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Daily Archives: November 9, 2008

‘Spa cuisine’ whips up 400-calorie delights

by Dominique Schroeder*

Out with depressingly bland bite-size diet foods nibbled between mud-baths and massages: luxury spas today claim to be whipping up culinary delights worthy of a gourmet restaurant at only 400 calories a shot.
Heirs of the light diet cuisine of the 1970s, the new "spa cuisine" chefs spawned in Asia boast menus as colourful as those of top gastronomy guides: scallop carpaccio with artichokes and roast pumpkin seeds, pan-fried kidney in beer with crunchy buckwheat, lemon mousse with peppered mint and biscuits.
Just like richer heavier cuisines, spa cuisine's aim is to titillate tastebuds.
Until recently, meals at spas were "a sham", said chef Yves Toublanc, who runs the kitchen at the Miramar Crouesty Resort in western France.
"There were tiny portions, people barely had anything to eat, and none of it was pleasurable; all they got was steamed foods, marmalades, stewed fruit, cottage cheese … and it was incredibly expensive."
Aimed at keeping the calorie-count in check, Toublanc's dishes also aim to "satisfy fondness for food in the same way as does gastronomy".
"It's not diet cuisine, it's a balanced cuisine" that weighs in at an average 400 calories a meal, he said.
At the Evian Royal Resort spa also in France, all foodstuffs are weighed and calories counted. "The basics of our cuisine remains dieting," said chef Michel Lentz.
But the chef has taken the notion of spa food a step further, offering "special care menus" which he says are in synergy with the tender-loving-care on offer.
On top of the calorie-count, Lentz weighs and watches vitamins, proteins and anti-oxydants, whipping up salad dressings without oil, mixing cooked and raw foods, and concocting broths made from roots.

'We're just changing one word for another'

"Spa food first and foremost is food for well-being", said Lydie Boisseau, who heads the Evian's "synergy" restaurant.
Born and bred in Asia before being adopted in the United States and Europe as spas mushroomed worldwide, spa food traditionally has been linked to the more-or-less philosophical notion of wellness.
At Hua Hin in Thailand, the Chiva-Som, one of the first luxury spas to provide a holistic approach to health, says "our concept is to provide healthy cuisine but with so many flavours you will never notice it's good for you!"
"Our view of spa cuisine is that the moderation should be in the ingredients, not the flavour."
At the Heritage Golf & Spa Resort on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, chef Philippe Rozel uses essential oils and flower waters in his "energy cuisine".
"It is based on the interaction between the chakras (or centres of spiritual power) and the colours of every individual", said Rozel, whose sophisticated menus come by colour code.
But the new cuisine leaves food historians and experts under-whelmed.
Historian Patrick Rambourg scoffed at the notion of spa food, saying "this has existed for years. One of the great French chefs, Michel Guerard, did this 30 years ago by marrying gastronomy and health-foods in his 'cuisine minceur'."
Guerard, one of the founders of so-called "nouvelle cuisine" is termed the inventor of "cuisine minceur" or light food.
"We're just changing one word for another," said Rambourg.
And foodie consultant Albert Nahmias had even harsher words. "It's nothing but marketing," he said. "People lap up the message as if it was comfort-food. It makes them feel better."


Smelly effluent mars affluent Dubai’s beaches

by Wissam Keyrouz*

Dubai's beautiful beaches have been making headlines because of a couple who allegedly had sex by the sea, but a more pervasive nuisance from washed up sewage threatens to deter tourists.
For several weeks some of the emirate's fabled beaches have been covered with the stinking contents of septic tanks as Dubai suffers the consequences of its frantic and poorly controlled development.
The foul effluent, which threatens to damage Dubai's image, highlights one of the paradoxes of the emirates — it can build the world's tallest tower and six-star hotels but has not constructed the sewage works it needs.
Dubai officially had 1.3 million inhabitants at the end of 2006 but its population is ballooning.
New apartment blocks and neighbourhoods are rising everywhere at a record pace, but infrastructure is dragging behind.
For example, the city still has no main drainage system, hence the need for tankers to collect the contents of septic tanks and transport the waste to the emirate's only sewage treatment works at Al-Awir, out in open desert.
A second plant is under construction but will not be in use until next year.
For the moment, the existing site is operating at full capacity and the queue of tankers awaiting their turn to unload snakes out of site amid a miasma of nauseating fumes.
"The wait can be more than 10 hours. It is hard to bear, especially when it is hot," Ijaz Mohammed, a tanker driver from Pakistan, told AFP.
Drivers are paid by the journey and in September some of them got fed up with the long queues and started offloading into the ditches intended as run-offs for the rare showers of rain.

The dumped effluent drifts onto fashionable beaches

The dumped effluent first runs into the sea, then drifts onto beaches, in particular those of the fashionable Jumeirah district, home to some of Dubai's swankiest hotels.
"This pollution is accidental and results from the practices of certain drivers," Mohammed Abdelrahmane Hasan, held of the city council's environmental services department, told AFP.
Punishment is heavy for illegal offloading of waste, with the employer of any driver caught in the act being liable for a fine of up to 100,000 dirhams (27,200 dollars). The vehicle can also be impounded.
The local authority has decided to encourage informers after 55 drivers in one week were spotted while dumping their loads.
It has set up a public freephone number with the incentive of a 2,000 dirham (about 545 dollars) reward if the offence is confirmed.
However, the illegal unloading goes on, and not just into watercourses leading to the sea.
A British man driving a 4X4 vehicle in sand near the port of Jebel Ali, west of Dubai, was surprised to come across a lake of excrement, local newspapers reported.
Doctors have warned of a heightened risk of catching diseases such as typhoid or hepatitis but adults and children continue to bathe in the sea.
The situation is starting to worry some tourists, such as "Anna", a young Russian encountered outside a grand hotel.
"Yes, I've heard about that and it worries me. I am going to spend more time shopping, at the pool and sunbathing," she told AFP.
Tourism is the motor of the local economy and the problem could have serious consequences if it starts to affect Dubai's image as a clean city, something it prides itself on.
This is why the city council tries to be reassuring.
"Pollution is only affecting an area of beach and all tests prove that bathing is risk free," insists Hasan, the environment chief.