Kanika Tomalin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, is a big supporter of her city's burgeoning restaurant scene. She's also committed to health and fitness. As anyone who eats out regularly knows, those two things can be tricky to reconcile, as restaurant meals can often be less healthy than home-cooked ones.
To help consumers make healthier choices and still support the local food industry, Tomalin has launched the Virtual Progressive Dinners campaign, a tour of area eateries with "lighter leaning" offerings in which you walk to a different restaurant for each course — drink cocktails at one establishment; get an appetizer a few doors down; walk a few blocks for the main course; share a dessert around the corner; and grab a nightcap somewhere else. It's an effort to get some exercise, put more emphasis on nutrition and ease up on calories. Four different progressive dinners focusing on downtown St. Pete are already posted on healthystpetefl.com, with maps and recommended menu items. (Tour No. 1 takes you through downtown St. Petersburg, from the Station House for a cocktail, to the Mill for an appetizer, to Stillwaters Tavern for salad and a main, to Sea Salt for dessert and a nightcap at Cassis.) More tours are coming that will explore other parts of the city. We talked to Tomalin about the campaign and how she balances her six-day-a-week job with being a mom, wife and fitness enthusiast.
The Virtual Progressive Dinners campaign is an extension of your Healthy St. Pete initiative. Tell us what that's about.
It's an initiative to create a culture of good health in our city, where people can eat, play, shop and live healthier. We want to be sure they know about our many options that promote good health, including our exploding food and dining scene. The virtual dinners show people that you don't have to choose between fitness and eating out. We worked with local chefs to come up with lighter menu options so people can enjoy eating out without completely sacrificing their health goals.
What healthy habits do you practice?
I try to follow the healthy lifestyle recommendations in the Healthy St. Pete initiative, that's my guide. I make as many healthy food choices as possible; I like to know the path food takes to get to my table and choose healthy sources; I prepare as many meals myself as I can; I try to control portions — I go to a lot of meetings that involve meals and banquets, so that's important. And I try to get outside and play as much as possible.
Do you cook at home regularly?
I love to cook and come from a family tradition of cooking. I also do it out of necessity to control my food because of all the meals I eat out that are associated with my job. I'm learning to take long-standing family recipes and put a healthy twist on them, that's what I'm really passionate about. It's a great way to pour love into my family and give back to them cause I'm gone so much. I cook four out of seven days a week.
What's usually on the menu?
I take staples and try to add an interesting twist to them. I've been playing around with sauces lately. My husband brings home a lot of fish because of his job, so we have access to fresh-caught fish a lot. (Editor's note: Tomalin is married to Terry Tomalin, the outdoors and fitness editor for the Times and an avid boater and fisherman.)
You have two children, ages 14 and 12. Do you try to involve them in cooking?
They're getting into it more and more. If they've helped with the planning of the meal, maybe the shopping, they're much more likely to want to be a part of the process.
Do you have a favorite food or flavor?
I love spice. I always try to work it in. Currently I'm doing a lot with five-spice. Just a minor shift in spices can wake up entirely new flavors in food.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
We're so fortunate that this is a foodie town. I love the Mill, the Station House, Brick and Mortar. You can't go wrong in St. Pete. The kids love Gateway to India. We started exposing them to Asian foods because they have a lot of vegetables and the kids didn't realize how many they were eating.
Contact Irene Maher at [email protected]