Digging In with Chef Jim Kelly

Digging In with Chef Jim Kelly

Chef Jim Kelly is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of clean eating. He’s been a chef for Tom Brady for nearly fifteen years, and before that, implemented a five-ingredient rule for any food he bought to completely cut processed food out of his diet. 

So, when Tom approached him about developing the all-new TB12 Plant-Based Protein bars, Jim took to the challenge. He and Tom collaborated on two unique flavors — Turmeric Cashew Honey and Chocolate Cacao Crunch — that deliver essential nutrients using only clean ingredients.

We talked to Chef Jim about his rules for healthy cooking, his fifteen-year partnership with Tom, and what makes these TB12 bars unlike anything else out there.

How did you first get into clean cooking? What made you decide to do it professionally? 

In an act of young rebellion, I became a vegetarian and took it rather seriously. I started reading food labels to assure I wasn’t “breaking the rules,” and was astounded by the amount of garbage in processed foods. So, I decided to start cooking for myself. I also established my Rule of Five, which I still live by to this day and apply to my children’s shopping selections: If there are more than five ingredients on the label, I won’t eat it.  

I got my first restaurant job the summer before my fourteenth birthday. I loved the energy in the kitchen and was mesmerized by the controlled chaos of a busy service. I continued cooking as a summer job throughout college, then after traveling the world. 

No matter what, I always came back to cooking as a means of self-expression and a gesture of love. I learned to appreciate the power of a shared meal, and came to understand the delicate balance of flavors and textures that create a great dish. Food is undoubtedly my passion.

You’ve been Tom’s chef for nearly fifteen years. What is your relationship with him like?

I have a very clear understanding of what and how Tom likes to eat. In return, Tom understands and appreciates the effort that goes into the food I make, whether it’s for him and his family, a TB12 recipe or a potential product. 

Both my knowledge and understanding of nutrition have evolved considerably over the years. I’ve refined my cooking to focus on longevity, not just for Tom, but for myself as well. Some day, I hope to be the 80 year old guy out snagging all the best waves! 

What do you keep in mind as you develop recipes for Tom?

When I think about a new dish, my first consideration is flavor. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice taste in order for a dish to be healthy. Great ingredients are always the starting point. 

Then, I consider how to optimize hydration and avoid inflammation. I try to avoid nightshades (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes) whenever possible, skip dairy and gluten altogether, focus mainly on organic whole foods and try to keep the salt content low.  

How did you develop the TB12 Plant-Based Protein Bars? They contain a lot of ingredients that you don’t normally see.

A big inspiration for the bars were the vegan and sugar-free desserts I was already making for Tom’s family, so I suppose it started there. A lot of the ingredients Tom and I use might seem uncommon, but they were all things that were already in our wheelhouse. 

Chocolate, more specifically dark chocolate, is a big Brady family favorite. A lot of the chocolate desserts I make start with a nut and date crust. When we started developing the bars, I had just recently started to include baked quinoa crisps for an extra layer of crunch and added nutrients. Cashews and medjool dates were also a regular snack item, so we separately combined them with a golden milk flavor profile, and off we went.

What stands out to you about the Turmeric Cashew Honey bar? 

What really stands out is its warm finish. We put together a delicious combination of the turmeric, ceylon cinnamon, and ginger that’s really unique to our bar. 

How about the Chocolate Cacao Crunch?

The Chocolate Cacao Crunch has a rich caramel-cacao flavor that finishes perfectly with the crunch from the quinoa and cacao nibs.

How can the average person improve their day-to-day nutrition?

Drink more water! Chronic dehydration is one of the most easily avoided medical conditions out there.