Renowned chef demonstrates healthy holiday cooking

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The holidays are no time to throw away the resolve to eat healthy. On the other hand, it’s no time to be a Scrooge about food, either.

Chef Bernard Guillas, the executive chef of La Jolla’s Marine Room, held a recent seminar on healthy cooking to an attentive crowd in the auditorium at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.

First up on the menu was a Rainforest Acai Smoothie made with pureed blueberries, acai nectar, mango, and almond milk. The concoction had everyone murmuring approval.

The holidays are no time to throw away the resolve to eat healthy. On the other hand, it’s no time to be a Scrooge about food, either.

Chef Bernard Guillas, the executive chef of La Jolla’s Marine Room, held a recent seminar on healthy cooking to an attentive crowd in the auditorium at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.

First up on the menu was a Rainforest Acai Smoothie made with pureed blueberries, acai nectar, mango, and almond milk. The concoction had everyone murmuring approval.

“I have to ask you, though, can’t you just imagine a bit of Spiced Rum in the drink?” Guillas asked.
Everyone laughed. “I was just telling my friends that’s what it needed,” exclaimed La Mesa resident Debra Childers.

“Like my grandmother always used to say. Everything in moderation, and you will enjoy yourselves,” Guillas responded

While he worked on making a pungent-smelling Moroccan Spiced chicken Tagine, Guillas discussed his first taste of acai nearly 26 years ago in Brazil. He explained that he had gotten ill during a trip on the Amazon River. “Some people gave me some drink that was bitter. It was my first taste of acai. Now of course, you’ll find it in all the grocers and farmers markets,” he said.

Co-hosting the cooking demo, Ursula Ridens, a dietician for the hospital, said that acai helped to fight against cancer and heart disease. “It works on all those rusty pipes in our body,” she said.

The Tagine, which is a classic Middle-Eastern dish, is a real winner for holiday celebrations for its aroma of spices.

“I’m using ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, coriander and cinnamon,” Guillas said.
“Almost all spices are excellent for helping inflammation,” said Ridens, who added , “coriander is also good for relaxing the digestive tract, ginger, for nausea, tumeric is helpful in blood sugar control. And cayenne pepper?” She and Guillas looked at each other. “Great-tasting,” they both concurred.

For saffron in the recipe, Guillas recommends the kind you get from Iran. “It’s the best in the world,” he said.
Guillas also recommended cooking the chicken thighs for the Tagine in grape seed oil for its ability to cook at a high heat.

As the side dish to go with the Tagine, Guillas prepared a Millett and Yellow Split Mung Bean Risotto. A key ingredient for infusing flavor into the risotto is homemade vegetable stock.

“Make it with carrots and onions, don’t use thyme or any other herbs. Don’t buy any from the store because it’s always so full of preservatives. You want the fresh taste,” he said.

Guillas also suggested to not salting anything before first tasting. “If you find it needs salt, use just a pinch of good salt, like sea salt,” he said. “A little goes a long way.”

A perfect dessert to complement the tastes of the Tagine and Risotto is Baked Apples. “It’s the easiest dessert to make,” Guillas said.

When Guillas was a little boy growing up in Brittany, the fireplace was the center of the family area. “It was huge with benches in front of it and very long. We warmed ourselves in front of it while the sausages cooked. And we would have apples cooking on the coals. The tastes, the memories are unforgettable,” he said.

In true Guillas-style, he adds a few ingredients like cranberries and raisins to add tartness and sweetness. He even adds a few chia seeds for taste and texture.

“We have a lovely meal here,” Guillas said. “In summing up this evening, let’s remember that we are responsible for what we put in our mouths. We have no excuse in California because we have access to so many good foods.”

“Develop a hobby like walking, and you’ll develop an appetite. Then you can enjoy your meal. It’s good for the body and soul,” he concluded.