Dining: Feeding the Craze
Low-Carb Diets Are Changing How Restaurants Cook
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“This is low-carb food, but it’s still good food,” says Daniel Delbrel. Delbrel, executive chef for both the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the Sheraton Waikiki, gestures to the array of eight dishes spread along a bar at the Sheraton Moana.
The dishes run a gamut. They start with a “Back at the Ranch” breakfast: scrambled eggs plus Canadian bacon, smoked bacon, link sausage and, in case you’re still feeling protein deprived, a 5-ounce hamburger patty. This breakfast is unlikely to become a favorite with cardiologists, but it does have a mere 0.4 grams of carbohydrates (a single bagel would have 100 times as many).
At the other end of the bar is a low-carb cheesecake with a crust of crushed almonds, a small smattering of berries and no-sugar whipped cream.
In between are half a dozen other dishes, all part of Sheraton’s “low-carb lifestyle” program, which was rushed into 200 hotels nationwide at the urging of Barry Sternlicht, CEO of Sheraton parent Starwood. Sternlicht noted that low-carb box lunches ran out before the sushi, salads or sandwiches at Starwood’s recent global conference—and put his nationwide culinary team to work.
Delbrel was one of 16 chefs on the task force that made Sheraton the first hotel chain to roll out a low-carb menu. Hyatt and Westin have since followed with smaller programs. If low-carb is not just a fad, but a long-term trend, then the dishes Delbrel helped create are a sign of things to come in restaurants everywhere.
Unless you’ve been living in a blessed diet-free zone for the past few years, you probably know that carbohydrate-restricted diets (principally the Atkins and the lower-fat South Beach diet) are all the rage, especially for quick weight-loss. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirmed that low-carb dieters lost more weight and more body fat in the first six months than traditional low-fat dieters. The irony, however, is that, after a year, the weight loss equaled out, especially since a third of dieters in both groups gave up entirely
Photo Courtesy Sheraton
Nobody yet knows whether low-carb diets promote long-term weight loss or not. There’s a possibility that low-carb will eventually end up on the towering junk heap of once-fashionable fad diets. But at the moment, there are estimates that as many as 30 million Americans are on low-carb diets—a group as large as the population of Canada.
It’s not really difficult for a restaurant to cater to the low-carb folks, if all people are interested in is avoiding white bread, potatoes, pasta, desserts. At Roy’s Hawaii Kai, executive chef Ronnie Nasuti says, “We’re getting a tremendous number of people ordering dishes and omitting the starch. They’re not the least bit concerned about butter, fat, whatever, as long as there’s no starch. We’re responding by using fewer starches and more vegetables across the board. But we’re not coining any low-carb lingo to put on the menu.”
The same is true at L’Uraku and Alan Wong’s: More and more customers are asking to hold the potatoes or the rice. At L’Uraku, chef Hiroshi Fukui says, “We were thinking about doing a low-carb menu, but then most of our menu has the meat or the fish served by itself, separate from the starch, which makes it easier to avoid the starches.” At Alan Wong’s, executive chef Lance Kosaka says, “The low-carb thing has impacted us a little, but we haven’t come up with menu items specifically for low-carb.”
Other restaurants see the low-carb craze as an opportunity to come up with a whole new menu. “I’m sensitive to the low-carb thing, because I’ve lost 12 pounds myself, by rarely eating rice or pasta. I feel a lot better, ” says D.K. Kodama of Sansei. Sansei is working on nearly 20 low-carb menu items, like a hamachi tartar with grilled shiitake mushrooms, topped with a shoyu-, ginger- and truffle-infused olive oil. “Low-carb is good for restaurants,” says Kodama. “It’s an opportunity to sell more proteins, come up with new dishes.”