Healthy is good and good food is healthy, as Julie-anne Sprague reports.

CONSUMER demand for ‘good food’ may be forcing a change in kitchens’ cooking practices but it’s not nearly enough, according to some major players in Perth’s culinary scene.

Former Catering Institute of Australia president and Gold Plate Award chairman Josephine Farley says many restaurant chefs are more concerned with presentation than nutrition.

“They are looking at presentation only and not the bottom line,” she says.

“If they gave a good serving of vegetables they could reduce the expensive items, like salmon and dhufish; if you look at many pasta dishes there would only be half a cup at most of vegetables.”

But some restaurant owners say their cooking techniques are producing not just flavoursome and presentable meals, but also nutritious ones.

Matilda Bay Restaurant general manager Warwick Lavis says his new Labesse Rotisserie, imported directly from France, enables fats to be removed from food, leaving only the authentic and robust flavours of natural, healthy cuisine.

“People are eating out more and more these days and are choosing to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diets. The rotisserie enables harmful fats to escape from the food, leaving only intense natural flavours,” he says.

“We’ve had it for a couple of months and it’s been really well received; we would take 30 per cent of sales from that.

“We’ve changed the menu to accommodate the rotisserie. We now do whole fish that sits vertically on the rotisserie.”

Must Wine Bar executive chef and partner Russell Blaikie says that, while he decided to have a rotisserie at Must because of the flavours it draws out from food, it also is a very healthy way of cooking.

“It produces great tasting food with the by-product of healthier food. You end up with the fat running off the food rather than it [the food] cooking in the fat,” he says.

Russell says times have changed since he was trained and kitchens now incorporate different cooking techniques that reduce the fat and oil content of restaurant meals. He says when he trained in the ’80s he used to make a finishing sauce by heavily reducing the stock and whisking in some butter.

“Nowadays, where I can, I try and lighten the French food. I reduce the stock by 20 per cent and I don’t add butter,” Russell says.

He says fresh preparation ensures his meals retain their nutritional value.

“For example the asparagus I’m using at the moment, we cut it the night before,” Russell says.

“When you cook it to order and cook it lightly you are protecting the inherent nutritional value. It won’t look good if you’ve overcooked it or pre-cooked it.”

Sicilian Subiaco is a finalist in this year’s Gold Plate Awards for Health Excellence and head chef Noel Gibellini, who has recently adopted a healthy regimen for himself – becoming a vegetarian and losing more than 20kg – says his cooking practices have changed substantially over the past 10 years.

“Consumers are demanding it. People are becoming more wise about what they eat,” Noel says.

“We’ve started to roast off the garlic, which drains off the oil, and you can take the puree and actually eat it without the acidic flavour.

“We’ve even started buying soy cheese.

“I’m just doing a new menu and am intent on putting more vegetarian dishes on, a couple more salads and getting rid of the deep cream pastas. But there are still options and some of them, like our pizzas, are much better than the take-away stuff.

“We use artichokes and semi sun-dried tomatoes and fresh produce, not that prepacked stuff.”

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