Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- A local doctor says if he has to write a prescription for a pill for your chronic illness, he's failed, because he would rather prevent health problems with a nutrition prescription.

Now doctors in New Orleans are the first to go to class in a kitchen.

Before your future doctors learn how to hold a scalpel, they will learn how to use a pairing knife.

'Watch your thumb, fingers. Remember you want a dinosaur claw, your elbow out there, you go like that,' demonstrates Chef Leah Sarris, a Tulane Culinary nutritionist, as she teaches medical students how to cook.

The students in the cooking class are second-year medical students at Tulane.

'There's no program like this that exists, period. We are the first medical school maybe in the world that we know of, to hire a chef,' said Dr. Tim Harlan a Tulane, internist and medical director for the Tulane University Medical Group.

The 'professor,' Leah Sarris, came to Tulane from the prestigious College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University.

'People like sausage in their red beans and rice. So how can we still make it so they might be able to have pork in their red beans and rice but make a healthier option,' she said.

Dr. Timothy Harlan is also known as Dr. Gourmet, and he said what we put in our mouths is literally killing us.

'The vast majority of the patients that I treat for almost everything, have some degree of lifestyle component today,' he said.

But you know that already, that diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity and some cancers, and then the arthritis and amputations and knee replacements that follow, are preventable with healthful eating.

But what's different about this new curriculum at Tulane Medical School is that they are teaching students to teach the community and eventually their patients, to make the food taste great and cost less.

'For example, it may be cheaper to make your own home meal than just to go out and go out to McDonald's. It may even be quicker. Some of these recipes that we're practicing are quicker than getting your kids together in a car, driving to McDonald's, paying $25 for the family when you could be doing something at home for $12 on your own,' said Tulane second-year medical student Andrew Birkhead of Massachusetts.

'I didn't even know how to hold a knife before I came to this class. So I learned how to do that and then a lot of it is also just kind of learning what healthy eating means,' said classmate Esther Joo of Maryland and Los Angeles.

And the students are already passing on their new knowledge. They are teaching free cooking classes in the community, from reading recipes, to grocery shopping, to buying healthful ingredients to cooking it.

'This is a really exciting program. This really changes the whole way we think about interacting with patients, the way we think about that continuum from basic science to lifystyle, take it home and make a difference in their lives,' said Dr. Harlan.

For more on the free community cooking classes, call 504-256-9925 or e-mail Chef Leah Sarris at

For free recipes, healthful food tips, diet advice and Dr. Tim Harlan's books, click here.

For the full article on the Tulane Medical School cooking program, click here and scroll down to page 8.

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