Move over steak and potatoes. Sayonara hamburger and fries. Hello Sriracha cauliflower, cheesy brussels sprout dip, curried quinoa burgers, Buddha bowls, and avocado chocolate!
Healthy eating hasn’t just become a trend – it’s become delicious. Perhaps thanks to hipsters – or maybe more credited to some of the game changers below – here are a few chefs fighting the good fight when it comes to healthy, sustainable food.
Balance: Jamie Oliver
A conversation about healthy eating cannot be had without Jamie Oliver. What does he advocate? In essence: balance. You may remember a time in your youth when you were tasked with creating “a day in meals” and had to plan meals using the four food groups with far less junk food than your seven year old self would’ve preferred. This is sort of what Jamie Oliver advocates.
“If you want to curl up and eat macaroni and cheese every once in awhile that's alright! Just have a sensible portion next to a fresh salad, and don't eat a big old helping of chocolate cake afterwards.”
So how does one attain this mindfulness when it comes to eating? Oliver says the skill is two-fold: learning how to cook and choosing good, in-season ingredients.
“Knowing how to cook means you'll be able to turn all sorts of fresh ingredients into meals when they're in season, at their best, and cheapest! Cooking this way will always be cheaper than buying processed food, not to mention better for you. And because you'll be cooking a variety of lovely things, you'll naturally start to find a sensible balance.”
Above all, Oliver wants a society educated and aware about the food they’re putting in their body. Watch his TED talk, Teach Every Child About Food.
Taste: Dan Barber
When you first see Dan Barber, he looks rather unassuming. As he starts speaking, you might think of Woody Allen briefly. Mad food scientist might cross your mind. But Barber uses his words as a paint brush, pulling you into his adventures of the pallet by illustrating the story of an ingredient from farmer to farm to oven.
In A Foie Gras Parable, Barber takes arguably the most controversial dish, foie gras, and celebrates it but not in the way you might think. While in the public imagination, foie gras is wrought with images cruelty to geese and force feeding, Barber tells a romantic story of a farmer who has found a way to produce foie gras naturally and humanely, so much so that wild geese pass by his farm and choose to stay. How? By creating an Eden for the geese and a life where they are happy, fulfilled and unstressed. The result: the best foie gras of Barber’s life.
“I don't think I had ever really had foie gras until that moment. I'd had something that was called foie gras […] It was sweet, it was unctuous. It had all the qualities of foie gras, but its fat had a lot of integrity and a lot of honesty.
And you could taste herbs, you could taste spices. I said, you know, I swear to God I tasted star anise. I was sure of it. And I'm not like some super taster, you know? But I can taste things. There's 100 percent star anise in there. And he says, "No." And I ended up like going down the spices, and finally, it was like, OK, salt and pepper, thinking he's salted and peppered his liver. But no. He takes the liver when he harvests the foie gras, he sticks them in this jar and he confits it. No salt, no pepper, no oil, no spices.”
Barber advocates sustainable agriculture and farming not just as a means of bettering the world or having less impact on the earth but for taste. Of course, yes, sound food sourcing practices are incredibly important to preserving the food chain and improving the environment, but perhaps Barber recognizes that this argument alone has become slightly fatigued in the press. Taste, however, has not. Through ethical food sourcing and farming, the food we cook actually tastes better.
Good, Clean, Fair: Alice Waters
“The mixed green salad – for sure, you can blame me for them.” Chef Alice Waters is a sustainability legend. Her philosophy on food doesn’t stop at the food itself: it’s the entire dining experience. She arranges tables in long parallel rows with the idea that, “conversations can erupt at any section and spread down the table.” Like Oliver and Barber, Waters believes mastery of eating is done first by ingredients.
Combining a comfortable, homelike dinner party experience, Waters and a group of partners created Chez Panisse, a renowned restaurant in California founded on the belief that, “the best-tasting food is organically and locally grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound, by people who are taking care of the land for future generations.” The menu at Chez Panisse reflects this belief.
“Vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight out of the sea” - ingredients determine the menu, not the other way around. Waters is credited with terming the job title, “forager” and the menu at Chez Panisse began with French recipes and local California ingredients.
Waters has published multiple books on food including The Art of Simple Food where she asserts that we must “let things taste of what they are.” Moreover, she says, “When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.” Imagine that.
What does this mean for restaurateurs?
The common thread between these three world-renowned chefs and leading food theorists? A good menu is not based on the recipe alone, nor the skill of the chef. It is the ingredients.
Eating out doesn’t have to mean eating poorly. Add health conscious options, or pair calorie heavy mains with light, green side dishes. As the health conscious consumer grows, they desire greener, vitamin rich options, where local, seasonal ingredients are incorporated into dishes.
Take a look at your suppliers. Investigate where your ingredients come from. Get to know local farmers. Create a seasonally based menu that relies ingredients that are in season during that time. Your dishes will taste better, not just for skill of your kitchen, but also for the skill of the farmer.
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