Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen, with its 520 restaurants mostly in the Southeast, is known for battered, fried fish. But Jason Henderson, who joined as head chef and vice president of product innovation more than five years ago, is trying to update that reputation – just as he changed his own health.
As part of his new job at Captain D’s, he was to have annual physicals. That first year, at age 40, he found out his cholesterol was really high, he was borderline hypertensive, and his blood pressure out of control. The doctor wanted to put him on several medications and told him “40 year olds don’t change their habits.” At the time, he was looking for life insurance to protect his family and was “freaking out.”
Henderson decided he wanted to put his foot down, no medications, he was going to try to do it by lifestyle changes – he is a chef, after all, so he can make healthy food just as easily as unhealthy food. It wasn’t that simple, though. He had tried every fad diet and his weight yo-yoed up and down. At 5-foot, 10-inches, at one point he had ballooned to 230 pounds.
“I wore it like a vest – that stealth jacket of heart disease,” he said.
“As a corporate chef, the job is to eat stuff,” Henderson said, adding that he is in the test kitchen long hours and then eats out on a regular basis, trying out new trends and competitors’ menu offerings.
He decided to make a big culinary change to his diet – and offer it to all Captain D’s customers. He created a grilled menu with healthy options, such as grilled wild salmon, tilapia, white fish and shrimp, with a choice of three seasoning blends. There’s also a grilled Alaska salmon cake that’s quite popular.
At home, it was a little harder. His wife is English and traditionally likes more meat and potatoes. She would eat fish and chips, so he began experimenting. He tried taking that type of light, flaky white fish and trying recipes that aren’t battered, with different sauces and preparation.
“Fish can be daunting to find what you like,” he admitted. At their house, the rule is “not only do you have to try it, we prepare it again a different way, and you have to try it again.” By the second or third time, he finds a way to serve it that everyone likes.
“Now, literally, a day doesn’t go by where I am not eating a piece of seafood,” he said. He has a 5.5 oz. serving of salmon at least twice a week, tilapia two to three times a week, flounder and shrimp.
Around the same time, he was seeking an exercise routine and got into high intensity interval training at CrossFit, which really promotes fish oil as part of the routine, so he began taking supplements, as well.
“I’m a big omega-3 fan today,” he said.
When Henderson went back for the physical one year later, after not taking any of the medications he was prescribed, his cholesterol went down drastically. Now, four years later, he lost 40 to 50 pounds of fat and his LDL cholesterol changed from 166 to 89 with perfect 1:1 HDL to LDL for the past two years. At less than 10% body fat, he weighs around 205 pounds.
No more extra large t-shirts, he now wears a size medium chef coat. And, more importantly for his family, is in the select preferred status – the highest status for health – for his life insurance.
Henderson knows a little about fish. He has a bachelor’s degree in fisheries science from Virginia Tech University, where he studied aquaculture and raised tilapia. After graduating, he realized he liked cooking fish as much as he liked raising them, and decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America.