When you think about French cuisine, what immediately comes to mind? Butter? Cream? Cheese? Those decadent ingredients are ones that most health-conscious people try to avoid. So then why are the French healthier than most Americans? One word: moderation.
Chef Peter Woolsey of Bistrot La Minette agrees. He and his wife (a vegetarian) are very health conscious, so I was eager to learn about what a healthy lifestyle means for them and how he stays healthy in the kitchen. Read on for his answers.
Complete this sentence: When I was 16 healthy meant …
I would carb load and then try to bike 60 miles. I was an idiot, but aren’t all 16-year-olds?
Are you more “sweet” or “savory”? What’s your go-to guilty pleasure?
More savory than sweet. I do think the arc of a meal is important and it really should end on a sweet note, but I prefer that sweet note to be brief and intense. My true guilty pleasure is a late night grilled cheese (properly made, because a bad grilled cheese is just sad) with a very cold beer.
Another one: “To stay in shape I …”
I would ski everyday if that were a possibility, but I am too much of a ski snob to go to the Poconos and trips out West are too short and too expensive. Here in Philly I’ve started doing yoga, partly to repair my damaged back and also to stay in shape. I am also a big fan of swimming, and I would hike more often if I had the time.
Favorite healthy cookbook?
The Silver Spoon. That’s right, I don’t cook French food all the time. The Italian food I crave is vegetable-driven, simple (though not always) and, more important, delicious.
What is your favorite healthy kitchen tool and why?
I love a grill. Ironically I use one very sparingly at my restaurant, but I love summer meals outside with a ton of grilled vegetables, tomato salad, ice-cold rosé and some thick rare steaks. In the summer no sauces are even necessary as all the vegetables are at the top of their game and they are such a pleasure to eat as is.
If you could only cook with one whole grain what would it be and why?
Most likely buckwheat. Its versatility suits my needs, from crepes and pancakes to pasta and cakes. But I hope that it never comes to that—I like too many products just to pick one.
Katie says: Buckwheat is a fruit seed (no wheat at all) that is gluten-free and popular in many Asian cultures. It is rich in phytonutrients and consumption has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It can be purchased as a seed and as a flour. Note: Buckwheat noodles may contain regular wheat flour as well.
If you were an herb what would you be and why?
Tarragon. I love licorice like flavors, and it pairs so well with roasted chicken, can perfume a whole roasted fish, is the perfect touch to oven roasted carrots, and makes a mustard vinaigrette taste like the French countryside.
If you could only cook with three vegetables what would they be?
1. Potatoes. No other vegetable has the versatility of a potato. I could eat potatoes every day for the rest of my life and never get bored with them.
2. Green beans. I like to pick them off a plant in a garden and munch on them right there. I also like them cooked for over an hour with butter, onions and tomatoes as my mother-in-law makes them.
3. Tomatoes. I could eat tomato salad every day for tomato season and then tomato sauce the rest of the year. It is another versatile vegetable that makes a lot of braised meet shine and burgers juicier.
“In my garden I have …”
Nothing. My backyard is nonexistent, although when I finally build a roof deck I plan to grow tomatoes and lots of herbs.
What’s your go-to healthy dish at your restaurant?
Sardine Grillées. The grilled sardines have omega-3 fatty acids, the red peppers are chock-full of vitamin C and even the olive oil is good for you. Best part, though, is the portion size.
What is your take on the notion that French food is unhealthy?
The French are thinner and have less heart attacks than us. They eat small portions, slowly with a varied diet that includes everything. What’s unhealthy about that? The problem is when French food becomes Americanized with the portion size. Steak frites in France? The steak is not going to be any bigger than five ounces with enough fries for one person, not for the table to share. Also, they don’t snack, and their public spaces are not filled with vending machines.
Give us one tip for creating a tasty, healthy dish.
For me healthy dishes have variety (finding one thing that is healthy and then eating it all the time defeats the purpose) and reasonable portion sizes, and they’re eaten at a pace that allows your body to properly digest them.
Katie says: When dining at Bistrot La Minette, remember that there will likely be butter and cream used in the cooking process (it is French fare, after all) but that doesn’t mean every dish is laden with calories and fat. If you are concerned, ask the server to recommend the lightest dishes or request that that chef go a bit lighter on these high-fat ingredients. My choice for a satisfying fall meal would be the simple salade verte (bibb lettuce, mustard-tarragon vinaigrette and chives) and the saumon au beurre blanc (pan-seared salmon, warm fall salad, chicken jus and beurre blanc, a white-wine butter sauce). A few bites of housemade sorbet would round out my meal.
Have a restaurant you’d like us to Cheat Sheet? Let us know in the comments!
Restaurant menus are reviewed by Phillies dietitian and owner of Healthy Bites Katie Cavuto Boyle. In most cases, the individual restaurants were contacted for specific ingredient and recipe information. Note: Many restaurants have seasonal menus and some items may not be available.