Chef Johnny Carino has popped up all around Golden Isles, but his latest chapter includes healthy meals that clients can easily reheat while maintaining their diet needs.

He’s partnered up with personal trainer Tanya Burner-Erwin and Golden Isles Wellness at 406 Union St. on St. Simons Island to help clients stay on point through Fit Meals, their new meal service.

This endeavor began when Carino asked his doctor about a yacht his brother, Edmond Dantes, owns that is docked at Morningstar Marina. Carino was just interested in catering for his charters. Within hours Carino says, he, Jake Erwin and his wife, Tanya, were discussing catering and working on a line of healthy meals they would stock and sell at the wellness center.

Tanya says one of the main reasons she wanted to work with Carino is they share the same passions.

“One of the main reasons is he’s very passionate about health and fitness,” she said. “He’s done a bodybuilding show before, so when I heard that, I was like, ‘Oh then he totally gets the proper macronutrients and micronutrients’ — all that stuff. I do bodybuilding shows, as well and being on the feminine side and diet is very hardcore key for all that. That hit the mark I was looking for.”

Burner-Erwin said she wanted to make sure she produced something delicious yet healthy.

“The No. 1 thing everyone struggles with, myself included, is proper nutrition,” Burner-Erwin said. “It’s 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise. You don’t even have to exercise to lose weight, you just have to eat low-calorie — which is no fun. Everyone struggles with meal prepping, and everyone is in a hurry, so I thought, what if I offered a healthy prepped meal here, then my clients have no excuse. I want it to taste good and just help people live better.”

There won’t be any cooking in kitchens, as these meals will be premade and available to heat up in the microwave.

“The container I use is special, the top is left on, but as the meal cooks, it spins and allows for the food to come out with the same quality one would find in a great restaurant,” Carino said. “A few minutes in the microwave will turn into a gourmet event with food you would think it was just cooked by a chef.”

With so much going on last year with COVID-19, people want to stay healthy, and that all can start with a good diet.

“Time is valuable to all. Great food and nourishment are also needed to fuel and feed the body, and the need is frankly overwhelming,” Carino said. “I like fast food at times as much as anyone. However, the way it makes me feel is never good, and the food I offer provides calories and energy to one’s body which makes you feel so much better as a person in how you look and feel.”

The Fit Meals are set at below 350 calories per meal. Carino said some would have more as not everyone needs calorie amounts set. However, it’s the pricing that really will allow anyone to use this service.

“We will start at $11 for meals and go up based on the price of the offering we must pay,” Carino said. “Many services I have been told start low to get you hooked, then go up as they must make money. After a period, the food on their menu becomes the same, in looks and taste. I believe my mood, the weather and what is available drives the food. Yes, we will have familiar items that are the same every day of the week. However, the rest I will show you will be highly dependent on the market and what my mind thinks when it sees the food.”

Carino loves to cook healthy and springtime is one of the best times because so many things are coming into season. Growing up in an Italian family and cooking since he was 12, he loves experimenting and then in the spring, using citrus vinaigrettes and bold spices.

“I’m a huge lover of local seafood, produce, free-range poultry, grass-fed beef and great quality pork,” Carino said. “Truly, spring and summer are my favorite times of the year for great-tasting light dishes bursting with flavor. You will see me grilling outdoors, woking indoors, making great salads and finding new ways to create awesome vegetable and grain dishes. Finish it up with light citrus vinaigrette and fresh herbs, and you have the reasons why I love spring so much.”

While not everyone thinks healthy cooking can be delicious, Carino said it can be.

Healthy food should be food with big, bold flavors that work with one’s body to create energy, health, and wellness. My challenge to folks always is, healthy food is not boring, not simply a piece of chicken or fish,” he said. “It’s an array of fresh ingredients when combined and eaten together offer the same great tastes of gourmet foods one would not think were healthy to eat every day.”

Carino provided a recipe for healthy jerk chicken wings made as a delicious and flavorful option while staying healthy.

He said this recipe includes a dry rub with the spice recipe that calls for a minimum of four hours to preferably overnight. The wings are grilled over hickory and mesquite woods and served with pickled vegetables and mango jam. This meal service can offer something for everyone. As important as health is right now, putting nutritious things in the bodies is just the first step. For details about the meal program, email trainertanyab@gmail.com or visit Golden Isles Wellness’ Facebook page.

Healthy Jerky Wings

8 bone-in chicken wings

Jerk spice (recipe below)

4 tablespoons avocado oil

¾ cup pickled vegetables (recipe below)

1 ounce mango jam (recipe below)

Directions

Cover wings with oil and spice. Massage in well and allow to marinate in the refrigerator.

On a hot grill, cook marinated wings to 165 degrees and serve with vegetables and mango chutney for dipping.

Jerk Spice (you can buy premade if you prefer)

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp sea salt

2 tsp ground black pepper

2 tsp dry thyme leaves

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp allspice

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp clove

½ tsp cumin

Mix all the spices together well. Coat well over the chicken wings or chicken breast. Marinate at least four hours up to 24. Grill wings as directed.

Pickled Vegetables

¼ cup bias cut carrots

¼ cup bias cut zucchini

¼ cup red bell pepper cut into strips ¼ inch thick

6 Tbsp rice wine vinegar unseasoned

1 clove garlic unpeeled hole clove

½ tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp sea salt

Directions

Mix all ingredients well, place into a sauté pan and cook for about 12 minutes. Remove from pan, place into a container and refrigerate for six hours.

Mango Jam

¾ cup diced fresh mango ½ inch

4 tablespoons rice vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/8 cup pineapple juice

Add all ingredients to a sauce pot.

Directions

Reduce until it thickens. When slightly thick, remove and chill in cooler. The natural fruit pectin will thicken to a jam consistency.

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