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Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Good Lesson Learned

I know I didn't get a post done last week - but I have a really good excuse. I was at the Culinary Institute of America attending a class on Healthy Flavors, which is pretty timely given I am on the topic of obesity.

What I appreciated most, apart from getting to cook with real chefs for a week, was that this premier cooking school realized that it needed to teach chefs how to make more healthful food. Although the U.S. is a veritable melting pot, of people and their foods, it is still overwhelmingly dominated by European cuisine. This is especially true of chefs coming out of culinary school where they are taught the french classical techniques. And while you'll never hear me dissing a well prepared veloute or demi-glace, and butter and cream have a special place in my heart, at some point the culinary traditions need to be modified.

It was also refreshing that in addition to teaching these professional chefs how to cook and use more healthful ingredients in their kitchens, the class was co-taught by a Registered Dietician. Talking about grains and legumes and even preparing tasty dishes with them is nice, but understanding why these ingredients are healthy (really, isn't it always easier when you understand the why's?), what the recommended serving quantities are and how to get customers to order these options is really what is going to make a difference long-term.

Now, you will never hear me blame the food industry for the growing waistline of America (no one is making purchases for us or shoving it down our throats) but if we can get more culinary schools to teach this type of coursework, we might just find our selection of healthy choices grow by leaps and bounds. The chefs who shared this class with me learned that a daily serving of whole grains is a tiny 47 grams per day, less than 2 ounces (who can't choke down 2 oz?) and that while not very popular, a portion of lean protein (read: meat/fish/chicken) is only 4 ounces. They also learned that nothing will kill a menu item faster than calling it healthy. People don't want to think about healthy - it needs to happen on the sly. If great tasting, interestingly prepared food is offered people will order it. If it is also healthy then so much the better!

So, the next time you go to your favorite restaurant, look to see if someone in their kitchen is adopting this new thinking. The trend of the future is more legumes (beans), vegetables, nuts, and grains (especially the whole grains like: quinoa, barley, bulgur, amaranth, kamut). If they are on the menu - try them, you just might like being healthy.

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