Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Recipe for a healthy life

Sneha May Francis caught up with a few celebrity chefs who jotted down the perfect formula that allows you to dine out minus the guilt

Do you find it tough to let go and enjoy a lavish spread at swanky restaurants for fear of piling on the kilos? There’s no denying we have become a weight-obsessed lot. Calorie talk weaves into most of our daily conversations, with everyone showing their concern about staying fit and eating right.
Eat more fish, use olive oil, drink green tea… there’s an abundance of ‘what to dos’ available in print, dedicated exclusively to this way of life. Reports of new-found health theories always make headline news, forcing us to change our diets radically in keeping with the latest trend. Everyone wants to stay healthy without having to chew on carrot and celery sticks. So we decided to tweak our outing with celebrity chefs and ask them how to spice up our lives without having to clog our hearts.
The best way to go healthy? Go natural
Celebrated chef Gary Rhodes, who has put British cooking back on the gourmet map, feels healthy eating translates into eating with the seasons. After feeding many a hungry stomach across the globe, he’s found his way to Dubai with the Rhodes Mezzanine. "In England, I always use the English asparagus during May and June. We also have it flown over [to Dubai]. And since it’s that sensational, we need to do very little with it. Consequently, what we are giving our customers is just very great depth of flavour that a natural ingredient holds," he explains. Natural ingredients are the key to making it right, agrees executive chef at Grosvenor House, Garry Hollihead. "I stay away from canned products and work with natural ingredients," he says. Chef de cuisine in Maya restaurant RubĂ©n Herrera concurs: "The more natural the food, the better it tastes".
Drilling the point home is Indian chef Vineet Bhatia of the popular Indigo spot. He claims healthy eating should begin at home. "Unfortunately when it comes to ordering out Indian food, it’s very oily, but that’s not how it’s cooked at home," he explains, stressing how clever technique will help "flavour and texture" the dishes without adding the calories. Neil Wilkinson, sous chef in Dubai Creek, feels, "More ingredients doesn’t mean more fat, it only has to be natural."
Chef Muthu of BiteRite Cafe and Restaurant talks about a concept where chefs design the recipes and send them to a nutritionist to modify them and then add them to their menu. "Customers can choose the recipes according to their needs."
Organic food – the flavour of the season
It’s the new ‘in’ thing. Everyone’s talking about organic, craving organic, and wanting to add a slice of organic to their daily diet. Supermarkets stock up exclusive shelves for organic veggies and fruits and it’s moving into the restaurant kitchens too.
Grosvenor House’s Hollihead confirms this trend has hit London, with more customers showing preference for organic food. He’s not alone in his observation. Wilkinson says the reason people are going organic is because it is natural. "People are constantly learning how to eat better, which makes us create different dishes by constantly experimenting with the flavours," he adds.
Most chefs agree that this healthy movement doesn’t mean they have to drastically rework their recipes. Italian celebrity chef Giorgio Locatelli, who stirsup his magic at Atlantis, believes it’s not the recipe but the ingredients that need more scrutiny. "I don’t really make an effort to change the recipe, but to choose the right ingredients which are produced in the right way. I’m a strong believer in organic food," he says
Develop a taste for the unusual
The white-capped men were unanimous in their observation about how more people are willing to experiment with a variety of cuisine. Mexican chef Herrera reasons it’s mainly to find a particular one that might use the best healthy cooking method. "Often people think Mexican cuisine is not healthy because they think the food is deep fried. On the contrary, our cooking is healthy. We try to minimise fat or oil as much as possible and use fresh ingredients," he explains. Wilkinson also notes the trend to try new things. But in his words, it’s often the same dish revamped in a different way, mainly because "people only go for what they know".
More to a dish than what meets the eye
The men in aprons identify this sudden trend in food talk and public concern about what we consume. It’s about whether the vegetables have been pumped with chemicals or pesticides that are harmful for the body. Locatelli believes it’s a good sign that people are taking more interest in their food and are no longer satisfied with eating straight out of the supermarkets. "Customers want to know where the food comes from, how the animal is being reared," he adds. Hollihead chips in with the traceability factor, which tracks where the food comes from.
Herrera agrees that people don’t eat and go. "They are genuinely concerned about what they are being fed. Especially when it’s red meat or fish, customers want to know where it’s coming from; if it is farm-reared or if it’s wild. Also some people like it 100 per cent vegan." Wilkinson says there’s an increase in demand for olive oil. "Now everyone wants to use olive oil instead of the heavy oils or butter, because they believe olive oil is lighter and healthier."
Sweet nothings on the dessert menu
For those who can’t allow a few scoops of white sugar into their diet, then there are healthier options. The trick is to tweak the ingredients so that it gives the desired effect with less harm to the body. Executive chef of Right Bite Chadi Fakhoury says it’s about eating clever. "For sandwiches we use wholewheat bread, egg whites, less salt and no fat at all. Even the sugar we use is either brown sugar or fructose, which is natural sugar."
With so many options around, it’s only natural that there’s way to our tummies without guilt. And feeding your tummy without mistreating your heart is a complete winner.
But all this health food doesn’t sound fun
Squashing the common misconceptions that anything healthy doesn’t taste good, Hollihead claims that’s not the case at all. "Of course, it can be tasty. It can be very clean, very simplistic and very fresh." Vineet explains how he works on making the dishes a bit more lighter. "We are very strong on fish in our menus because it’s healthier. We have seen a shift in people’s dining out taste, they all want to eat something ‘light’ and not heavy." But the fat trimmings are done away with without compromising on taste. "Instead of adding two tablespoons of ghee you use oil," explains the chef.
A healthy night out is all down to balance
It’s not like you gorge on fatty food everyday, so the men in white do allow a one-off indulgence. "The old French cuisine has cream but again, that’s not what you eat everyday," explains Locatelli. Rhodes reasons that one sweet indulgence once a month, 12 days in a year, can do no harm to your body. "We create our menus for our customers. I’ve had a lady come up to me and say ‘whatever you do, please don’t take the bread and butter pudding off the menu’. Now if I told you how much cream I use in that pudding you’d shoot me." Rhodes doesn’t slash the pudding off his menu, because he claims the trick is to balance your meal.
Fair enough. With a little reason, more natural choices and a balanced approach, it’s goodbye guilt and hello waiter.

Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai (April 23, 2009)

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