How are restaurants addressing our desire to eat more healthy foods and are there any restaurants doing this well?
Pat Nourse, Gourmet Traveller features editor and restaurant critic, answers:
Broadly speaking, I’d say that healthy eating and restaurant food don’t have an enormous amount to do with one another. Sydney chef Janni Kyritsis, of the much-missed MG Garage, always said that food at that sort of restaurant was designed for special occasions, not for every-day eating. Though restaurants are vastly less dependent on dairy than they were in, say, Escoffier’s day, butter is still a favourite way of giving a flavour hit (beware vegetable side dishes: they’re especially butter-drenched). Fat, chefs are fond of saying, equals flavour. As does salt.
Taking food ethicist Michael Pollan’s dicta as the basis of what we consider to be healthy eating (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”), the average menu at a starred restaurant ticks the first box but falls largely flat on the other two, offering (if you have entrée, main and dessert), probably enough protein and fat for the entire day’s worth of meals but with little in the way of vegetable nutrients.
A balanced menu should offer lighter options to balance the heftier stuff, and I’d say that restaurants are generally moving towards maximising flavour while minimising bulk and what you choose to eat there is always going to play a big part. No one’s putting a gun to your head when you’re choosing between the pork belly with butter-enriched mash and the steamed blue-eye on greens, and likewise, you’re probably going to have a better shot keeping it real at a sushi bar rather than a bistro – but there again mercury-laden fish and high-GI sushi rice may be worse for you, personally, than, say, a salad and a steak (watch those frites, though).
Perhaps the best take-home message is that restaurants can be a healthy part of a balanced diet because they make you happy. All the more reason to visit the good ones.