In the late 1980s, my parents brought my siblings and I on a road trip through the south of France. We made one memorable stop for lunch at Les Près d’Eugénie, a restaurant in Eugénie-les-Bains with three Michelin stars. I vividly recall one dish that I had (the name escapes me now): a simple mirepoix of vegetables in a light cream broth. It was absolutely delicious. It seems that the best food in the world doesn’t have to involve expensive cuts of meat, exotic seafood, or even foie gras. Can haute cuisine be relatively healthy? The answer is a resounding “yes!”
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The chef at that restaurant was Michel Guérard, a culinary star who helped bring “healthy” into gourmet cooking. He was one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine in the 1970s, lightening the rich sauces of classic French cuisine.
Since then, France has spawned new generations of chefs who have gone easy on the meat, butter, cream, and salt. One such chef is the legendary Alain Passard of three Michelin-starred l’Arpège in Paris. Passard boldly banished red meat from his menu to focus almost exclusively on vegetables picked from his farm. The same thing can be said of Alain Ducasse, another legend whose signature dish, the cookpot, is a medley of vegetables slow cooked in their own juices. He is a staunch vegetable (but not vegetarian) advocate, who has been offering veg-centric menus at his restaurants for many years now. These top French chefs have shown that fresh quality ingredients and culinary skill can make something as simple as a vegetable soup taste so extraordinarily complex and delightful.
Back home, the hotels are leading the way in bringing “healthy” to their menus. In Sofitel Manila’s Spiral, the all-you-can-eat indulgence is balanced with a De-Light menu, an adjunct to its Vietura Aesthetic Lifestyle wellness programs. De-Light dishes include Thai pomelo salad, free-range spring chicken, and sugar-free warm apple tart, available for in-room dining and at Spiral, Le Bar, Vietura, and Le Spa. The dishes are cooked fresh, low in calories, and portion controlled, created with the help of a nutritionist. The organic salads, fresh seafood, salmon, sashimi, grilled food, and fresh fruits are highly recommended.
The Peninsula Manila also upped the ante on healthy offerings with its 360 Wellness program in collaboration with world-class spa The Farm at San Benito. Bringing its wellness know-how into the Peninsula kitchens, The Farm worked with chef Samuel Linder to create a light menu that uses only fresh herbs and spices, organic produce, and no meat or meat byproducts. Chef Linder shares, “It’s not every day that a chef gets his hands on living, fresh-from- the-market seasonal produce like we did when we immersed ourselves totally in The Farm’s culture and this definitely helped us engineer a menu that’s pure and clean flavored without sacrificing on flavor.”
Available at the hotel’s outlets Escolta, Spices, and Old Manila, the menu ranges from Asian, like Penang curry with squash, tofu, steamed greens, and organic rice, to Western, like eggplant ratatouille involtini. There’s even dessert, with frozen chocolate and coconut dim sum or an almond roulade with figs and bananas. And, yes, the menu offers a helpful caloric count, too.
A taste of the future
Meanwhile at Vask Modern Tapas & Gastronomic Cuisine in Taguig, Spanish chef Jose Luis Gonzalez is quietly creating his own healthy gastronomic revolution. While many of the new restaurants popping around Vask go heavy on the calories, Chef Luis is doing the opposite, creating dishes using a philosophy of cooking healthy and organic that he learned in his early years working at Mugaritz in Spain, one of the best restaurants in the world, and as the head chef of its sister restaurant Nerua at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. “I want to bring to the Philippines not just fun and creative food but also another point of view, a new and healthy way to eat,” he enthuses.
When his customers sometimes ask why they don’t feel full after dining at Vask, Chef Luis is unapologetic, saying that that’s the way he likes it. He stays away from “big carbs” like French fries or pasta and, instead, goes with quinoa or bulgur. He avoids too much cream or butter and doesn’t fry much, preferring to cook a la plancha (grill on a metal plate) or steam. He also does a lot of sous vide, sealing ingredients in a vacuum bag so they cook in their own juices while immersed in a temperature-controlled water bath. Doing so preserves all of the ingredients’ characteristics. It’s a healthy technique, says Chef Luis, especially for fruits, vegetables, some meats, and fish.
The Peninsula menu keeps it light without sacrificing flavor and a touch of indulgence.
At the fine dining Vask Gallery, Chef Luis’s spectacular new Carluccio degustation may have 15 courses, but the dishes are light enough. A dish called Atlantic features Japanese sole or hirame infused with an emulsion of Iberian pork broth, calamansi, and patis, served with bok choi and crispy quinoa. The pork may be rich but is used in the lightest of ways. And the not-so-secret touch is his elegant use of Asian, especially Filipino ingredients.
While we may want our creamy pastas and huge steaks every now and then, it’s inspiring to see chefs at the highest level of their craft cooking with health and nutrition in mind. What is even more inspiring is that these chefs don’t ever believe that the health factor compromises their cooking. Instead, they bring all their talent and skill to the fore to create dishes so exquisite, so textured and nuanced, that their customers never even notice that it’s good for them, too.
Gourmet health trends to try
It’s about supercharging your day with power juices that offer all the nutrients you’ll need in one glass, whether you’re detoxing or just planning to lose weight. These days, juicing is still on people’s minds whether you go with experts like Juju Cleanse, Spruce, or Juice Therapy, or you make them at home. Just be sure to invest in the best juicer you can find. (Matstone, Breville, and Hurom are all excellent options.)
• DASH – This top-rated diet stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” but works well as an all-around diet. The emphasis is on fresh, low-fat foods and limiting sugary products and added fats.
• Paleo – Think the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet full of fresh vegetables, meat, and fish, with no processed food like grains, dairy, refined salt, and sugar.
• Flexitarian – This is for those who want to eat a mostly vegetarian diet without completely foregoing the meat and fish.
3. Dark chocolate
If you’re a chocolate lover, you’re in luck as dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants. For connoisseurs, forego the commercial variety and seek out single origin chocolate for its distinctive flavor and aroma profile. For a local touch, try the exquisite Malagos 65% Dark Chocolate, using 100 percent cacao beans from Davao.
This piece originally came out in Vault Magazine Issue 14, 2014.