The Low-Down on Low Carb and Fine Dining
By Robert Trainor, Exec Chef, Hilton
But wait! A diet low in refined carbohydrates is actually not new to many cultures. In fact, in some places in the world, the lifestyle has been around for centuries. Asian cuisines revel in the use of fresh vegetables and fruits. Very little white flour or bread is used. And even though rice is a staple, the most popular form used is brown rice, a source of the good, complex carbohydrates that nutritionist tell us are healthy. Mediterranean cultures also emphasize cuisine based on seasonal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and the great seafood that is so abundant in the region.
I was reminded of this fact as my team and I were researching the cuisines of the Mediterranean countries - Spain, Italy and France - in preparation for a new concept for our menu in The Terrace, the Hilton Short Hills' more casual dining venue. Even though we all had a strong sense of the ingredients indigenous to the region, we felt more research would help us remain true to the food and style that one would expect when visiting one of these countries. We finalized our new menu and presented it to the managers and servers for their feedback. One of the first questions asked was, "Which of these dishes is low-carb?" I looked over the menu and realized almost all of the dishes were low-carb and low-fat.
I was reminded that low-carb is not really a trend, as many in the media and industry have described it, but a lifestyle that has been going on around the world, quite successfully, for a long, long time. American cuisine had forgotten that lifestyle for a time. At one point, when diets low in fats were recommended, sugars and refined carbohydrates, which are extremely addictive, replaced the fat in American meals. Those sugars were carbs - the "bad" kind. Today, nearly every package or can of food contains some refined carbs. Many processed foods use high fructose or corn syrup as the main sweetener, one of the most dangerous sweeteners around.
Low-carb diets are not for everyone. Carbohydrates play an integral role in the performance of an athlete, especially endurance athletes like runners or cyclists. These folks need large amounts of fuel, and will not have health problems from high-carb diets because they burn more fuel than they consume. Athletes also need to consume more fats and proteins, because these help their bodies regenerate.
But low-carb can play a part in your fine dining environment. And you don't have to compromise the integrity or high standards your operation has been known for. The process of factoring low-carb into your menu is a simple one. Start by looking at your pantry storage and your refrigerator. It all starts with using whole foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins such as fish, poultry and certain grains. Ultimately, organic is best, but just focusing on fresh ingredients in their all-natural state is a great start.
For proteins, look to fish, dairy products, eggs, poultry, soy and lean meats. For good carbs, choose vegetables that are high in nutrients but low in carbohydrates. Avoid starchy vegetables, fruits high in sugar and prepared grains or legumes. Instead, incorporate freshly made beans, lentils, and whole grains that have been prepared with proper soaking and sprouting. Use them in moderation.
Every chef knows fat is a real flavor savor for any dish and there are some "good" fats that you can incorporate into your dishes: olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut fat, canola oil, flaxseed oil and small quantities of butter, as well as nuts.
As a restaurateur, you need to cater to the masses and have items, like bread and pasta that are generally expected, popular and profitable. When serving bread, look to breads made from whole grains that have not been naturally leavened. Check the ingredients to make sure that sweeteners or vegetable oils have not been used. With pasta, look for whole wheat brand, and again watch for those sweeteners. Stay away from white flour, white flour products, white rice or foods containing them. If you must use white flour, look for organic or unbleached products. Avoid certain box cereals, including granola. Many granolas contain improperly prepared seeds, nuts, and grains that may block mineral absorption. Making your own granola is quite simple and a great selling tool for your serves. For desserts, emphasize ones made with whole foods, such as fruits, dairy, etc.
Next, consider preparation. If you invest time, money and energy in seeking out great products, it would be a crime to prepare them in complex recipes that mask their great flavors and textures with coatings and various preparations.
Going low-carb doesn't need to be a major operation. In fact, going low-carb makes good business sense because it encourages the use of the most flavorful and satisfying ingredients available. Fresh, whole, natural foods and the creativity of a talented chef will help you create a menu that is healthy, well-balanced, low in carbohydrates and exciting. Your guests don't even have to know it's good for them - unless you want them to!
Robert Trainor is executive chef of Hilton Short Hills. He manages all aspects of menu and meal preparation, staffing and training in the hotel’s restaurants, room service and all banquets. As Executive Sous Chef at the Waldorf=Astoria, retooled the menu of Oscar’s, while maintaining elements of the restaurant’s tradition. Educated at Johnson & Wales University, Trainor’s achievements include becoming a certified sommelier, serving as the 95th Distinguished Visiting Chef of Johnson & Wales University, and garnering numerous gold and silver medals in international culinary competitions. Mr. Trainor can be contacted at 973 912 7974 or Robert_Trainor@Hilton.com Extended Bio...
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