relapsing MS.

For more in-depth information from Chef Ben Ford on summer cooking and entertaining for people living with MS, and to see recipes for a great, accessible backyard Bar-B-Que, Ben Ford style, click here.

*Interview edited for clarity.

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