Eat Right Around Chicago

Chef says, You Choose to Eat Right!

With the Le Cordon Bleu Challenge slated for tomorrow night (it's not too late to get tickets!) at the venerated Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, I was able to "sit down" (via email) with the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Services, Chef Marshall Shafkowitz, to get his POV on healthy dining out, teaching today's chefs, pork belly and his Chicago favorites.  He includes some great insights that we can take to the menu - like how much we order or what to ask about the food being offered.  He also assures us that chefs receive training in nutrition, but reminds us that we are the keepers of our food choices when we sit down to dine. 

Here is more detail about what he had to say in response to my burning questions and some not-so-serious gripes (e.g., pork belly and butter, ha-ha).  I've bolded the statements I really like and find useful.     

What is your POV on "healthy" dining out?

[Marshall Shafkowitz]  In my own life, I believe in eating healthy so it carries over when my fiancĂ© and I go out to eat. This is more of a lifestyle choice than a discussion of, "Are we going to eat healthy tonight or not?" You can still have a great time eating healthy at restaurants as you can splurging while out; which we do from time to time.
What challenges do today's chefs face in preparing tasty, but nutritious meals?  Do you think it's a priority for them? 

[Marshall Shafkowitz]  The biggest challenge from a chef's perspective is what to substitute products with. The savvy diner reads the menu and asks questions about what type of cooking medium or fat is used. Are the products organic or from sustainable farms? This creates the biggest issue for the chef. We teach our students what they need to do as cooks to make the choice as to which direction they are going to go. It's a personal choice as to where you eat, and chefs have to be aware of the diner's preferences. Either you can cook to their preferences or look for new customers.
Are you concerned about nutrition when you evaluate a menu or a meal created by one of your students?  How about when you're dining out?

[Marshall Shafkowitz]  We strive to teach the students fundamentals that are routed in classic culinary techniques. Evaluating menus and meals depends on the class and the actual item they are preparing. As students progress through the program, we give them more flexibility to deviate from recipes. In Contemporary Cuisine, for example, the students have the opportunity to experiment with adjusting cooking mediums and how they might affect the flavor of dish. As students progress through the program, we do spend more time on exploring how they may have to adjust menus based on client or customer needs.  I have made it a personal choice when I eat out, as I have made exercising a personal choice in my life. It's a lifestyle choice to eat healthy and to look for restaurants and chefs that cater to my tastes.
The nation is very concerned about the rise in obesity, from a Chef's standpoint, what do you see as your profession's role as food curators - if any? 

[Marshall Shafkowitz]  I think we play a role in educating people about what it is to eat healthy. But I do not believe that we can make anyone eat in a certain way. That is their choice, and we can only make suggestions as professionals. As chefs, we influence how people eat, but we cannot control how much they order. Our students take a course in nutrition, and we talk about it in every course; however, it is their choice when they are out of school on how they cook.
Any secrets you'd like to share that add flavor without adding fat?

[Marshall Shafkowitz] Season correctly, and you don't need to add fat. A joke amongst chefs is that fat is flavor and to a point, that is true. But basic seasoning, salt and pepper, if done correctly can make all the difference in the world. When we teach students about seasoning, we always tell them to taste their food while cooking, and to add a little at a time as you can always add more.

Are you like you think that pork belly has become too common and lost its allure? 

[Marshall Shafkowitz] Never! Like many chefs, I love anything pig! Is it common place now, yes. But I don't think it will ever lose its allure to foodies. If you love it, you will go out of your way to order it no matter how mainstream it gets.
I think that butter is overused...thoughts?  I think if it tastes good because it is made with a pound of butter, the Chef is overlooking some of his/her skills...I know they can do better!  What do you think?

[Marshall Shafkowitz] Many chefs live by the adage of "fat is flavor" and to some extent, that is true; however, I don't think it over used. As with anything, some people have a heavier hand than others, and that's why it may seem that way. I don't think the use or over use of butter is a lack of skill or talent by a chef. It may be that they are cooking to their tastes and not the tastes of the people eating their food.

Since I've only been eating my way around Chicago for 4 months now...what restaurants do you think I "must try"?

[Marshall Shafkowitz] That's a tough one. Here are some of the places that we enjoy eating at: Mexique - Mexican French fusion,  Chickpea - Mediterranean food, Kuma's Corner - great burgers, Ethiopian Diamond - great place to eat with your hands and enjoy wonderful Ethiopian food, Hachi's Kitchen - great sushi,  Iberico - tapas restaurant, Hot Doug's - best hot dog in the city, Avec - for the experience and the food. There are so many great restaurants in Chicago, but we always find ourselves heading to these restaurants most often.

Thanks, Chef Marshall!  Hope to meet you at the Le Cordon Bleu Challenge!



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