The Culinary Art of Healthy Fine Dining

Pictures: Paige Derbyshire

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Duo of Vegetable Terrines

DIANE DE BEER

 

The 4th year Culinary Art students at the department of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria recently presented a French Bistro Evening instigated by the French Embassy’s promotion of the international Goût de France (taste of France) to be followed this coming Saturday by something completely different – a healthy fine dining dinner in collaboration with Mpho Thsukudu – a registered dietitian and published author, a specialist in the practicalities of healthy eating.

Planning for the French evening was as much fun as the actual night says guest chef Renée Conradie who spent many years in France where she enhanced her already flourishing accomplishments in the kitchen. “I was flattered to have been asked and then honoured to work with such diligent and innovative fourth year students.”

They picked a bistro evening after much deliberation because it would be the most convivial and celebrates hearty food. Their biggest challenge was to stay within a budget as they thought lamb (it was close to Easter) would be the best main course.
Two different vegetable terrines, a seven-hour lamb from the lesser known Auvergne region chosen specifically for that reason, a classic cheese platter and a deconstruction of the classic Tarte Tatin completed the menu on the night.

The planning, invitations, preparations and managing were all handled by the very capable students while the chef just kept an eye on the lamb.

As always, it was an excellent night from many different vantage points. For those dining, it was inspiring to see the students excel in these professional circumstances but also, because it’s a culinary institution, the menu reflects (is often ahead of) contemporary cuisine and its an easy way to keep in touch with what is happening in the ever-changing culinary landscape. It is most importantly also a learning experience – and sometimes the lessons are tough!

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Presented by the French Embassy and Plaisir de Merle (the wine on the night), the amuse bouche introduced French flair with Lavender-inspired crisp wafers with black tapenade served with Grand Brut MCC followed by the visually pleasing terrines: a carrot, beetroot and turnip, paired with leek (served with Chardonnay).

The tasty seven-hour lamb with wine sauce served with carrots and potato (and Cabarnet Sauvignon) could not have been more hearty as suggested but a tad dry and might have benefitted from a more substantial sauce (which was the lesson on the night); and this was followed by the typically French-inspired fromage course, a selection of artisanal cheeses (with Malbec) and beautifully concluded with the deconstructed Tarte Tatin served with Pastis crème Anglaise (and Merlot).

The next food adventure by the final year Culinary Art students aims to celebrate nutritious food in a South African context, while remaining flavourful. Many people might think this is impossible but in today’s high-stress world it is no longer an option if you want optimum health.

According to Culinary Arts lecturer, Hennie Fisher, the only thing most practitioners of food health agree on, is the volume/portioning that we eat; that we should eat less – for the rest there is little sound scientific evidence about what is healthy and what not.

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He notes that for many years Oprah Winfrey tried to make people understand that you could actually lose weight by eating chocolate (only just enough for one’s energy needs of course – a practice that would nutritionally be very dangerous, but not impossible). “So I suppose we are left to our own interpretation.”

On that note, he follows a philosophy of food health that trusts in eating anything which has the least processing involved. “Food is something (like humans) that is found in a specific state here on earth, and if one starts analysing what ‘processing’ of food implies, one soon finds that it automatically discounts things like coffee, tea, chocolate, cream, bread, etc. – those are all food products that have been changed from its natural state.

“If one could minimise that, and just keep to food elements in their most raw/basic state, you’d still be able to eat a potato, or eat a yummy sweet strawberry, but sugar and oils are not part of that deal.”

With this meal, the goal is to see how culinary people interpret a menu in the context of health – to see if they can create a menu that is ‘healthy’? He explains that they also hope to make people aware that fine dining and health can sit side by side in the same category.

It should be everyone’s aim to make mouth-watering food without instantly grabbing the easy taste drivers like oil and sugar. Making delicious and tasty but healthy food naturally comes with more effort, because it steers clear of the elements that usually provide instant taste gratification. “It’s all about giving the diner the same sensory satisfaction but without the elements that would be considered unhealthy and that is no easy feat. And perhaps that is our only resolve as a species for the future in terms of our food-related health; to learn how to make amazing food whilst considering our health,” he concludes.

The menu at R250 starts with an oyster and cucumber jelly and an oyster and mushroom Rockefeller (Sauvignon Blanc); an entrée of Springbok carpaccio with chickpea and rooibos cream, millet, carrot and pumpkin seed salad and cured egg yolk (Shiraz); for mains a pan seared ostrich (for obvious reasons) with carrot mash, scorched brussel sprouts, popped sorghum, Parmesan zucchini and glace de viande (single malt whisky); and perhaps most importantly/challenging, dessert with a poached apple with apple sorbet and roast pineapple with pineapple sorbet with a seed cracker, waterbessie reduction and aquafaba (water of chickpeas) meringue (sherry cocktail).

The thinking when one looks at the menu is obvious and there’s no doubt in my mind, that the students in the capable hands of Thsukudu will pull this one off – deliciously!

If anyone is interested or needs more detail, contact kyla.balcou@gmail.com.

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