By Terry Trucco
Did you know a bowl of hotel oatmeal, arguably the healthiest offering on the breakfast menu, can rack up 1,400 calories? Yikes!
Let’s deconstruct. Besides those undeniably nutritious oats, you’re getting whole milk and brown sugar. And just how big are the portions? Even raisins add up if you eat enough.
It all adds up, as Stephane Becht, the Pierre’s French-born executive chef, discovered when he set out to create a special room service menu that skimped on calories and fat but not on flavor. Working with Manhattan nutritionist Brooke Alpert, he subtracted and substituted, fiddled and tweaked, and voila, concocted an organic oatmeal with organic maple syrup and raisins that clocks in at 419 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 13 grams protein, a 93 cholesterol count, 7 grams fiber and 139 grams sodium.
“A lot of us have misconstrued notions of what is healthy,” says Alpert,
whose suggestions – lose the brown sugar, switch to fat free milk, cut back on raisins – helped Becht purge the porridge of 1,000 calories.
The calorie-conscious fruits of the chef/nutritionist collaboration is set to debut soon on the Pierre’s new wellness cuisine room service menu. An addition to the regular room service selections, the wellness menu’s snacks, soups, salads, appetizers, entrees, breakfasts, health drinks and smoothies – more than 30 offerings in all – come with detailed nutritional information, including calorie, fat, protein, fiber, cholesterol and sodium counts. It’s a little like having the Surgeon General’s warning on every item, though personally, we like reading nutritional information, whether on cereal boxes or at Starbucks (we loved pumpkin spice lattes until we learned a tall ate up 310 calories, same as a Boston Kreme Donut – or the new half avocado filled with cocktail crab at the Pierre).
Given the increasingly restrictive, often finicky, food requirements of well-heeled travelers, a wellness menu seemed a natural. Becht had already devised a watermelon salad with goat cheese, cracked pepper and olive oil (210 calories) for room service and the hotel’s Two E lounge. “In the luxury market you need to touch all the bases – vegetarian and vegan as well as healthy options for carnivores,” Alpert says.
But adding is easier than subtracting when you want a satisfying soup or a scintillating salad. It took a year to create the 500-calories-or-less menu. For every no-brainer, like the watermelon salad, challenges loomed, like the grilled Cajun chicken quesadillas (459 calories) made with fat-free cheese and “a lot of lime and cilantro for flavor without calories,” Becht says.
Appearance counts doubly when calories are missing, he adds. “You eat with your eyes, so everything must look especially vibrant and fresh.”
The wellness menu will be available only in guest rooms, but plans are afoot to sprinkle the lounge menu with selected offerings, complete with nutritional details. “If you have a big lunch it’s nice to be able to have a light dinner back at the hotel,” Alpert says. And if the lemon turkey stir fry with asparagus, snowpeas, bok choy and sweet and sour sauce adds up to just 294 calories, dig in.