Mac ’n cheese. Chocolate cake. Some readers might have already started drooling, but few are probably thinking about the word “healthy.”

That’s where Chef Danny Boome comes in. Alongside a team of expert chefs, Boome stars in the T.V. show “Recipe Rehab,” where he transforms traditional comfort food (like that cheesy and chocolate-y stuff) into nutritious, even more delicious dishes. (A new cookbook by the same name has also just come out with recipes from the test kitchen.)

Danny Boome Photo: Vanessa Stump Boome may call himself a “gastronaut” (i.e. someone who really appreciates food), but he actually started out as a professional ice hockey player. After a brief stint nannying — and cooking — for a family in the Swiss Alps, he took on an apprenticeship in Canada and traveled all over the world as a chef. Since then he’s appeared on shows including “Chew Crew Correspondent,” “The Chew,” and “Rescue Chef,” helping viewers create healthier, tastier meals.

We caught up with Boome to talk pizza, the value of simplicity, the challenges of cooking nutritious food, and what makes a meal “healthy” in the first place. And the best part? We put the chefs at Recipe Rehab to the ultimate challenge: rehabbing a chocolate cake recipe with only healthy ingredients. Check out the recipe at the bottom of the post and see if it meets your standards for delicious and nutritious!

Q&A with Chef Danny

Has there been one recipe that’s been especially hard to turn from unhealthy to nutritious?

I always go back to the mac ’n cheese. The chefs that day, when they revamped the mac n cheese recipe, they actually made it more tasty. There were maybe 2,000 [or] 3,000 calories in the whole dish [865 calories per serving], and we were all surprised that there was less cheese in it than before, but it tasted better. [The two revamped dishes had 512 and 356 calories per serving.] Normally, in the chef’s world, fat equals flavor, but this time it was a case of less is more. I think somebody had put 25 dollars worth of cheese in the original recipe and the revamped recipe was only five dollars worth of cheese.

Chefs need a voice like this. They’re always asked to do the most indulgent things, but a lot of chefs really like to cook healthy... And cooking healthy is just using fresher, seasonal ingredients... Basically, we’re using not full fat, we’re using probably half fat, and the cooking method is generally baked or sautéed or steamed instead of fried. So there’s a few less ingredients, [simpler] techniques, a lot more seasonal fresh ingredients — that’s what makes a successful rehab.

Do you have a favorite healthy recipe?

I eat clean, so I don’t really eat too much processed food. I like to eat fish and I like to eat meat and I like to see it in its own packaging. And then basically if I add ingredients to things I just use half. I don’t really use butter, I use olive oil; I don’t use a lot of cream, I use half [the recommended amount]; or I use two-percent milk or cream cheese or cottage cheese instead of cream. And when it comes to healthy recipes it’s just something like steamed broccoli or sautéed broccoli with a little bit of chili sprinkled on top… [or] roasted cauliflower with a little bit of chili and it’s brilliant! It tastes fresh!

We like to ask the people we interview if they have a favorite cheat meal.

Pizza would be my weakness. I eat healthier because I have arthritis. I had to change my diet instead of being medicated; I wanted to do it holistically. So pizza was like my trifecta of badness for people with arthritis: It has dairy, it has pork, it has yeast in it, and it’s very bad for your immune system and it inflames your body. So I found that making whole-wheat, cauliflower-based pizza is just a godsend.

Is there one particular chef you admire?

He’s a friend of mine, Mario Batali. And Spike Mendelsohn. Those two guys are the kings of keeping it simple. They have so much flavor and so much simplicity in their menus that it’s part genius because we are all trying to complicate everything way too much.

Chocolate Cake: Before and After

Chef Danny and the whole Recipe Rehab team are pros at taking the guilt out of typically unhealthy recipes. We asked our readers (that's you!) to submit their favorite less-than-healthy recipes and chose one to have Chef Danny put his healthy twist on.

The original chocolate cake recipe (submitted by Greatist reader Oliver Shreeve) had more than a cup of butter, a cup of sugar, and a cup of white flour — plus more in the icing! Check out how the Recipe Rehab team transformed it to be lower in sugar, fat, and calories.
The "Rehabbed" Recipe: Dark Chocolate Chip Cake with Mocha Frosting
Chocolate Cake Photo by Kate Morin

Recipe by Mareya Ibrahim

What You'll Need:

For the Cake:
1 can nonstick cooking spray

1 cup canned red beets (drained)
1 cup xylitol natural sugar substitutes
1 cup unsweetened vanilla soy milk
2 large egg whites
2 cups all-purpose whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (at least 70% cocoa powder)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Frosting:
3/4 cup unsweetened vanilla soy milk
6 ounces chopped dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup fresh raspberries (or any berry you like)
1 teaspoon powdered sugar

What to Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Make the batter: Place the beets in a food processor or blender and process until completely smooth. Pour the pureed beets into a mixing bowl; add the xylitol and soy milk.
  3. Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add the egg whites and vanilla and beat until smooth.
  5. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-combined and there are no visible lumps.
  6. Divide the batter between the cake pans, smoothing the surface with a spatula. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cakes are springy and fairly firm to the touch.
  7. Cool for about 10 minutes. Loosen the cakes from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the edges. Turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Now, prepare the frosting: Combine the soy milk, chocolate, coffee, and powdered sugar in a pot and place over medium heat.
  9. Cook, stirring gently with a rubber spatula, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. (If the frosting is too runny, place in the freezer to firm up; it should be spreadable consistency.)
  10. Once cook, use a metal spatula to spread about ½ cup of the frosting on top of one of the cake rounds.
  11. Carefully place the other cake on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Finish with raspberries on top of cake and sprinkle powdered sugar.

What's your favorite not-quite-nutritious recipe, and how do you health-ify it? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.