The Low-Down on Low Carb and Fine Dining

By Robert Trainor Exec Chef, Hilton | October 28, 2008

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.

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