Read an Excerpt
Being hired straight out of Judy Rodgers’s Zuni Café kitchen to launch a seaside Italian bistro in a $790 million tropical paradise hotel in Hawaii, touted as “the world’s most luxurious,” didn’t seem like a bad career move. Turns out, trading swank San Francisco life for island living nearly cost me my livelihood. Finding upon my arrival that I’d been replaced by a chef flown in from Italy definitely wasn’t the Aloha greeting I’d been fantasizing. Tropical dreams were dashed by a tsunami-sized uncertainty.
Before I could phone Judy and plead for my job back, the resort owners whisked me off to a meeting and announced my new culinary appointment. “You will be the spa cuisine chef” is all I heard before I nearly lost consciousness. I spat the words right back, “What is spa cuisine chef?” “What is spa food and who eats it anyway?,” I demanded. “Do I look like I eat low-fat foods?” Did I mention I was 205 pounds and a size 22 at the time? A fat chef behind the stove of the resort’s premier spa restaurant wasn’t good for the overall image of the place. Not only did I have to invent a menu, I had to cook and look the part. No more food fests . . . no more late-night refrigerator raids . . . no more ice cream? Returning to the city-by-the-bay so soon was not an option. My mother didn’t raise a quitter, or so she had pummeled into my psyche. Conceiving a future of fat-free foods had me trembling for Twinkies.
I couldn’t imagine an entire restaurant dedicated to a cuisine that didn’t exist. My best research efforts unearthed only three books on the subject, all out of print. No wonder, since they were filled with photographs of pea shoots and carrot sticks three ways. You know, the kind of pictures that leave you salivating for something else. Fearing my career path had crumbled for good, I rang up Judy.
She told me, “Look on it as a challenge and rely on basics. Grill and broil food, write your menus around vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. Choose leaner cuts of red meat, chicken, and fish. Get in your car and forage for island farmers. Use the freshest produce you can get your hands on and the food will speak for itself. Get advice from a doctor or nutritionist.” I knew she was right, but how much weight could spa guests lose in a week? And who goes on a vacation to lose weight? Most people planning island getaways start dieting so that they can fit into their “resort wear” the minute the travel itinerary is set. The trek back to pre-seat-assignment size begins when the stewardess sets that little bag of honey-roasted nuts before you. Your seven-day license to eat freely reigns supreme and doesn’t expire until the plane touches down back in your hometown, right? We’re supposed to come home fat from holidays, aren’t we?
Spa-goers came to the resort to be pampered, rubbed, wrapped, and healed. Clientele forking out 450 dollars a night certainly weren’t used to hearing the word noas in no Dom Perignon, no filet mignon, no lobster thermidor, and no crcme brulée. I had to find a way to send these people home happier, not heavier. And I had to slim down fast. Controlling my cravings, tempering my taste buds, and losing weight was simply a matter of preserving my paycheck.
I set out to create a cuisine I could be proud of and that guests could embrace. Having yo-yo dieted myself to distraction, I was determined to send guests back to the mainland with realistic tools to help them succeed at a life of healthy living. I found a nutritionist willing to help: Dr. Elaine Willis. I begged the good doctor to reinvent conventional wisdom by never mentioning the “d” word to our guests. Forward-thinking Dr. Willis indulged my instincts and deleted “dieting” from the official spa itinerary. I persisted in my pursuit to keep things simple by insisting that no one be required to weigh and measure their food or read a single book on health and nutrition.
Dr. Willis and I worked together until we came up with a formula that yielded outrageously delicious, nutritionally sound cuisine. The restaurant was an instant hit. Word of the sumptuous cuisine spread quickly. Spa guests, movie stars, recording artists, sports superstars, and supermodels flocked to the café’s tables. The restaurant received dozens of culinary kudos and accolades from some of the nation’s most respected food critics. A little culinary trickery and a lot of innovation proved once and for all that food with less fat and no unnecessary calories can please even the most discriminating palates.
If you’re thinking that a spa vacation at a multimillion-dollar resort is the only way you can lose weight, think again, because the only thing yyou’re likely to lose is a few grand. You can take advantage of all the secrets and amenities guests took home because everything you need to know is iiiiin this book. It’s fair to say that this is one “vacation” that really can last a lifetime, and since your journey doesn’t begin with a plane ride, you won’t need your Visa or American Express card.
Okay, so there is no lei greeting, no limo driver, and no private butler in sight. Powerful personal trainers and private chefs catering to your every culinary whim are not part of the package. Room service, maid service, and in-room massage don’t come with this book either. There’s no one to draw your bath at night and turndown service is definitely do-it-yourself.
The good news? Your journey to vitality doesn’t involve debt, starvation, or exercise boot camp. It will, however, result in long- term success. Guilt be gone! Losing weight and getting fit is within everyone’s reach. The program originally designed for the rich and famous has been simplified and refined for the very distinguished rest of us.
I’m living proof that modest lifestyle changes can result in weight loss, a greater fitness level, and a little freedom from stress. Don’t get me wrong: you won’t wake up looking like a Hollywood movie star on day two, but you will achieve results. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I’d become a spa cuisine chef, let alone a weight-loss success story, 75 pounds and counting. If I can do this, you can too!
Top ten cooking survival tips
1. Lose the complicated entrée mind-set. Keep dinner simple, especially if you’re time starved. Quick oven-broiled fish with microwave veggies is dinner.
2. Who’s on the sauté station tonight? Build your culinary team. Enlist help, divide up the chores, make lists, delegate tasks, and follow through. Every able body should participate regularly in some aspect of meal planning, shopping, cooking, or cleanup.
3. Build menus around naturally healthful ingredients. Three ounces of steak can be consumed in four bites and two minutes. A heaping bowl of Sesame Ginger Shrimp and Spicy Black Bean Salad will take many more bites than four and a lot longer, too. Don’t underestimate the psychological and emotional reasons we eat. They’re just as important as our nutritional needs.
4. Cheat any way you can, but don’t compromise your waistline. Any shortcut you can pull off is worth it. If something from a can, bag, or box will mean the difference between your eating in or ordering out, by all means go for it. Read product labels carefully though, and make the healthiest choices you can.
5. Fill up on the good stuff. Increase good calories wherever you can. Can you get an extra serving of veggies by tossing a handful of corn into the salad? How about peas and mushrooms in the mac ’n’ cheese? Roast asparagus in the same pan with the potatoes, and you’ve got two veggie sides instead of one.
6. Use of high-impact flavor ingredients is highly encouraged. Resuscitate, invigorate, acidulateuse sea salt, kosher salt, ginger, citrus, vinegar, garlic, capers, anchovies, olives, fresh spices (no, they do not have the shelf life of books), and freshly cut herbs. Grow your own. They’re pretty and cheery. If the plants die, remember seeds are cheap, and dirt is free.
7. Pare down prep. Ten minutes in the kitchen after dinner tonight is easier to pull off than ten minutes before dinner tomorrow when you’re tired and starving. Peel the potatoes tonight. Cook off the noodles. Whip up the dressing. Wash the veggies. Marinate the chicken. We’re not talking the whole meal here. Just a task or two.
8. Plan to morph meals. Plan tomorrow’s supper today by making a double batch. A salad can become an entrée if you add a piece of chicken or fish. Grill extra veggies tonight and top your pizza with them tomorrow. When you’re cooking black beans from scratch, they can morph from soup to chili and from salad to salsa. Challenge yourself. See how many meals you can make from a single recipe.
9. Supersizemake your own TV dinners. Attack an overscheduled week head on. On nights you’re not so rushed, make a double batch of something you know freezes well. Store the second half in microwave- proof containers, clearly marked, with the full title of the dish and the date. A sumptuous title will inspire you to actually take the frozen dinner out of the freezer and eat it on one of those nights you’re tempted to pick up the phone and call for the next-pants-size- up, er, carryout.
10. Choose the right tools. Use the right tool for the task and you’ll slash culinary frustration. Dull knives, the wrong spoon, a melted spatula, a fork with a broken handle, or a pot that’s too small creates kitchen stress. Who needs it? Keep your tools in good working condition and handy.
So cook already. Plan to cook and you will. Plan not to and you won’t eat. Or worse, you’ll eat poorly.
Cinnamon Apple Streusel Muffins
Weakness #457: crumb cakes. You know the ones. Those little four-packs loaded with crumb topping. I used to love to go to the half-off bakeshop and load up on crumb cakes. It was one of my worst pre-weight- loss habits because I couldn’t stop myself from eating way more than a portion, whatever that was. These muffins helped me kick my coffeecake addiction. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you replace a more nutritious breakfast with Cinnamon Apple Streusel Muffins. Not at all. These are special occasion calories you need to plan for.
For the topping
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar 3 tablespoons flour 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into tiny cubes
For the muffins
13/4 cups flour 1/3 cup granulated sugar 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 large egg, beaten 3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice 1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/4 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper baking cups; set aside.
Prepare the topping: In a small mixing bowl, stir together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon; cut in butter with a fork. Set aside.
Prepare the muffins: In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small mixing bowl, combine egg, apple cider, diced apple, vanilla extract, and oil; add all at once to flour mixture. Stir until just moistened. (Batter should be lumpy.)
Spoon about 1 tablespoon batter into each prepared muffin cup; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon topping. Fill evenly with remaining batter. Sprinkle tops of muffins with remaining topping. Bake about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan; cool slightly on racks.
Copyright © 2002 Kathleen Daelemans. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.