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Bidden Fruits

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She's the author of a best-selling cookbook and has her own Food Network show, but Ellie Krieger was really just a stranger, albeit a beautiful one, at Elizabeth D. Redd Elementary School last week. A few wriggling third-graders gasped when they learned that she was from New York City, but what they truly found exotic was the gleaming array just out of reach on Krieger's table: kiwi and jicama, snow peas and yellow carrots, star fruit and kumquats and something called unique fruit that even a delighted Krieger, a degreed nutritionist, hadn't seen before.

She pumped the kids to name a rainbow's worth of vegetables and fruits, told them how antioxidants are like superheroes that neutralize the bad guys, and urged them to try foods they hadn't tasted. For the grand finale, they got their wish, nibbling the bright morsels not likely found on their tables at home.

Krieger's crusade, though she doesn't call it that, is to spread the joy of eating well and to counteract the perception that healthy and delicious can't coexist. This isn't the kind of cooking that her equally rapturous network colleague Paula Deen throws out there, all butter-laden and devil-may-care. But it's not the food police, either, and Krieger campaigns with the same sensual passion that food lovers understand -- a ripe peach is fabulous, and chocolate is too. But maybe that trough of pasta is derailing the real pleasure of eating, and maybe it's time to trade off volume for exquisite flavor.

Her cookbook, "The Food You Crave," brought Krieger, a former model, to Richmond for the Junior League Book & Author Dinner. Organizers feted the authors with catered meals in some of the city's most elegant homes. Krieger loved the shrimp and grits from Silver Spoon Catering but ate just a fraction, "enjoying every bite of it," she says, and made time to exercise at the Jefferson Hotel's gym before the next bash.

"My main goal is to help people find peace with food, to bring a good injection of joy into eating healthfully," she says. "It could feel overwhelming if I think about taking on the obesity epidemic as a whole. But if people can just say for this meal, I'm going to make a good choice and bring joy into it. On a larger scale, to make small changes in the community, to turn kids on to try new things -- that's one step on the path." S



"Healthy Appetite With Ellie Krieger" airs on the Food Network Saturdays at 1 p.m.

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