Three Chefs Who Are Making Healthy Food Palatable

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Three Chefs Who Are Making Healthy Food Palatable

Words by Mr Ben Olsen

25 April 2017

Why clean eating doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

A clean-eating revolution has brought wholesale changes to our culinary landscape, fuelled by a wave of bloggers, vloggers and Ms Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop cookbook, which champion a move away from processed foods towards provenance, with wholegrains, plant proteins, nuts, seeds and oils taking centre stage. On the back of this, a new wave of health-conscious restaurants has emerged that is set on expanding our horizons rather than our waistlines.

Yet while the trend is certainly well-intentioned, a certain holier-than-thou contingent has drawn recent criticism from various quarters for practices (and profiteering) not always supported by science, the potentially risky rejection of entire food groups and a polarisation of language with certain other ingredients unhelpfully depicted as “dirty” by comparison. Not to mention its proponents’ love of a narcissistic hashtag.

Rather than staking everything on DIY almond milk, far-flung nut butters and intravenous turmeric injections, the following three chefs have adopted their own approaches to healthy eating, taking a measured approach to the trend and serving up dishes (try out their recipes, below) that manage to strike a perfect balance.

Mr Kurt Zdesar, Fucina

As the pioneer behind London’s first poké bar, Black Roe, and the all-organic Italian restaurant Fucina, restaurateur Mr Kurt Zdesar is playing his own part in translating the clean-eating movement with a fresh and innovative approach to cooking. “Clean eating isn’t just about flavour,” he says. “It’s about people respecting their bodies and making that connection between how the right food or wrong food affects us physically.”

A focus on sustainable farming and fresh ingredients is central to Mr Zdesar’s approach. “When ingredients are being produced and prepared in the correct manner – not genetically modified or filled with hormones – you don’t need to work too hard to show how good they taste,” he says. “A sun-kissed tomato from a field in Sicily is delicious even just with sea salt.” According to Mr Zdesar, whose decorated career has taken him from McDonald’s to Michelin-starred Nobu before launching his own restaurants, food should be healthy but it also needs to be more exciting than junk food. “That’s the message we should be pushing out,” he says. “Healthy food should be the food that tastes the best.”

Lentil and oat salad

**Serves ?


**25g cooked barley25g raisins390g cooked lentils42g chopped coriander33g orange juice25g porridge oats7g salt20g chopped chilli33ml olive oil33g toasted almonds17g parmesanPinch of black pepper75g spring onions33g cranberriesFlaked toasted almonds, to serve


**Mix all the ingredients together and finish with a sprinkle of toasted flaked almonds on top.

Ms Lucy Pearce, Rawduck

With a drinks menu where raw juices and nut milks sit alongside ferments and drinking vinegars, east London’s Rawduck is much loved by the clean-eating set, but in the words of head chef Ms Lucy Pearce, the philosophy is far less zeitgeisty. “We don’t use the words clean eating, but our menus do embrace a Mediterranean approach to eating,” says Ms Pearce, whose cooking isn’t heavy in carbohydrates, butter or sauces. “When you use fresh and seasonal flavours your cooking is naturally light and therefore feels cleaner on the palate and gut.”

In addition to Rawduck’s straightforward seasonal cooking, menus begin with a selection of house ferments, kombuchas and kafirs, which are full of pro-biotica to help your digestive system absorb nutrients. A trip to Rawduck reveals a wall of these ferments sitting in glass jars, which have been embraced by customers in recent months. “We used to sell a couple of glasses of drinking vinegar a week,” says Ms Pearce. “Now we struggle to keep up with demand.”

Yet for Ms Pearce, clean eating is “just a slightly misused phrase for a Mediterranean diet”, and regardless of east London’s love of culinary trends, she feels that Rawduck’s conscious, considered approach to eating is here to stay.

Lime pickle


1kg limes40g salt20g sugar150ml mustard oil3 tbsp turmeric3 tbsp cayenne pepper3 tbsp mustard seeds1 tbsp fenugreek2 tbsp cider vinegar


Cut each lime into 8 wedges then mix with salt and sugar. Pack into a Kilner jar and leave to ferment for 4 weeks.

After 4 weeks, heat the oil in a pan, add the spices and fry until the seeds start to pop. Add the limes with all their juice and the cider vinegar and cook for 5 minutes. Allow to cool, then pack back into Kilner jars and store for another week before using so the flavours can combine.

Ms Reiko Hashimoto, Hashi Cooking

Given Japanese cuisine’s seasonality, its focus on fish and vegetables and the importance of balance, it seems the perfect fit for the clean-eating brigade. Ms Reiko Hashimoto, author of Cook Japan: Stay Slim, Live Longer and founder of London’s Hashi Japanese cookery school, has been flying the flag for healthy Japanese cuisine for 15 years and likens her specialist subject to the Mediterranean diet, with both cuisines “created to highlight the quality of fresh ingredients”.

At her Hashi Cooking school in southwest London, Ms Hashimoto has noticed the rise in popularity of several key ingredients, including tofu and, her larder essential, seaweed. “As part of a healthy diet I think seaweed has everything,” she says. “It’s low in calories and high in iodine, iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamin A. It is so easy to combine with everything. It can be added to salad, cooked with stewed meats and, of course, fish as they both come from the sea. I even use kombu in non-Japanese cooking – for example in tomato sauce – because it boosts the flavour of everything.”

Bang bang chicken with somen noodles

**Serves 4


**4 dried shiitake mushrooms2 large skinless chicken breast fillets2cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced4 spring onions, roughly chopped½ tsp salt4 tbsp sake

For the sesame sauce:2 tbsp soy sauce2 tbsp mirin3 tbsp tahini paste3 tbsp black sesame seeds, ground

For the deep-fried onions:250ml oil, for deep-frying2 shallots, thinly sliced

To serve: Handful of salad leaves200g somen noodlesHalf a cucumber, cut into matchsticks


Soak the mushrooms in a bowl with 250ml water for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve 4 tablespoons of the water.

Preheat the oven to 250ºC/480ºF/Gas Mark 8. Line a roasting tin with foil and place the chicken breasts, ginger, shiitake mushrooms and spring onions on top. Sprinkle with the salt and fold the edges of the foil into a parcel, pour the sake and the water from the mushrooms into the parcel through a gap in the foil. Seal the last edge tightly and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.

Remove from the oven and leave the sealed parcel to cool.

Make the sesame sauce by mixing all the ingredients except the ground sesame seeds in a small bowl until it becomes thick but smooth.

Prepare the deep-fried onions. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and deep-fry the shallots until the colour changes to golden and they are crispy. Drain on kitchen paper.

Rinse the salad leaves with very cold water and chop or tear into bite-sized pieces.

Bring plenty of water to the boil in a large sauce pan then cook the somen noodles for about 2 minutes. Drain, rinse well under the cold water and set aside to drain completely in a colander.

Once the chicken has cooled to room temperature, remove from the parcel and shred or thinly slice. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the cooking juices from the parcel to the sesame sauce, along with the ground sesame seeds and stir. If the consistency is too thick, add more of the cooking juice from the chicken.

Divide the noodles between four plates, then add the chicken and dress with the sauce. Sprinkle the salad leaves, cucumber and deep-fried onion on top to serve.


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