MERVYN Hardinge is not a household name. But his work is. It gnaws in the back of some minds whenever the mouth opens for a big fat slice of cheesy pizza, a running Brie, a hot fudge sundae, foie gras or French fries. His work, though familiar to millions, is not universally practised. It has to do with lifestyle and animal products, fibre, cholesterol levels, and vegetarian diets. In 1954 Dr Hardinge and colleagues at Harvard University announced to the medical community and the world research that would trickle down the nutrition hotline and become the basis for heart education for the next four decades. The doctor-cum-nutritionist found that the greater the consumption of animal fat, the higher the blood cholesterol, which puts people at the risk of heart disease. Conversely, the greater the amount of fibre (fruits, vegetables, grains) eaten, the lower the cholesterol. In his quiet, non-assuming manner Dr Hardinge is still making the lecture circuit and talking in practical terms about his landmark work. 'I don't preach,' says the 82-year-old. 'Nutrition isn't that complicated.' Born in India, raised in England and educated in the United States, he and his wife have two children and now live in the state of Washington. Even though people in developed, affluent countries are getting fatter and many take little exercise, he is positive the message of diet and lifestyle will take hold eventually. 'Things never change fast,' said the guest speaker at the Hong Kong Heart Club - a support group for heart patients and their family, sponsored by Hong Kong Adventist Hospital and Heart Centre - which had its monthly meeting and dinner recently at the Island Shangri-La hotel. 'In the medical field it takes five years to get research into a doctor's practice. So, to move a country or a culture takes decades, I'm surprised America has come so far this fast.' Referring to improvements such as nutrition labelling, better choices in fast food restaurants and the explosion in low-fat and no-fat foods, Dr Hardinge said: 'Some nutritional labelling is good. And there is some clever labelling. Producers will label a plant product that is naturally without fat 'fat-free' just to get the consumer's attention and money. That type of labelling lowers the perception of fat.' He says that some fast food chains in the US responded to consumers by offering more choices such as whole-grain buns, skimmed milk, grilling and salad bars. 'But the Western diet is still heavy in fat and animal sources,' he said. 'The Asian diet is not bad. It is somewhat better - based on vegetables and rice - but it could be improved, too.' He believes if you maintain a decent diet most of the week and exercise regularly, then the occasional high-fat splurge is OK. He says a good vegetarian diet will supply all the essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids. And make sure protein comes from plant sources. When asked about his personal diet, he said it shocked people because it was so simple. 'Fruits and grains for breakfast with a little soy milk,' he said. 'Three or four types of vegetables for lunch - cooked or made into a casserole or loaf or soup. And fruit for dinner. I haven't used butter or margarine since 1949.' HE slipped into Hong Kong without fanfare. France's reigning culinary monarch, Alain Ducasse, went to Singapore to cook for a gala at the Raffles Hotel. Then stopped off for two days of rest and relaxation. The meal at the Plume in the Regent got five stars. 'That's what contemporary French cooking is all about,' said France's 39-year-old legend. When he was 33 Mr Ducasse became the youngest chef ever to earn three Michelin stars. His palatial restaurant, Louise XV at Monte Carlo's Hotel de Paris, has been dubbed the most luxurious in the world. Mr Ducasse is all about detail, one learns though his stunning companion, his friend of four months who now works as his translator and promotion manager. Any guest to his restaurant is bombarded with choices, such as 16 types of mineral water, 20 types of bread, eight kinds of coffee, 14 choices of tea, 15 types of cigar, and 621 different kinds of wine. Dubbed a 'kitchen commando' and hardly lacking in arrogance, he scrutinises his crew of 25 with six video monitors. They produce, at most, 100 meals per day. Mr Ducasse maintained aloofness during a reception at the Regent and handled questions through his aide. His opinion about Asian cooking? 'The techniques are interesting because they shorten cooking time, and therefore maintain the freshness of ingredients. 'But the taste - the amount of spicing, the slimy textures - would not appeal to French. We have enough inspiration from the Mediterranean area; I do not need any from Asia.' His cooking epitomises restraint, with minimal amounts of dairy produce. He believes more French chefs should use cream only in desserts. Olive oil, a passion, is in all his main dishes. His fast-paced lifestyle leaves no time for exercise. Pleasure comes from his garden that supplies his own table. But he rarely cooks for himself. Next year he hopes to publish a book on the basics of Mediterranean cooking and perfect the seven-room inn he just opened in Provence.