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Healthy Cooking with Chef Shawn Cirkiel

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Tips from the pro on how to make hotdogs healthy and grilling easy at the R3 Summit.

By Megan Russell

Oct. 26 was Prevention Magazine’s R3 Summit, which brought together the leading minds in health and wellness to discuss issues pertaining to Prevention’s six pillars: The Healthy Epicurean, Health, Beauty, Peak Performance, Mind-Body and Happiness. On hand to represent Austin on the Healthy Epicurean cooking stage was Chef Shawn Cirkiel, owner of Parkside, The Backspace and Olive & June.

Chef Cirkiel performed two cooking demos for the summit: Austin’s Own Hot Dog Toppings and Healthy Grilling, followed by The Healthy Grilling Demo. Using mainly local and seasonal ingredients, he showed summit-goers healthy ways to enjoy hotdogs and grilling.

Healthy hotdogs may seem like an oxymoron, but the local chef was able to demonstrate easy, good-for-you alternatives to the typical hotdog toppings.

“You can take any ingredient and make it healthy by cooking it right. We use a lot of spices instead of fats,” he said. Cirkiel also recommends seasoning as you go instead of at the end. “The irony about salt and pepper, specifically salt, is that if you use it at the beginning of the process, at the middle and at the end, you use a lot less overall.”

Another way to add a little extra kick of something nutritious is in the garnish. Cirkiel added Brussels sprouts in place of parsley to give the dish a nice finish.

The 22-year cooking veteran made sure to keep the recipes easily accessible for anyone looking to adjust and sneak in a few healthier choices with more complex flavors than the average hotdog topping.

Chef Cirkiel’s second demo was dedicated to the grill, a staple of any Texas home.

“Anytime you’re working with a grill, you want to make sure the temperature comes all the way up. After, you want to make sure to use a little oil on a rag and that will keep it from sticking,” he said, readying the grill for a decidedly different grilling choice: quail. To do this, he put oil on a towel, using tongs to run the oiled towel over the grill. Cirkiel recommends three to four hours of marinating time and a tad extra cooking time to make those little guys tender.

His love of food comes second only to his love of family and community. Of the many projects he works on is an initiative at Highland Park Elementary.

When asked about his own kids, the father of two says they help him cook as much as possible. Cirkiel asserts that if kids are involved in the cooking process, they’ll take pride in their work and be involved in the eating process as well.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t love unhealthy treats every now and again. One of Cirkiel’s favorite memories is going to Mrs. Johnson’s Donuts on Airport Boulevard and eating cake doughnuts fresh out of the oven, a tradition he carries on with this kids.

To learn more about Chef Cirkiel and his restaurants, visit, and To learn more about Prevention Magazine and the R3 Summit’s six pillars, visit

Healthy Hotdog Toppings: Tomatillo Relish


  • 1/2 cup fresh tomatillos, diced
  • 1/2 cup avocado, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup
  • 1 jalapeño charred, seeded and chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


In a mixing bowl, whisk together zest, juice, cumin, oil and syrup. Next, add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Season to taste and serve.

Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts Mustarda


  • 1/2 cup acorn squash, diced
  • 1/2 cup Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Combine ingredients, minus the sprouts, in a sauce pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is cooked through. Remove pot from the heat and add your remaining sprout leaves. Season to taste and serve.

Quail with Eggplant in Adobo

Eggplant in Adobo Ingredients:

  • 2 Japanese eggplants, quartered
  • 2 ancho chilies, seeded
  • 6 guajillo chilies, seeded
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 Roma tomato
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon marjoram, dried
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves, dry
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Grill or sear eggplant over high heat. Once cool, dice and set aside. Combine water, chilies and tomatoes in a small saucepot and bring to a boil until the tomatoes burst. Blend the contents of the pot until smooth. In a saucepot, heat the oil until right before the smoking point, then add onion, carrots and garlic and sweat the ingredients. After softened, add remaining ingredients, including the tomato puree reserved in the blender. Bring the pot to a simmer for 10 minutes and then toss the reserved eggplant in your sauce. Season to taste, cool and serve. The longer the eggplant is in the marinade, the better flavor it will develop.

Grilled Quail Ingredients:

  • 8 Texas quail
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper, fresh cracked
  • 1 tablespoon Worchester sauce
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, sliced


Preheat a grill until it is hot enough so that your hand can be held over it for a count of five seconds. Whisk together all the ingredients, reserving half of the olive oil and the parsley, in a mixing bowl. Place quail in the marinade for at least a half hour, with four hours being ideal. Remove the quail from the marinade, drain, dry and season quail with salt and pepper. Brush remaining olive oil on the grill top and immediately place quail on the grill. Cook for three minutes on each side or until your desired level of doneness is achieved. Place grilled quail on top of eggplant adobo and garnish with parsley. Enjoy!


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