ST. HELENA, Calif.— In its sixth year, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone’s annual Worlds of Healthy Flavors retreat is embarking on a new beginning.

As far as the foodservice industry has come in recent years with its role in significantly reducing trans fat from Americans’ diets, the industry has a long way to go and new obstacles to overcome, said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, a co-sponsor of the conference. One primary goal is making produce a bigger part of what Americans eat.

Around 120 foodservice operators, chefs, nutritionists, dieticians, foodservice suppliers and university representatives met in California’s Napa Valley Jan. 20-22 to discuss what’s ahead in terms of nutrition, public health and foodservice.

The retreat provided an opportunity for representatives from multiple sides of the industry to put their heads together, said Greg Drescher, executive director of strategic initiatives for the institute.

“The kind of health food we’re envisioning can mean delicious healthy results,” Drescher said. “This is the CIA. We have a reputation to defend. There will be no cardboard served here.”

Between chef demonstrations, workshop topics included inspiration for healthy menu development, simple techniques for creating complex flavors, obesity in America, menu nutrition labeling, increasing produce consumption, using fruits and vegetables to create lower calorie menu items, changing plate composition and portion size, and more.

Willett opened the conference with a speech about overall health in the U.S. and the important role food plays.

“It’s just as much about quality of one’s diet as it is about quantity,” Willett said.

In the last year, the U.S. has doubled the number of states with obesity rates more than 30%, from three to six, he said.

“It’s a relentless increase, and there’s really no end in sight,” Willett said. “And the complications of this are not going to play out until 30-40 years down the road.”

The country is also starting to see its first declines in longevity rates, meaning the constant increase in expected life spans may be turning the other direction.

Recipe ideas that emerged during the retreat were inspired by supplier sponsors, who donated product and were on-site to talk with foodservice companies about their programs. The sponsors included:

  • National Peanut Board;
  • Mexican Hass Avocados Importers Association;
  • Almond Board of California;
  • California Raisin Marketing Board;
  • The Mushroom Council;
  • Western Pistachio Association;
  • Produce for Better Health Foundation;
  • Taylor Farms; and
  • Chilean blueberries.

But the main purpose of the even wasn’t really felt until the stadium-seated auditorium and teaching kitchen started to fill with the smell of why everyone was there — the food.

Chefs Suvir Saran of Devi in New York, Joyce Goldstein, a chef, author and consultant, and James Sanchez of Acenar in San Antonio, gave their takes on how to make tasty food healthier.

Goldstein used spinach greens in a one-pot meal she called pasta en zemino with seafood, greens, garlic and hot pepper.

“Italians are in love with beans and greens,” Goldstein said.

Saran spoke about the role peppers can play in dishes, whether to provide heat, or sometimes to play a milder role. He seeded and veined a chile while discussing the issue.

“You want the smell of the pepper more than the heat,” Saran said, moving into vegetables’ important nutritional qualities. “In India, we never eat Metamucil, we rely on vegetable fiber.”

Attendees closed each evening with a sponsor reception, where they got to taste dishes prepared with sponsors’ products and find inspiration for their own role in foodservice.

Walter Willett of Harvard speaks to the audience about nutrition, public health and foodservice.

Culinary event focuses on health, produce’s role

Ashley Bentley

Joyce Goldstein, chef, author and consultant, prepares a pasta dish with seafood, greens, garlic and hot peppers during the Culinary Institute of America's Healthy Flavors conference opening chef demonstrations.