Napa County Food Photography | Chef Cheryl Forberg of the Biggest Loser

Cheryl Forberg| Neely Wang Photography

This past week, I had the pleasure of photographing the February event hosted by Fresh Starts Chef Events, a project to support Homeward Bound of Marin, a homeless shelter in Marin County, California, providing food, shelter and job training for those in need. This month’s event featured Chef Cheryl Forberg, nutritionist for the NBC show, the Biggest Loser, a reality competition TV show where overweight contestants try to win a cash prize by losing the most weight relative to their starting weight. The show focuses on exercise and nutrition, as well as the emotional component of losing weight. Chef Cheryl Forberg has been the nutritionist for the show for the past 16 seasons and helps in formulating diet plans and recipes, as well as provides nutritional support to both contestants and viewers.

Biggest Loser Cheryl Forberg | Neely Wang Photography

Chef Forberg, former personal chef of George Lucas of the famed Star Wars saga, is a co-author of the James Beard award-winning “New Mayo Clinic Cookbook” and is one of the few professional chefs who is also a registered dietician. She has recently authored two other books, “Flavor First” and “A Small Guide to Losing Big,” which is especially dear to me as I photographed the inside back flap photograph of Chef Forberg at her Napa Valley home.

Cheryl Forberg Small Guide to Losing Big

I’ve worked with Chef Forberg a few times in the past photographing her for her personal webpage and social media accounts as well as images used on the Biggest Loser site. She is such a fun and warm person to be around (always sending me home with gifts from her garden like homegrown figs and heirloom tomatoes) and is very knowledgeable and passionate about food and nutrition. I met Cheryl when I photographed her the previous time she taught at Fresh Starts, so it was a great pleasure to see her and photograph her class again!

Nutritionist Cheryl Forberg | Neely Wang Photography

Her menu for the evening focused on full flavors and fresh, healthy eating, which is always something I’m very interested in — making food that tastes good, yet is also good for you — not an easy task! The first dish of the evening was Confetti Quinoa Salad with Pistachios and Currants. 

Quinoa Salad Recipe | Neely Wang Photography

Fresh Starts Chef Events | Neely Wang Photography

Chef Forberg shared that quinoa has the highest protein of any plant and it is also gluten-free. The dark varieties of quinoa (usually red or black) not only have a nuttier flavor, but also have more fiber and protein than the white variety. I stumbled across this image of quinoa plants and thought it would be fun to share because I personally had no idea how quinoa looked as a plant.

Quinoa Salad | Neely Wang Photography

I loved the sweetness of the currants mixed with the tartness of the dressing (balsamic vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and oil) and the nuttiness of the quinoa and pistachios. This salad reminded me of one of those quinoa salads that they have at the prepared foods bar at Whole Foods, which I always find to be so good, but somehow can never recreate. My husband said he really liked it, so I’ll have to try this at home and maybe throw in some chopped kale for extra veggies.

Fresh Starts Chef Events | Neely Wang Photography

The salad was followed by the main course, Fire-Roasted Tomato and Turkey Chili. 

Biggest Loser Chili Recipe | Neely Wang Photography

This chili contained two of Chef Forberg’s secret ingredients: fire-roasted tomatoes and dried tart cherries.

Fresh Starts Chef Events | Neely Wang Photography

Turkey Chili | Neely Wang Photography

Both the smoky tomatoes and the cherries added such great depth of flavor — who would have guessed cherries in chili, but it works! Chef Forberg often uses bison in her chili, which she explained is high in omega-3, a polyunsaturated fatty acid that improves mood, clarity, cholesterol, skin and hair — I’ll take some of that!

Fresh Starts Chef Events | Neely Wang Photography

For dessert, a decadent Chocolate Silk was served.

Chocolate Silk | Neely Wang Photography

The chocolate silk was made predominantly with coconut milk, agave nectar and cocoa powder, thickened with cornstarch. The silk was very rich and definitely did not taste “low fat.” I’m not a huge fan of neither agave nectar (due its high fructose content) nor of cornstarch (because of possible GMOs), but I’d love to try this with maple syrup or honey, and then thickened with arrowroot powder. My husband knows I can never leave a recipe alone ;).

Chef Cheryl Forberg | Neely Wang Photography

Chocolate Pudding | Neely Wang Photography

For those of you interested in tracking your calories, exercise and weight, Chef Forberg recommended an app that many of her contestants and viewers use called, MyFitnessPal. The diner sitting across from us even said her son lost 100 lbs using that app — definitely worth a shot!

To get you started on your healthy eating adventures, give Chef Forberg’s salad recipe a try! All the other recipes from the evening can be found in her new book. Check back next month for Kathleen and Aaron Weber of Della Fattoria Bakery in Petaluma, California. Della Fattoria was not only the bread supplier for The French Laundry, but was also named one of “America’s 10 Best Bakeries” by Bon Appetit magazine. I’m trying to go gluten-free, but I think I’ll have to make an exception for that evening! See you next month!

Confetti Quinoa Salad with Pistachios and Currants

Serves 8


For the quinoa:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
3/4 cup dry quinoa
1 1/2 cups water, vegetable broth or chicken broth

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

For the salad:
1/2 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a quart saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for about 3 minutes or until softened.
2. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, stir, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes and remove from heat.
3. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.
4. Prepare dressing by whisking together vinegar, lemon juice and mustard in a small bowl.
5. Whisk in oil until emulsified. Set aside.
6. To assemble the salad, add dressing and remaining ingredients to the quinoa and mix well. Serve immediately.


  1. YUM! Thanks for including the quinoa salad recipe, Neely. Quinoa is a favorite of mine and I’m always interested in new interpretations. As always, I could almost smell and taste your photos! xoxoM

    • Hope you enjoy the quinoa salad recipe, Margarita! I tried it and subbed out the currants for chopped dried figs and added some chopped kale and beets. Love how recipes like these are often so versatile, enabling you can use whatever you have on hand. Take care!

    • I agree — sweet and savory makes for some great food combinations! Hope MyFitnessPal works out for you — I could use one of those fitbands as well ;)

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