The Masterchef effect: eating well goes beyond the cooking shows

April 30, 2011 — 4 Comments

Why eating well is more than restaurant quality meals and how balance can be achieved between healthy and the pleasure of eating by nurturing our digestion. Scroll down for a review of New York’s Rouge Tomate which is nutritionally balanced fine dining at it’s very best.

What does it mean to eat well? Does it mean quality ingredients, expensive ingredients, dining at Michelin rated restaurants or simply eating for a purpose such as health or pleasure? Lately with the hoards of cooking shows in production we’re a little more misguided and no closer to what it really means to eat well.

It is well documented that diets do not work and people are still struggling with their weight and diet-moderated health issues. Despite this, it still overwhelms me how stuck on the notion of calories and macro nutrients we (as a society) are. To me, counting calories and measuring micro and macro nutrients just isn’t the answer…who can be darned with all that effort? By the time you’re calculated enough protein vs. carbohydrates, Vitamin C intake to iron, calcium to magnesium and vitamin D the joy is lost – there’s nothing faster to take the romance out of eating, than looking at your meal like a mathematical equation.

I stumbled across this interesting article published in Australia’s The Age newspaper proposing the hypothesis: why fine dining may be a health hazard. Thanks to cooking shows such as Masterchef that are contributing to why we eat out more and why our home cooked fare is recreated restaurant dishes. We are simply eating better and richer all of the time. Now that’s fantastic for the food movement and food ingredient awareness, but not necessarily a step in the right direction for health maintenance. I’m not about to burst your bubble and tell you that if you want to eat well, it’s got to be joyless affair. No, no, no – I’m definitely not going to write about that. In fact, it is my personal mission to deliver quality recipes, restaurant suggestions and eating tips so that you can continue eating well including having a positive impact on your wellbeing. I just read this quote from Diary of a Vegan: “When people begin a (wellbeing) diet, they are in need of delicious gourmet food.” Well said.

So if you focus on one primary action, digestion, all of a sudden health and weight management becomes clearer, because it’s not about extraction from the diet. I like to think of it more about addition. Addition of certain behavious and quality ingredients. Suddenly there’s no room for the junk.

Lets take a little look at what “eating for digestion” means:

  • Quality ingredients – farmers market and organic produce, hand crafted sauces, pastas, breads, cakes, chocolates etc.
  • Mindful eating – what are you eating, taking note of individual flavours. Be with your food, and enjoy it. Suddenly that Maccas hamburger is really disgusting…
  • Slowing down – when you’re eating you’re eating. Try to limit the tasks to one thing at a time. Energy in the stomach, not in the head
  • Chew your food – not only are your savoring the tastes and experience, you’re assisting your digestion. After all your stomach doesn’t have teeth!
  • Balancing the 5 flavours of bitter, sweet, salty, sour, pungent (ayerveda includes a sixth flavour, astringent, and there’s another little known “pleasing savoury” flavour called umami originating from Japan).
  • Priming the stomach. I always like to have a glass of warm water first thing in the morning to wake up my digestion before putting in food. Same if I was to eat a salad or something cold, warm it up first with some soup or a glass of warm water.
  • Nurturing the spleen. This is a concept spoken a lot about in Chinese Medicine. I write about this a lot, here’s a good post here
  • Limiting (or omitting) refined/manipulated foods. Often the molecular structure changes, making it hard – if not impossible – for your body to utilise. Our body needs foods with certain structures to be able to absorb properly – it’s as easy as chemistry.
  • Mindful of the temperature of food. Our body is 38C, the fridge is 4C. You do the math. The energy to warm the food comes from somewhere and this is often energy diverted from other organs to warm your food in your stomach.
  • Eating for the seasons. Nature provides us with the what and when.
  • Preparation techniques in accordance with the seasons. As with the above point we need to enhance the natural flow of energy, warmer weather is expansive, while the cooler seasons the energy is moving inward. Cooking techniques amplify the energetic properties to move with the seasons. Braising, baking, stewing of course are all inward promoting techniques – try these in autumn to winter. Raw, stir fry, blanching are expanding, try these in spring/summer.
  • Digestivo: a gentle walk after meals or take the 100 steps as the Chinese say. Let gravity help your food go down. Sitting or lying down after a meal will just result in bloating.
  • Eating in certain order – use soups to warm and prime the stomach; salads after the meal to cleanse the palate and stomach (cold raw foods in your stomach first is a digestion killer); coffee after a meal as it acts like a digestive stimulant as well as an energy stimulant; sweets finishing off a meal is a good thing. The Spleen resonates with the sweet flavour therefore a little sweet somethin’ somethin’ after your meal helps your spleen (therefore digestion), and that’s why we naturally crave a little dessert after our meal. But do pass on the sugar-laden over the top, gallons of ice-cream…just a little tid-bit and be done with it.
  • My personal opinion is, if you deny yourself something, you’ll crave it more. Allow yourself to have what you crave, but make sure it’s quality – quality chocolate (preferably dark), quality ice-cream, quality cheese. I said this years ago, before I really knew what I was talking about, and I’ll say it again; if it’s gourmet, it’s not bad for you. The price you pay will keep portion sizes in check too – double bonus!

Restaurant Review: Rouge Tomate, 10 E 60th Street, New York
Business Lunch 3 courses $29 (we were given a complimentary course and a petit fours and truffles)
I recently visited NYC’s Michelin-rated, Green Restaurant certified Rouge Tomate. What is exciting about Rouge Tomate is that they have an in-house nutritionist, the gorgeous Natalia Hancock, who consults on the regularly changing, seasonal-based menu. I haven’t done extensive research on this, but there isn’t many (if any!) fine dining restaurants that prepare their menu with this much insight to nutrition in the US and Australia. Their nutritional philosophy is based on a Belgium-originated charter called Sanitas Per Escam – or SPE for short – meaning Health through Food. Rouge Tomate is a place where you can satiate your fine dining appetite without compromising your waistline.

For those who know me, could understand that I nearly fell off my seat when I found out about Rouge Tomate. For an idea I had a few years back (to combine fine dining with healthy eating principles) I have since discovered the Natural Gourmet Institute, Jude Blereau, Dirt Candy and now Rouge Tomate all practicing that very concept. Very exciting indeed.

I digress, because what I really wanted to say is that yes, Rouge Tomate definately do a lot of that calorie counting jargon that I seriously couldn’t be bothered doing myself, that I also personally feel is redundant when discussing wellbeing (after all you can have low calorie but ingesting high sugar, fake sugar, hydrogenated fats and so forth). However, they do employ cooking techniques that keep the integrity of the food (hellooo living food), use seasonal produce, and food combine for maximum nutrient properties, and bundle it all together to look mind-blowingly pretty. Just take a look at this:

Hawaiian Walu Ceviche, Avocado, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Radish, Yuzu

And this:

Atlantic Char Crudo, Horseradish Yoghurt, Trout Roe, Dill, Pumpernickel

After that light tasty starter, we were graciously presented with:

Sauteed Atlantic Calamari, Spring Ramps, Garlic, Basil, Meyer Lemon

Beef and Spring Onion Soup, Watercress, Madeira, Crouton, Chive

There was a heartiness to the soup that wasn’t stodgy. Just good clean flavours and textures – the croutons maintained their crunch right to the end. From a nutritional point of view the greens + beef made this a delicious iron rich dish. The calamari was light (a tad too chewy for my liking), but the meyer lemon, basil, garlic thing gained brownie points. It was very interesting not having even lightly fried calamari – but I didn’t miss it.

Mains (confusingly called Entrees in the US) were:

Diver Scallop and Beet Salad, Asparagus, Sunchoke, Hazelnut, Sherry Vinaigrette

Spice Crusted Long Island Duck, Rhubarb, Spring Onion, Potato Galette, Mustard

Oooh oooh the flavour! These scollops were the meatiest I’ve ever had – they were ginormous and cooked to perfection. I devoured this and forgot to savour the flavours. But you get it, it looks and tastes fresh, alive and vibrant. Same with the duck. Delish, rich, hearty without the weight. The savoury, herbacious duck cigars matched superbly with the almond and something (?) puree.

Followed by dessert:

Pistachio Chiffon Cake, Rhubarb, Vanilla Milk Sherbet, Pistachio

Passionfruit Tart, Pineapple, Mango, Coconut Sorbet

and complimentary petit fours and truffles from the pastry chef:

Petit Fours

Rouge Tomate truffles

Sooo light! What I really noticed about dessert was the mild sweetness, which could be misconstrued as lacking punchiness at first. By the time I’d finished with them, I was reveling in the mellow soft sweetness and individual flavours, even though I do enjoy a rather sweet ending.

With a less refined palate (not that I’m talking myself up here, it’s just that I don’t eat all that many refined foods) some might not be used to tasting beyond the sugar or salt. I enjoy this style of food because it highlighted the flavours of each ingredient in the dish, especially if you take the time to savour each mouthful, which incidentally is fantastic digestion promoting behaviour.

I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, because quite frankly it’s really hard to impress me these days (too much of a good thing?). Especially when paying lots of money, I expect culinary fireworks. But what happened to me – or more correctly what didn’t happen – was how after 4 courses, petit fours and 3 (possibly 4) glasses of wine, we didn’t experience the food hangover which often accompanies rich, manipulated food from higher-end restaurants.

Rouge Tomate blows weight gaining fine dining out of the water and affirms a dining niche that will soon become more commonplace in the near future. I’m all for more restaurants like this!

4 responses to The Masterchef effect: eating well goes beyond the cooking shows


    Great read, loved all the tips in mindful eating! x

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