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Live To Eat, Or Eat To Live?

Local chef John Mitchell is hoping to bring healthy food to the masses with LYFE Kitchen's new venture into the aisles at CostCo.

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This is one of the strangest kitchen recipes ever: The head chef at a gourmet restaurant, a former McDonald's executive and an investment banker creating — of all things — healthy food.

Love Your Food Everyday, that's the idea that brought them together.

Mill Valley's John Mitchell, the former head chef at Tavern at Lark Creek, is used to serving delicious and decadent delights to an educated and demanding foodie clientele.

McDonald's has taken a lot of flack for allegedly promoting a menu loaded with unhealthy foods and light on healthy options. The fast food chain's brass do know about marketing, however.

Investment banker Stephen Sidwell — like a lot of Americans — was unhappy with his weight and his lifestyle. He was constantly on the go and didn't have time to sit down for a healthy meal. He tried the prepared meals advertised on late-night television. He and his wife tried going back to the roots — shopping at the famers markets and cooking their own meals.

"That didn't last," he lamented. "It was expensive, we didn't always have the time or the energy."

That's when he hooked up with a private chef, who's also a food scientist, to cook three meals a day plus snacks for three months. That worked.

That also laid the groundwork for LYFE Kitchen, a Palo Alto restaurant focused on healthy foods. Sidwell teamed with Mitchell and celebrity chefs Art Smith and Tal Ronnen, then recruited former McDonald's chief operating office Mike Roberts and chief communications offer Mike Donahue to help lead the executive side.

Six months after the restaurant opened its doors, LYFE Kitchen is making a major move — into Costco of all places.

"We figured this will work because almost everyone shops at Costco, right? Plus, it fits in with their tastings," Donahue said.

LYFE Kitchen's sweet corn chowder, smoky tomato bisque, chicken masala, chimichurri beef and other recipes are already in the refrigerated food section at select Northern California and Nevada outlets, including Novato, Santa Rosa, Mountain View and Redwood City.

"I grew up on Twinkies, HoHo's … Tang was a big one," Mitchell said. "That's another reason why I went to culinary school to become a chef, because I felt 'This isn't right.' We can't just eat packaged foods."

Now Mitchell is hoping to revolutionize the packaged foods industry.

Mitchell made a reputation for himself when he signed on to be head chef at Tavern at Lark Creek in 1990 before he went on to pursue other ventures, including his own restaurant Beautifull. At every stop, he learned to appreciate to bounty of local, organic foods. LYFE Kitchen uses Mary's free-range chicken and Diestel turkey in the Bay Area, but will use local sources for different regions around the country as it expands, according to Sidwell.

"We use locally-produced ingredients whenever possible in our foods," Mitchell said of LYFE Kitchen menu, both in the restaurant and in the frozen food aisle.

The theory behind the new line of foods is each meal is 500 calories or less and has less than 5,000 mg of sodium per serving, with no additives or preservatives. Butter, cream and high fructose corn syrup rare banned from the kitchen. Mitchell mixes yogurt into the rice for a creamy texture.

The food, packaged for convenient and easy preparation, tastes more like it was made in a kitchen and not a factory.

"We start and we finish with great taste," Sidwell said.

Sidwell's goal is to make the food healthy, tasty and — at $10 for 4-6 servings — affordable.

Mitchell hopes to bring LYFE Kitchen to other retail stores as well. His new recipes could eventually land next to Whole Foods' 365 brand foods, which he also helped develop.

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