Kale, ancient grains, coconut oil, and beet juice are just a few of the health foods trending everywhere from cyberspace to upscale restaurant menus these days. But, much like a May snowstorm, do-it-all superfoods tend to be all the rage one minute and in the rearview mirror the next. (Remember Olestra?)
Three dietary movements appearing to have staying power beyond the lifespan of the average Facebook post are going gluten-free, vegetarianism, and consuming “clean” fats. Each is backed by solid nutritional reasoning, has been proven to reap concrete health benefits, and, best of all, is easy to live by. But the question remains: do these health-conscious philosophies have a place in the indulgent and competitive world of fine dining? Three local chefs think so and are confidently incorporating gluten-free, vegetable-based, and healthy-fat dishes into their menus with delicious creativity.
Gluten Be Gone
It’s no secret that gluten—a protein found in wheat and related grains—has emerged as health enemy No. 1, blamed for a range of maladies from attention deficit disorder to cancer. The most definitive evidence against gluten, however, is Celiac disease, an intestine-destoying allergy. But as scientists identified this affliction and its sufferers began cutting gluten from their diets, many noticed a variety of favorable side effects—including improved cholesterol levels, increased energy, and weight loss.
Due largely to patron requests, 350 Main (350 Main St, 435.649.3140, 350main.com) began developing gluten-free menu items well before this way of eating became mainstream. “Our guests started asking us to alter our existing menu items back in 2007,” says Ivor McIvor, 350 Main’s current executive chef. “And so Michael [LaClerc, former 350 Main executive chef] researched the topic and discovered all the health benefits of removing gluten from your diet, which is what made us make the change.”
One of 350 Main’s most popular menu items—both with gluten-free patrons and otherwise—is the fried chicken. “The batter is made with gluten-free flour and ground Rice Chex cereal to give it that crispy, bready texture people love,” McIvor says.
McIvor maintains that rich, fine dining ether within the remainder of his menu’s gluten-free items by using thickeners like cornstarch and arrowroot. Reductions and purées are McIvor’s other go-to methods for making gluten-free food taste white-table-cloth-worthy. “Rather than viewing gluten-free as a hurdle we have to overcome, we think of having a range of gluten-free items on our menu—from appetizers to desserts—as a way of broadening our appeal and giving our guests what they want.”
The Power of Veggies
For many, the choice to avoid meat is not exclusively health related but is also about broader, globally focused concerns including protecting the environment and animal rights. Indeed, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide (more than the world’s entire transportation sector), and not eating meat likely saves countless animals from a short, inhumane life on a feedlot. In terms of personal health, however, the biggest benefits of a vegetarian diet are rooted in a concept any seven-year-old is likely familiar with: if you’re not eating meat, you’re probably eating more vegetables.
Rather than using a tactic common at many restaurants—modifying existing meat-focused items to satisfy vegetarians—Chef Carlos Vieyera features meatless options as a core part of the menu at 501 On Main (501 Main St, 435.645.0700, 501onmain.com). “Not eating meat is really just a choice to eat healthfully,” says 501 Main Owner Bob Marsh. And with the varied and thoughtful selection of veggie-focused dishes at 501, even the most diehard meat eaters may be swayed into testing the vegetarian waters, if only for an evening.
Meatless standouts at 501 On Main include the savory hummus appetizer and baked ratatouille, vegan curry, and organic risotto main dishes. Even the wine list was chosen with vegetarian sensibilities in mind, as Marsh and his staff are constantly researching and refining to find vegetarian and vegan (as well as gluten-free) wines to serve their guests. “We want a place where all in your party can eat well and each person’s tastes are considered,” Marsh says. “Everyone deserves the same hospitality.”
For years, health professionals beat the no-fat drum, telling us that eating foods like meats, cheeses, and butter would send us down the road to heart disease. Despite decreased consumption of fat over the last several decades, Americans now suffer from heart disease and diabetes more than ever. Turns out that fat may not be nearly as bad for us as we thought. But before you get your hopes up, science’s new love affair with fat is not a mandate to eat more French fries. Jason Keiffer, chef at Park City Medical Center (900 Round Valley Drive, 435.658.7000), works closely with the hospital nutritionists to plan menus for both patients and guests around what he calls “clean” fats.
“Clean fats are the naturally occurring fats in food that haven’t been damaged by high heat, refining, processing, or other man-made tampering,” Keiffer explains. Examples include walnuts, salmon, flax seeds, and avocados. Clean fats have been proven to decrease inflammation, increase blood circulation, and promote weight loss. The key is eating them in moderation, something that the fat-free movement made very difficult.
When fat is removed from a food, it is typically replaced with sugar, processed ingredients, and carbohydrates—all substances that fail to register fullness in our bodies the same way fat does, a process called the Appestat Effect.
And just about anyone who eats knows this: fat equals flavor. At Park City Medical Center, cookies are made with almond butter and chia seeds, burgers are packed in three-ounce patties, and desserts are served in thoughtful portion sizes. “Choosing to eat in a healthy way shouldn’t be a sacrifice,” Keiffer says. “Reincorporating clean fats into your diet is one of the easiest ways to both improve your health and enjoy eating.”