It’s a good thing chefs are multi-taskers and creative problem solvers by nature.
Corporate and executive chefs helming the action at chain restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other high volume foodservice operations have very full plates these days. On one hand they are charged with delivering great flavor and consistency for a good value, while on the other, they are increasingly under fire to serve up healthier dishes without impacting margin or deliciousness. Add to this the constant media warp that shape-shifts public perception of nutrition research and you can see a starter for confusion and frustration blooming for both foodservice providers and consumers.
The Culinary Institute of America saw this storm forming a decade ago and jumped in front of it by teaming with Harvard School of Public Health—Department of Nutrition and developing a progressive forum for discussion and creativity. Together they crafted an annual retreat called “Worlds of Healthy Flavors” which celebrated its tenth annual gathering January 22-24 at the CIA’s Greystone campus in the Napa Valley. It drew what at first glance seems to be a group of unlikely bedfellows (chefs, restaurateurs, public health researchers and educators, dietitians, suppliers, food brand marketers and media) and invited them to collaborate on problem solving some of the foodservice industry’s biggest challenges.
“The conference drew me in as a nutrition journalist and a nutrition practitioner,” said consultant Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD, professor emerita, Georgia State University. “I enjoy seeing the innovations that chefs, food service operators, culinary nutritionists and suppliers are making behind the scenes to bring delicious and nutritious foods to diners. There has long been a ‘stealth health’ approach to healthy dining, but now that many diners are interested in nutrition and health it’s good to see the industry going public with its food offerings. As a nutrition practitioner, I am glad to be able to guide clients to healthier foods in their favorite restaurant that won't make them feel like they are sacrificing taste for health.”
Part of the magic that fosters creativity at this event comes down to teamwork. A portion of the program is focused on participants brainstorming in “Team Ideation” sessions. Groups of 8-10 (each purposely comprised of people with varied expertise and specialty) huddled over lunch on successive days and tackled specific menu item makeovers they were challenged with by the event programmers. Each group nominated a leader to present their ideas; attendees scored each other in a general session, with an overall “winner” announced at the end of the program. The takeaway was not about winning a contest, however. It was about learning from each other and witnessing how powerful banding together can be. It also emphasized the importance of bringing together professionals with varied expertise to team-tackle important issues such as obesity and related chronic illness.
“The CIA and Harvard partnership is such a winning formula,” Rosenbloom said. “Each participant learns from the other, and the marriage of science with recipe development and supplier innovations (like lower sodium bases, spreads with healthy fats, etc.) help all of us to improve our health one delicious bite at a time. Improving healthy dining options, from school dining, campus dining and restaurant dining, can reap big rewards for health outcomes and health care spending.”
Session highlights included the following:
- Timely, Evidence-Based Presentations on Fermented Foods. Did you know fermented foods can change the carbohydrate quantity, quality and glycemic load of foods and beverages? Did you know they can actually reduce sodium while enhancing flavor? HSPH researcher David Ludwig, MD, PhD, and Guy Crosby, PhD, CFS of America’s Test Kitchen and HSPH delivered talks that shed light on this popular “new but ancient” food category. UC Davis doctoral candidate and CIA adjunct faculty member Ali Bouzari served up a side-by-side taste test of four pizza sauce and pizza dough samples that used umami-rich ingredients such as Italian fish sauce, yeast extract, dried koji extract, dried soy sauce, black garlic and miso to reduce sodium content by as much as 35% in a some samples. Imagine the mainstream application of this for restaurant and packaged foods, and its potential to reduce Americans’ massive over-consumption of sodium.
- Strategic Calorie Design: 30 Ideas in 30 Minutes. Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, senior director of programs and culinary nutrition at CIA, delivered a rapid-fire session that featured 2 examples each of 15 strategies that can be used to reduce calories while maintaining or even enhancing flavor. Research (NHANES 2010) shows that Americans eat an average of 134 calories more when they eat away from home. In the interest of public health, reducing calories in restaurant meals is a win.
- Practical Chef Demos. Evidence-based lectures on such topics as eating better quality protein at breakfast, snacking and whole grains were paired with simple recipe demos by acclaimed chef/authors Suvir Saran, Steve Petusevsky and others.
- Produce First! American Menus Initiative. This day-long, post-conference session presented in collaboration with Produce Business focused entirely on how foodservice pros can give fruits and vegetables more of a starring role on the plate. Multidisciplinary teams of chefs, researchers, dietitians and suppliers hashed out ideas to solve challenges that involved fresh, dried, frozen, canned and juiced fruits and vegetables. After getting all ideas on paper, each team marched into the well-equipped CIA kitchens, grabbed hotel pans full of gorgeous ingredients and cooked shoulder to shoulder, ultimately delivering some stunning, innovative plates of healthy food.
“I really enjoyed the creative ways that whole grains and fruits and veggies were being used to move the animal protein from the center of the plate,” Rosenbloom remarked. “By scaling back on meat and increasing whole grains, fruits and veggies, the calories and sodium get reduced while the healthful nutrients and flavor get pumped up. I also really enjoyed tasting the mushroom-meat blends; such a delicious way to use less meat and more veggies while getting a tasty, juicy product. All of these ideas are easy things for the consumer to do at home, too.”
For more information, check out CIA Worlds of Healthy Flavors.
PHOTOGRAPHY: The Culinary Institute of America - Copyright © John Barkley