Wednesday, May 27, 2009

BTO: Emmanuel Stroobant

Business Times - 23 May 2009

Emmanuel Stroobant

Saint Pierre group


VEGETABLES. Friend or foe? That depends on whether you belong to the green-eating faction or the group that counts a double bacon mushroom swiss burger as a balanced meal.


For those in between, the route to a healthier lifestyle need not be paved with brown rice, carrot sticks, steamed broccoli or non-oil vinaigrettes. Yes, it is possible to enjoy fine dining with lower calories, and celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant is in a fine position to prove it.


The owner-chef of the Saint Pierre group has recently kicked off a series of cooking workshops, and his first class last week focused on creative vegetarian cooking, where participants watched him create a menu of fragrant vegetable couscous, potato blinis with eggplant caviar and steamed asparagus chawanmushi that would not leave any aspiring health-conscious diner wanting.


Just because you want to drop red meat, cream and dense carbohydrates from your diet doesn't mean you have to give up on flavour. 'It's really not an issue to do low calorie food with amazing flavour if you have the right motivation,' says the health freak chef who has tried the blood type diet and is at present moving towards vegetarianism with a view to going vegan.


'As an example, steam some white asparagus and serve it with grilled porcini mushrooms, fresh parsley and fleur de sel. If you want some fat, try soaking half a cup of pine nuts in mineral water. Strain and blend, add two tablespoons of lemon juice and a bit of soaking water to get the right texture, and season. If you want it to be more like fine dining, shave some black truffles over it.'


Last year, when chef Stroobant was on the blood type diet - where one's blood type dictates the kind of foods you should avoid or eat more of - he stopped eating wheat and dairy. 'Apart from my love for cheese, I managed to keep it going for a few months. I created dishes with ingredients that I did not know well like 'manna bread' and quinoa. I replaced most fat from dairy with fat from nuts to avoid an unbalanced diet or a lack of essential vitamins. Wheat was easily replaced with other types of flour like rice, chickpea and also beans.'


He dropped the diet in February and switched to vegetarianism, where he seriously looked at how vegetables can be a main course rather than a side dish. 'A braised whole onion, with slowly caramelised tomato, fresh herbs and red wine, became as interesting from a chef's perspective, as a pan-fried steak,' he says. 'Eventually I managed to create a full menu with vegetarian ingredients without missing out on flavour and nutrition.'


Thanks to his research and personal diet, he and his restaurant team at Saint Pierre will soon be developing menus for diners with dietary restraints. 'We follow the same rules as normal, ie, we look at seasonal products and develop the recipes through creative combinations and modern techniques. For example, Paul (Froggatt, Saint Pierre's chef de cuisine) just developed a lobster dish where the lobster is 'baked' in a crust of flour, lobster jus and lobster shell. The taste is phenomenal as he uses the shell to increase the flavour, but the crust is not to be eaten, it just keeps the lobster 'baking' in its own juices. Fat zero per cent, taste 100 per cent.'


In case you think that reproducing restaurant techniques at home is expensive and difficult, Stroobant suggests inexpensive alternatives. 'I use papillote (parchment paper) or glass jars to replace sous vide cooking. I use the lowest temperature in my oven to achieve low temperature baking and I wrap food in cling film or ziploc bags and cook it in a cheap bain marie I bought from Chinatown.'


Indeed, armed with some imagination and a few tricks from a seasoned chef, and healthy gourmet dining is just a boil-in-the-bag away.


Couscous aux legumes de saison (Seasonal vegetable couscous)
Serves 6


500g couscous
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 onions, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 leek, sliced
2 zucchinis, diced
1 small pumpkin, peeled and diced
2 tbsp olive oil
50g butter
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp tomato paste
200g chickpeas
200g fine French beans, thinly sliced salt and pepper, to taste cumin, to taste coriander, to garnish raisins, optional harissa (chilli paste), to taste




1. Heat olive oil and cook onion, carrot and celery until soft. Add garlic and leek. Cover with water. Add pumpkin, paprika, tomato paste, spices and chickpeas. Cook for one hour. Add the zucchini and green beans.


2. Remove 500ml of the boiling liquid and pour over the couscous. Cover the couscous with cling film and allow to rest for two minutes.


3. Remove plastic and add butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add raisins if using.


4. Serve with the vegetables and harissa.


Chef Stroobant's next cooking class is on 'Great Tasting Healthy Cuisine' on June 17. Priced at $120 per person, each session fits a maximum of 10 people. Each subsequent class features different topics like 'Molecular Made Easy', 'French Cooking with Local Ingredients', and 'Foie Gras'. For more details, call 6438-0887.

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