The Time Magazine run a cover story with Michel Guérard title “Hold the butter” in 1976, long before the global culinary scene moved to lighter cooking. The healthy dining pioneering French chef trained hundreds of talented cooks, some later receiving three Michelin stars themselves. One of them, Alain Ducasse became the most published French chefs of today, and the other, Arnaud Donckele, stunned the rather dull and showy Saint-Tropez dining scene with his exquisite local Mediterranean cuisine. Here, at Les Prés d’Eugénie in the Three Michelin kitchen but also in the cuisine minceur backroom are their roots of success.
Next to the renown gastronomy of the three Michelin star chef Michel Guérard, the village of Eugénie-les-Bains attracts ailing visitors to its curative natural sulphurous baths. The area’s healthy mindset next to a coiffeur’s encouragement in Paris had inspired Michel Guérard as the very first three star chef to invent a lighter style of French cooking, the cuisine minceur.
The basic scientific foundations of Essential Cuisine Minceur
The award winning pastry chef at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris over half a century ago, Michel Guérard has a penchant for desserts, and he believes that everyone craves sweet taste daily. Therefore, each of the three daily meals in the Minceur Essentielle Program includes a sweet treat (sweetened either by Canderel, fructose, agave sirup or more recently by the more natural xylitol) with a reduced fat when feasible. In the preface to Eat Well and Stay Slim, his classic book of “The Essential Cuisine Minceur”, the chef writes: “Taste and enjoyment are at the heart of all French cooking, so I am drawn to conclude that any plan to reform eating habits must not loose sight of the fact that people want to enjoy their food. Any sort of cooking or diet is doomed to failure if it fails to give people pleasure.” As a foodie I cannot agree more. We, who love food and appreciate its beauty every single day and meal, need a balance that pleases, not a bland depriving diet. Still, I do not need sweets with each meal, do you?
Four decades ago Michel Guérard dove with his wife Christine into the scientific research on nutrition and taste. The results had formed his cuisine minceur, that has improved for over forty years of the nutritional science’s progress. We “may be emotionally attached to certain types of food, we have a DNA ‘food memory’, writes the chef in his book Eat Well and Stay Slim: The Essential Cuisine Minceur. Meaning that if you ate and loved cream when you were little, the texture and flavour of dairy had been imprinted in your brain and associated with pleasure. If you are French or German, you certainly indulged in lots of creamy dairy as a child. Now, you probably crave the smooth, rich texture, the fat, like I do. Have it, but less will do, than heaps of heavily processed low-fat foods.
What we want from diet, detox alas slimness assuring consumption today?
We want pleasure in life, don’t we? Food is one of the life’s pleasures as I wrote about in the science behind taste recently. Only if serious health, allergies, poverty, war or other quality of life threatening events limit our food choices, we wisely choose suffering over pleasure. Unless you enjoy restraint for some reason, there are also other motivations, more physical, that steer you towards a certain deprivation. Yet, eating healthy, balanced diet can taste very good, and Michel Guérard is not the only gastronomic chef today recognising the calorie-conscious gourmet food’s potential. The Beauty Farm in Capri serves impeccable Mediterranean light meals at their Michelin star restaurant, Jean Georges Vongerichten ventured into freshly sourced farmers ingredients in his first vegetarian restaurant ABCv that is packed daily in New York.
But there is more influence of Michel Guérard’s cuisine minceur across the contemporary culinary world then you may be aware of. Today, many chefs create a much lighter food, even more delicately balanced than was the groundbreaking French nouvelle cuisine that Mr Guérard helped to form and popularise. His minceur recipes today “fall naturally within the scope of contemporary grande cuisine”, but most are simple enough to suit any budget and skill level. I like the Chilled Melon and Basil Soup, Tomato and Strawberry Gazpacho, Terrine of Ratatouille Vegetables, but the Skinny Tomato Tarts while using puff pastry miss the olive oil generosity of his classic recipe. Some might miss the foie gras and bacon in the Chicken breasts stuffed with lemony herbs, but this plate despite its similar look tastes much more refreshing than Michel Guérard’s traditional recipe served at the Ferme des Grives. From the desserts the Poached Peaches with Fragrant Jelly and Lemon do not feel like deprivation at all, but the floating islands and the lower fat ice creams do not offer what their more indulgent full fat versions do, the rich mouthfeel. Sorbets using xylitol or fructose, while not to be devoured daily, offer almost half of the calories and lower glycemic index keeping your blood glucose stable without any loss of taste or texture.
The more festive Spicy Salmon with Coffee Sauce, and the heavenly Poached sea bass with garlic, teriyaki, vegetables and herbs (we prepared it during the cooking class I took there) are celebrations to these superb fishes.
Eating Cuisine Minceur by Michel Guérard
The beneficial spa cure at Les Prés d’Eugénie can be enhanced by Guérard’s “slimming cuisine” that is also served in the same elegant dining rooms as the gourmet menu, so any dieter feels included. Room service is also possible. Proteins like lean meat and seafood, abundant on his plates, keep you sated for hours. Perhaps what is missing for a complete and more diversified protein intake though is more legumes and less dairy on the daily set menus. Each time, you will know exactly how many calories the three course meal will give you. A super thinly sliced bread is served only with breakfast, so no extra calories bump you out. Unless you tolerate watching and sniffing the freshly baked bread on a tray swirled around in the hands of the waiters for the diners enjoying the gastronomic three star cuisine. Once we had the minceur menu for dinner, including an excellent lightly seared white tuna, we asked for the bread, and since we were not on a diet trip there, we were generously served. As a chocolate connoisseur craving other desserts rather occasionally, I found it too pushy to have the dessert with each meal. Meat was included also more often than I would prefer, so it depends if the preset menus suit your palate. The Lamb couscous and After Eight Floating Island were very far from the most enjoyable dishes of my weeklong stay.
The low fat dairy-based breakfast served with an organic bread, sugar-free marmalades, homemade muesli and cold pressed juice from Biarritz based juicery was not my cup of morning pleasure.
Cooking Cuisine Minceur by Michel Guérard
You can either travel to the Landes in Southwestern France to take one of the Cuisine Minceur cooking classes at Michel Guérard Culinary Institute or buy the newest edition of his bets selling book Eat Well and Stay Slim: The Essential Cuisine Minceur. Now also published in English, the cookbook and healthy eating manual covers briefly the nutritional theory that laid the philosophical foundations to his cuisine minceur. Accompanied by cold and warm starters, salads, meat and fish dishes, and for the sweet end inspiring for less calorific desserts, the recipes are described in-depth enough so you will be able to prepare them with ease. Measuring and weighing every morsel precisely, you will get the stated amount of calories, fat and sugar stated with each recipe so you can guard your daily allowance. Beware, this not a quick quirky diet book, but a manual to long term lifestyle changes where pleasure meets healthy nourishment.
The Essential Cuisine Minceur Toolkit introduces into your cooking “the tools of trade for my minceur, low-calorie approach to gastronomy.” The purées, sauces, stocks, vinaigrettes, will form the base of any dish you imagine to create in your own kitchen. The Vegetable stock is my favourite. Make plenty and use even as a warming (ginger, orange peel and spices) drink that nourishes without any necessary calories (the alcohol from wine mostly evaporates). It is made in a way to reduce vitamin loss, simmered on allow heat for two hours and what is not in the book but the chef taught us during the culinary class is to cut a circle with a small hole in the centre from baking paper and put it on top of the liquid in addition to the lid. Back home using late harvest wine no extra sweetener as per the recipe was needed. The Light vinaigrette turned a bit spongy, not to my taste, and so I was not all over the moon about the spicy sauce with saffron with the Crunchy vegetable spring rolls. The chef again used milk in the sauce which I find unnecessary both for taste, its lactose content and additional saturated fat.
Michel Guérard hints on the French paradox writing “any healthy regime must be rooted in social custom, which means that its meals must include an element of ritual and should be special moments of enjoyment, whether or not they are shared with other people.” Indeed, eating must feel special, so the joy from it sates not only our bellies but also our selves!