Behind the Scenes at SPE-certified Triomphe
March 15, 2015
Neron Francis, a dietetic intern, recounts his six weeks in the kitchen with Florian Wehrli, executive chef at Triomphe Restaurant.
“Make this healthy.” This was the challenge executive chef Florian Wehrli gave to me during my orientation at New York City's Triomphe Restaurant. He was referring to one of his signature dishes: gnocchi gratin topped with shaved truffles and arugula.
Panicked, several thoughts immediately went through my head. First, I'm a nutrition student with zero professional cooking experience. Why would a chef trust me with this task? Secondly, this dish is made with heavy cream, butter and white flour for the gnocchi. How in the world was I supposed to come up with something that would taste as good? Finally, even if I did come up with something, would it be up to the kitchen's standard? After all, this is a French restaurant and both taste and appearance are vital.
As fearful as I was given my lack of culinary experience, I was also intrigued by the challenge. Inspired by SPE's Health Through Food philosophy of promoting nutrient density through the use of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and lean proteins, I rolled up my sleeves and dug in. Challenge accepted. My goals were to reduce the total amount of fat and introduce more nutrients all while making sure the dish still tasted (and looked) good.
My research found that many chefs have used puréed cauliflower in place of cream to lighten dishes. I also looked into different types of flours for the gnocchi. I had a choice between two healthier alternatives: hard whole wheat and soft white wheat. I chose soft white wheat which has more protein than traditional white (original recipe) and it is still easy to work with compared to hard whole wheat. Even though I was looking to make this dish lighter and more nutrient-rich, I had another challenge: to stay true to the chef’s vision for the dish. I thought about other substitutions but wanted to keep the changes to a minimum.
After some trial and error, I was able to change the gnocchi gratin for the healthier while still maintaining its essence. The cauliflower purée served as a base without cream or butter -- and introduced more vegetables into the dish. The soft white wheat flour wasn't that difficult to work with and provided additional nutrients in the gnocchi. In the end, I was able to eliminate a substantial amount of fat and increase fiber. The best part? It still tasted great. The cauliflower and truffle complemented each other wonderfully, and to my surprise, Chef Wehrli featured the dish on the menu!
When you think of French cuisine, you probably think rich, heavy sauces and decadent ingredients like cheese and butter. (And of course, great wine.) Actually, over the years French cuisine has become less and less dependent on rich ingredients, opting for lighter options and seasonal produce. This can be seen at Triomphe, a 2-star SPE certified restaurant, where Chef Wehrli uses all fresh seasonal herbs he personally grows at the restaurant’s roof garden.
March is National Nutrition Month, a golden opportunity for restaurants to demonstrate their commitment to promoting a healthy lifestyle. And chefs are encouraged to rise to the challenge. By thinking of creative substitutions and incorporating fresh seasonal ingredients, chefs can offer delicious dishes that are also healthy. As a result, the millions of Americans who dine out every day will have less to worry about when they open those menus.
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