Gone are the days of Swanson's TV dinners from the freezer. The little tin-foiled compartments of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and a dessert resembling something made with apples is, by today's standards, a health hazard. Still, those of us old enough to remember, digested and survived. Today's eating habits are a little more complicated, especially when you have to take them on the road.
The new basic standards of living include diets for diabetes, heart-healthy foods, low carb/low sodium, macrobiotic, raw, gluten-free... and the list goes on. Fresh prepared foods from organic groceries and delis are the new "TV dinners." Peanut allergies and celiac disease are today's most common food allergies among Americans, and also the the hardest to avoid in foods, which makes eating out difficult in some situations and travel a burden.
Imagine being in another country where English is a second language and having to explain to the waitstaff or chef that you have a food allergy. Would you feel comfortable eating the food? Would you know what to do if you had an allergic reaction? How would you, an allergy suffer, incorporate your everyday eating habits into travel? The Fairmont hotel group recently launched Lifestyle Cuisine Plus, a new concept that offers dieters a separate menu from the typical restaurant menu, showcasing gluten-free, raw, peanut-free, and macrobiotic food options. It's certainly not a new concept for hotels to create special meals for dieters, but having a dedicated menu to for those with dietary restrictions could be game-changing in the hotel food and beverage industry.
At Miraval Resort in Arizona, for example, guests are asked at time of booking what allergies they have and if there are any specific food requirements. "If needed I contact guests directly to discuss restrictions and then relay the information to our executive chef directly," said Miraval's Nutritional Director Junelle Lupiani, R.D. "We work very close to ensure that all guests with dietary restrictions are not only accommodated, but happy with the food they are served."
At the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, the chefs partnered with British designer Stella McCartney, a lifelong vegetarian, to offer an organic and vegetarian afternoon tea throughout the month of March.
But Fairmont's approach to the dieter's way of life is something a little different, and could help travelers more easily merge their everyday lifestyles into travel.
I recently met up with Mariano Stellner, Fairmont's Hotels & Resorts' director of Food and Beverage for the Americas, at the Fairmont San Francisco hotel to talk about this shift in menu and to taste a few items for myself.
In general, all chefs use the best ingredients, know what to do with those ingredients and present those ingredients in creative ways. But now nutrition plays a role. "If the [menu item] didn't meet nutritional value, it wasn't part of our lifestyle cuisine menu," said Stellner.
Here are the basics: Every Fairmont hotel creates unique menus that incorporate the local flavors and ingredients of the destination. In addition, each hotel offers a Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menu, which offers specific items for those with dietary restrictions including a diabetic menu, vegan offerings and gluten-free foods. At the Fairmont Copley Plaza, for example, diabetics can enjoy steamed cod and organic brown rice; vegans are offered exotic mushroom stir-fry with tofu and Wakame Seaweed Salad; gluten-free dieters have the option of a roasted beet salad and grilled salmon entree. But how does it taste?
During my recent stay at Fairmont San Francisco, I ordered off the restaurant's Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menu. My only dietary restriction is an allergy to salmon, so I chose the gluten-free menu and opted for a tomato-mozzarella salad as an appetizer and scallops with Israeli couscous for an entree. The end result was flavorful, filling and quite frankly, no different than anything I would order from a regular menu. However, knowing it was cooked with a little less butter and oil, sauteed and not fried, and made fresh from local ingredients actually made me feel a little better about ordering a two-course lunch at the hotel's restaurant.
Bottom line: We all need to eat a little better. Vacations are usually spent splurging and indulging and "the diet starts on Monday" line is heard frequently throughout the trip. While I certainly wouldn't advocate giving up all sinful delicacies at the table while on vacation, I can get behind the idea of eating a little healthier at most meals, even when traveling.