Healthy gourmet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2012, 9:31am

Don't trust a fat chef. The gourmand who ate dishes swimming in butter is a hero of the past. Today we know better: we know the impact of food on our bodies and have discovered new cooking techniques to achieve higher levels of sensory pleasures without compromising our health.

Trust someone who looks healthy to do the cooking for you. As with all skilled chefs, he will have the same goal of serving a feast for your palate. But his personal practice of healthy eating will make him realise the horror of the unhealthy practices used in kitchens to cut corners.

Practices like adding a block of butter to a serving of gnocchi, which has been left standing for five minutes, to make it moist again. The healthy chef is likely to put additional effort into managing his time, thus avoiding the extra fat. No good chef will ever serve something he would not eat himself. And I like to eat what a healthy person eats.

The new generation of top chefs looks healthy, not fat. I travel extensively to visit and intern in exciting restaurants worldwide, so I can master new styles and develop new ideas. Whenever I find excellence, there is a beautiful person behind it: Luca in Tokyo, Benedetta in Puglia, Yuval in Tel Aviv, Peter in Macedonia.

Real beauty is looking healthy, fit and full of energy. This can be achieved by everyone. It does require moderate exercise; but most of all, it calls for healthy eating.

Food is central to us, because we are what we eat. The beautiful are never those who eat sad food or tasteless calorie-restricted dietary meals. They are never those who cling to the latest diets. Healthy-looking people always follow traditional diets. They eat everything, but in moderation.

They don't count calories, they eat slowly, and limit sweeteners and other refined carbohydrates. They nourish themselves with real food. That is to say, food their grandmother would recognise. They avoid artificial nutrients and are troubled by exotic superfoods. Most of all, they have a good relationship with food, which is a source of happiness to them.

Didem Senol is a beautiful woman, and one of the most interesting chefs in Istanbul. After she graduated in psychology, she went to New York to pursue what she loves most: cooking.

A few years ago she went back to Turkey, where she recently opened one of Istanbul's most exciting eateries. Leave Istanbul's tourist scene behind and walk through the Karaköy area and you will find Lokanta Maya where Senol makes people happy with her cooking skills.

The secret behind her beautiful, healthy looks? Senol says she eats everything. "I love ingredients that are in season and fresh. I like simple food and believe that overly altered or mixed flavours tend to ruin the essence of it. Seasoning is an important craft that good chefs master to accentuate the real flavour of the main ingredients."

Lokanta Maya has a limited menu that changes constantly. It serves both traditional and street food that is not usually found in a restaurant. Senol adds her own creativity to traditions, making dishes that we love with a modern twist and a lightness of touch.

Lokanta Maya is a temple for people who like to eat good, not fancy, food: these are the modern gourmands. The result is a restaurant which is always full. Last year Senol was voted the best chef in Istanbul, and international food critics flew in to taste her cuisine.

Roasted sardines with pine nuts and lemon zest is the first of several appetisers that Senol serves me. Simplicity, taste, seasonality and freshness - they're all on this plate. Ever true to her values, she recently opened a new lunch-only restaurant, Gram.

"We do things in small batches. Every day we start afresh," Senol says. "My vision is for Gram to be a bakery which uses the quality ingredients that Istanbul doesn't see any more."

So it is with untold sadness that I think of the bakery products that are made in Shenzhen, and those pastries with a long shelf-life that are common in Hong Kong. Those things take away our beauty.

Roasted sardines with pine nuts and lemon zest

Serves 4

600 grams sardines

1 lemon

A handful of pine nuts

A bunch of parsley

Extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper

  • Toast the pine nuts in a pan and grind them in a food processor.
  • Grate the zest of the lemon and mix it with the nuts, adding salt and pepper.
  • Pour olive oil and the juice of the lemon over the sardines. Put the nut mix on top.
  • Place in the oven at 190 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. Add chopped parsley before serving.
  • Healthy Gourmet is a weekly recipe column by private chef Andrea Oschetti,