For those chefs whose cuisine features in the upper echelons of gastronomy, creating beautifully presented plates of food with the best seasonal ingredients is always a given. But considering the health benefits of a dish, and their guests’ wellbeing, as well as their appetite, is often forgotten. There are however a select few chefs who consider it the ultimate achievement: to deliver a dish that is as thoughtful in its ingredients, technique and presentation as it is in its health benefits.
Still pushing boundaries today, at the age of 70, Joël Robuchon has recently turned his attention to moving his culinary style away from molecular cuisine, which he deems dangerous to the health, and into a new wave of healthy cooking or “wellness cuisine”. He explains: “In each restaurant, I am trying to explore wellness cuisine, especially vegetarian cuisine, with experts. Although I understand that our menus must be right for our clients, I would like to develop some menus that explore wellness gastronomy more.”
Robuchon’s latest book,Food & Life, published by Assouline in October 2015, explores the relationship between food and wellbeing. So determined was he to push this subject, he worked with renowned neuropharmacologist and acupuncturist Dr Nadia Volf to produce the book, which celebrates the art of both delicious and healthy cuisine.
“Traditionally, haute cuisine has a reputation for being quite rich and heavy, but this is no longer the case. Nutrition is now at the forefront of everyone’s minds and it is important for me to demonstrate that food can be light, fresh and yet still maintain the outstanding quality you would expect at a fine dining restaurant such as L’Atelier Joël Robuchon in London,” says Xavier Boyer, the executive chef of Robuchon’s Michelin-star London restaurant.
The Italy-based, Austrian-born chef Heinz Beck, who has a scattering of fine-dining restaurants around the world, is another champion of healthy cuisine. “Eating doesn’t stop when you have paid the bill at the end of the evening, but the next day when you wake up and feel good, when you have slept well. Too [often] food is heavy, which is a strain on your organism and you cannot sleep properly,” he says.
Beck doesn’t rest on his laurels. He goes beyond the kitchen, to work with doctors, scientists and other specialists at the Botanical University in Florence and the Polyclinic in Rome to develop his ideas on healthy cuisine. He explains: “They help me to develop my ideas and by working with them I get to know young people and together we can find new solutions to old problems.”His dish, Water Garden,is inspired by his time in Japan, where he opened two restaurants in late 2014.
“During one of my trips to Japan, I had the chance to walk through a real Japanese garden and I immediately felt in love with it. The inspiration came soon after and I created Water Garden—a symbol of peace, tranquility and cleanliness. All the emotions generated within me by the sight of this wonder—the Japanese garden—are reproduced in this dish.”
Then there’s Alain Ducasse, another legendary chef who is using his influence for the good of his guests’ health at his restaurant at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris.
Working closely with head chefRomain Meder at the “contemporary French haute cuisine” restaurant, Ducasse’s approachrepresents naturalness cuisine, inspired by the fish-vegetables-cereals combination. Meder and Ducasse do not compromise on quality, originally and technique, with the menu featuring dishes such as ‘green lentils of the volcanic hill and caviar and smoked delicate jelly’ and the ‘quinoa grown in Anjou, roasted chestnuts consommé and ceps’ lending real ingenuity to the menu.
It is, of course, another French master who is most famous for his sliming cuisine. Michel Guérard, the 82-year-old chef ofLes Prés d’Eugénie, is the founder of cuisine minceur (he also happens to be one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine!).
Together with his wife, ChristineBarthelemy—the daughter of theBiothermfounder—Guérard opened Les Pres d’Eugenie in the seventies, where he established a style of healthy cooking that is now renowned around the world. And in 1977 he received three Michelin stars, which he has retained ever since.
For Guérard healthy eating and gastronomy go hand in hand. “I am still surprised that the idea of combining gastronomy with healthy, calorie-conscious eating still cause surprise, doubt and even derision,” he says.
For the savvy home cook, Guérard recommends a citrus-based menu to impress your guests with this winter. “I would suggest beautiful fresh scallops in a warm salad of lamb’s lettuce and orange dressing. This starter is very simple to cook with a light vinaigrette and orange blossom sauce. Then, you could braise lamb shanks with grapefruit. It is a very convenient recipe as the earlier it is cooked (the day before is perfect) the tastier and softer it is. To stick with this citrus menu, a hot apple and lime soufflé would rejoice your guests.” And, he reveals that the total amount of “guilt” in this menu is capped at 650 calories per guest.
Located in the heart of Gascony, Les Prés d’Eugénie is blessed with wonderful countryside and some of the best produce in the world. Guérard says: “What touches me the most is product, in its aristocratic simple way. A yellow Landaise chicken from Arnaud Tauzin’s farm is so splendid that the only proper way to cook it is simply roasted, with truffle buttery purée.” It is dishes like this that prove eating healthy doesn’t have to be at the cost of a delicious and satisfying meal.
Interestingly, in a country where butter, bread and rich sauces are apart of the gastronomic DNA, France, and its best chefs, it seems are at the forefront of healthy cuisine.