Walnut Week: Chef Greg Higgins Talks Healthy Cooking

All this week, I’m covering walnuts. From nutrition to culinary uses, I’m exploring what top fitness, nutrition, and culinary experts have to say about this “bumpy” nut. Up next is my interview with Chef Greg Higgins. If you’re into “green eating,” this is your guy. Find out what he has to say about how you can eat healthy and green:

1. As a restaurant chef, what is essential for creating healthier menu options? Whether it is swapping out butter for a healthier oil, or lower-fat dairy, etc., how do you keep high-taste intact while still offering healthful options?

We use olive oil as our primary cooking and flavoring oil. That in conjunction with a steady supply of local, seasonal and sustainable fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

2. In regards to restaurant health, taking healthy foods into the restaurants, what would be the essential first steps to going towards a healthier menu?

Choosing to emphasize fresh, local, seasonal and minimally-processed ingredients in menu planning.

3. How do you address portion control issues? The usual American dinner plate is a foot across, which is often loaded disproportionately with meat. What do you do to control portions?

It’s part of an overall consideration of menu design. If the portions are appropriate, the diners will want to order multi-course meals to experience the cuisine. Proteins tend to drive the menu, so it’s important to carefully control those portions especially.

4. In regards to ingredient choice, portion control and nutrition—relying on high-quality, great tasting ingredients such as seasonal produce, whole grains, lean meats and pantry staples such as walnuts and olive oil is important. What are some concepts applicable to the industry that are useful for foodservice and home cooks?

Use meats and seafoods as adjuncts to the vegetables and grains. Try to move veggies and grains to the center of the plates. Celebrate them in their seasons.

5. What would you consider the largest mistake consumers make when a.) ordering food at a restaurant, and b.) cooking at home? What is one thing consumers can do to make eating and cooking choices healthier? What is one ingredient that can help?

Ordering based on protein choices – “I’m having the steak” – Change the emphasis to your favorite seasonal vegetables. Creativity – explore different cuisines.

6. In regards to keeping ingredients seasonal and fresh, if consumers cannot afford to buy ALL seasonal ingredients, what is the most important to have as seasonal/fresh (the meat, vegetable, etc.)?

Choose to plan the menu around whatever veggies are in peak season – that’s when they’re most affordable. Try growing some of your own food – even if it’s just a few herbs in a flower pot.

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