Food For Thought

Going Places

September 2014


In a city oozing with glitz, healthy eating is in, thanks to stylishly innovative chefs, writes Tatyana Leonov.

It’s a sunny Sunday morning at Manhattan Beach and the suburb is abuzz with an effervescent energy. Giggling kids on scooters fly past; groups of friends gather on the perpetually busy beach; young families amble between the cafés and shops, enjoying another day in California’s seemingly endless sun. Inside Manhattan Beach Post, usually shortened to MB Post (eatmbpost.com), that same energy prevails. The large, airy café is dotted with a combination of communal and smaller tables – all of them are full and everyone is chatting away. Couples leisurely peruse menus, while friends order plate after plate, their eyes lighting up as the dishes start coming out. Waiters gracefully sashay between tables with wide grins on their bronzed faces.

Chef David LeFevre has the biggest smile of all. He hardly sleeps, but he’s always cooking and experimenting with new tastes – and that’s evidently what his body needs to function. Although his work portfolio spans a bunch of well-known fine diners, including Trotter’s in Las Vegas, La Côte d’Or, Restaurant Jean Bardet and Le Moulin de Mougins in France, El Bulli in Spain and Tetsuya in Australia, he’s now making soulful comfort food (read: chunky deep-fried jerk chicken and mac-and-cheese alongside more fancy choices) that’s of fine-dining quality.

Although not all the dishes on the menu are conventionally perceived to be healthy, making food from scratch is. David thrives on doing this – then he has fun with it – creating fusion meals that are different. “We might spend eight weeks figuring out how to make perfect rice noodles. Once we’ve got that down pat, we’ll create a dish that fuses traditional Thai with ... ” David pauses. “With us.”

At MB Post, your pad thai might come with pork belly, your ceviche might come with shrimp, and your poached eggs could be teamed with dates and harissa. No dish is conventional and that’s why people like it so much. “We make everything we can from scratch and the only exception to this rule is when we have come to the conclusion that there is someone out there who makes it better – after we try to make it of course,” David says as he watches a waiter plop down house-made bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits (similar to scones) with a side of wispy, glossy maple butter (made from scratch too) in front of a salivating couple.

“This year I’m really trying to figure out the why. I know what I do and I know people like it. But I don’t know why. I think what resonates with people is that we still want to learn. I still have that same 14-year-old psyche and I want to give Manhattan Beach residents something different – something to talk about and come back for.”

In trendy Beverly Hills, Australian-born celebrity chef Curtis Stone is also doing something a little different, so different in fact that his 25-seat intimate restaurant, named Maude (mauderestaurant.com) after his late grandmother, is booked out months in advance. Each month, Curtis and his team create a degustation menu that’s centred on one ingredient, and each of the dishes that come out (including dessert) feature it in some way.

“If I think back to the reason for doing this ...” Curtis pauses, glancing up at the photograph of himself alongside his late grandmother. “It’s to fill that dream. Every chef dreams about one day owning a tiny restaurant – because you can put a lot more focus on the food. I feel that people talk so much about farm-to-table and seasonality. I wanted to do something really different.”

Curtis, together with Brandon and Gareth, the other two chefs at Maude (“there are three of us, we don’t have this structure with sous chefs and chefs de cuisine. We all plan the menu, we all cook and we all clean our stoves,” Curtis says) construct monthly menus all based around the one key ingredient. One month it might be artichoke; it could be tomato the next; truffles, pears and rhubarb are all planned for the coming months.

“I guess to me the learning curve is important. As a chef, you should never stop learning. Learning in this case is about getting close to a specific ingredient and really understanding it.” Curtis laughs as a customer looks dubiously over the menu, possibly trying to imagine what artichoke ice cream might taste like. “To cook 13 courses with artichoke, you have to be really creative.” 

Over at Estérel (esterelrestaurant.com), the onsite restaurant at the sleek Sofitel hotel, also located in chic Beverly Hills, chef Marius Blin is likewise getting creative. Here the take on healthy food is of the traditional variation, and guests love the fact that they can enjoy a three-course meal and maintain control of their calorie intake.

The French-inspired Delight menu was introduced into Sofitel Luxury Hotels across the USA two years ago in response to hotel guests wanting easy access to healthy, low-calorie food while travelling.

“In France, this menu is available as part of the Thalassa water therapy, and people come to the Thalassa retreats specifically to detox and lose weight,” Marius explains. “In America, we realised that our hotel guests travel very often and hotel menus are generally not healthy. Yes, you can get salad greens, but we wanted to offer a delicious three-course meal – which includes dessert – that’s made up of up to 700 calories.”

Marius watches a waiter amble past with a platter of buttery, crisp croissants and place them in front of a couple who look like they’ve just stepped out of a Hollywood movie set. They probably have ... it is Los Angeles after all. Marius hails from France and it’s evident that he likes his French food as it should be – buttery, creamy and full of flavour – so he really had to rethink the way he cooked to come up with a menu that would excite diners while keeping it under 700 calories. “It’s about learning and that has been really interesting to me. As chefs, we always need to keep learning.”

 

There’s always something new happening in Los Angeles; three more healthy foodie concepts worth checking out are:

1 Raw food is fast gaining popularity, and at M.A.K.E, located in the beachside suburb of Santa Monica, diners can sample foods from a menu that emphasises living food and the art of raw food presentation. matthewkenneycuisine.com

Although seasonal cooking is now perceived to be almost mainstream, Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills takes the concept above and beyond. The chefs here source as much produce as possible from California and pair meals with local wines. wolfgangpuck.com

3 For those craving a cold-pressed juice at 3am, the makers of Kreation Juice opened a 24-hour juice machine last year. Functioning like a vending machine, the big difference is what’s inside – immediate access to an assortment of healthy juices. kreationjuice.com