Many people associate healthy eating with menus consisting of wee portions of kale, wheatgrass, some substance that looks (and tastes) of cardboard and perhaps a small cube or two of lemon gelatin. Chef Chris and the staff at the Napa Rose Restaurant at Disney’s Grand California Resort break away from those preconceived notions and showed a “class” of bloggers how healthy eating can be flavorful, diverse, and fun to make as well.
use local and seasonal ingredients
The first lesson taught was fresh, local, seasonal ingredients are a must. These items provide you outstanding flavor and nutrients not lost to preservation as well as the benefit of bringing new items to your kitchen on a regular basis.
Take the very seasonal Pichuberry (also known as the Cape Gooseberry) for example. Only available during a very small window in late summer/early autumn, these relatives of the tomatillo were a wonderful little treat prepared by the pastry chefs.
Simply prepared by pulling the husk back and dipping in white chocolate to enhance the natural sweetness of the berry while not overpowering it’s natural flavor, this was a definite winner and challenged us to get creative with seasonal ingredients.
make simple alterations to change flavor profiles
The blogging “students” also learned how some simple alterations to basics can provide a new profile of flavor and yes, a higher level of nutrition as well. Two perfect examples of this came from both the opening salad course and the main entrée of the lunch.
The preparation of the salad became an interactive class as the Napa Rose sous chefs picked some lucky students to go to work – assembling and mixing. Yes, I was one of those lucky ones, working on the lovely vinaigrette dressing for the salad featuring fresh berries and frisee lettuce. The chefs showed not just how to make the dressing but also how a simple change from sugar to honey really changed the flavor profile of the dressing. Using fresh frisee was such a nice change from the typical iceberg providing a crisp yet more elegant backdrop for our salad.
use fresh rather than pre-packaged
Chef Chris was in charge of demonstrating the preparation of the main course of the day – a pan roasted chicken breast with a risotto style farro and fresh vegetables. He showed us how to buy whole chickens and the cut them properly for this dish – saving money while avoiding the pre-cut cellophane wrapped chicken from the mega mart. The star here, however, was the farro.
use alternative ingredients rich in vitamins and minerals
I admit, I never heard of farro before, but after our day in the Napa Rose classroom, it is something I stock in my kitchen. Farro is an old world grain that is rich with fiber, protein and B vitamins making for a healthy base for our “risotto.” Chef Chris added some smoked mozzarella (another item I need in my kitchen now) and cherry tomatoes boasting the flavor complexity and nutritional profile of this special side dish even more.
look for lighter endings to your meals
The next stop in the kitchen was perhaps the most popular, as the pastry chefs took over as instructors. While famous for their “World’s Best Hot Chocolate” as well as other truly decadent desserts, our pastry chef instructors focused on the lighter, local, fresh and, yes, healthier sweet endings to our meals. This is where we learned about the Pichuberry as well as how to prepare a fresh fruit crisp with sorbet using seasonal local fruit. I am a complete sucker for a fruit crisp and this one was an absolute winner.
The class also visited a smoothie station where we learned to make great tasting as well as nutritious pre and post work out smoothies with organic fresh ingredients.
reviewing the lessons of the day
Spending the afternoon in the kitchen learning form the Napa Rose superb chefs was a wonderful experience, but getting to actually eat all that awesome healthy cooking is what we were all waiting for. The lunch was beautifully presented in the pristine and fashionable dining room of the Napa Rose and the taste – absolutely fantastic.
The meal reinforced the lessons of the day – fresh, local, seasonal ingredients prepared creatively and presented artfully absolutely crushes those preconceived notions of health foods making the leap to a healthy diet something you want to do.
Special thanks to Cigna, the terrific host and sponsor of the event as well as truly wonderful and personable chefs and staff at the Napa Rose.