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Really? No, not really.

Reason for dismay at the top level restaurants:

(LA Times Food Section) “Three top chefs create more healthful versions of favorite dishes”

They cut down a little on the calories–as in, substituted olive oil for butter, or ricotta for mascarpone, or even ground chicken for ground pork. But only one of them cut down significantly on the sodium–and even then it was 1000 mg for the dish, down from about 1400 mg. Give Daniel Mattern credit where it’s due, but it’s still a lot. Josiah Citrin’s dish, which started out about 650 mg, not horrible for restaurant food, actually went up in the modified version.

In Susan Feniger’s case (and she was far from succeeding or even trying hard on the sodium reduction), the sodium count was more than a day’s worth in one dish–from 2100 mg or more to 1800-plus. Choke. She did skip marinating the ground chicken, but the “mabo” sauce, which she didn’t change at all, contains three different kinds of soy sauce AND fermented black beans. Because you really need a sauce that salty in fine food?

Couldn’t she have done a different sauce, more savory or spicy but less salted? That’s the first thing I would have targeted. I probably would have used my low-sodium prune-based Asian barbecue sauce instead of the black bean sauce–it’s different, but good, and it’s similar enough in texture and flavor density to substitute well.

In fact, none of the chefs tried to go radically different–they were all too fixated on whether diners could tell the difference between the originals and the modified dishes. Well, if they’d changed anything worth changing, I’m sure the diners would have been able to taste the difference. The real question is, would it have been a good dish and would they have liked it? I think the chefs could certainly have gone after bigger, more ambitious changes and made the dishes satisfying–perhaps even better–without choking the diners on salt.

The bad part of the article came at the end. All three chefs just gave an arrogant little shrug when the results were revealed at the end of the test (showing that they hadn’t done all that well). They all said grandly that it doesn’t really matter, because as Josiah Citrin put it, their customers come “to be blown away” by the food.

And so, just like the fast food kings, they put the blame on the diners for not demanding better, saner nutritional standards. Beats workin’.

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