Food prepared by celebrity chefs has been added to the seemingly endless list of things that may be bad for our health.
Scientists at the University of Coventry looked at 904 dishes from celebrity cookbooks and television shows and found that 87 per cent of the meals surveyed fell short of national health standards. The conclusion – that these purveyors of butter and bacon are "exacerbating" the obesity crisis – made for grabby if unfair headlines.
In Canada, there is certainly no shortage of famous foodies hawking recipes that are not for the faint (or clogged) of heart. The fatty-and-toothsome movement has become widespread in recent years, with many, if not most, popular restaurants offering their personal take on poutine, mac and cheese and every part of the pig you can imagine. But is the odd indulgence at upscale restaurants really to blame of bulging waistlines?
"I don't want to be too blunt, but I think that study is total b.s.," says Marc Thuet, a chef and cookbook author.
Famous for his rich recipes along with his enfant terrible attitude, Thuet says that going out to a nice restaurant is not something most people do every day, and that meals such as his impossibly rich cassoulet (pork, lamb, duck, duck fat) are obviously meant for special occasions.
He agrees that the food world is caught up in a more-is-more mentality ("the more fat you put in, the more you're going to be an acclaimed chef"), but he also enjoys the challenge of cooking for vegetarians, vegans and anyone else who isn't looking to eat the barn in a single sitting. At his Petite Thuet bakeries, cod and spot prawns are sold alongside richer offerings. "At the end of the day, people choose what they want to buy," he says.
Montreal's Joe Beef restaurant is an ode to old-school Québécois cooking where the signature dishes include lobster spaghetti, cheddar doughnuts and the infamous Foie Gras Double Down (a highbrow version of the sandwich made famous by KFC), all of which are included in The Art of Living According to Joe Beef.
It's about as far from Jenny Craig as you can get, but Joe Beef chef Frédéric Morin says that at least diners and home cooks can count on unprocessed ingredients.
The main problem with the British study, Morin says, is that it presumes that the public might otherwise be adhering to a saintly meal plan: "It's as if the alternative is people making a green salad and a poached egg for lunch rather than the reality, which is 10 nuggets, fries and a milk shake."
Like Thuet, Morin says the indulgent food offered at his restaurant is for special occasions. "I have customers telling me that they skipped lunch so that they could enjoy a dinner here – it's a treat."
As far as dangers to the public go, Morin says the real danger is the cheap and accessible fast-food combos that are more likely to be part of a daily diet.
In defence of his tribe, he adds that celebrity chefs have also been responsible for the post-millennial focus on fresh ingredients and the introduction of dozens of healthy foods: "Look at Jamie Oliver [almost certainly one of the unnamed chefs maligned in the British study]. Before he came along, nobody had even heard of kale."