Fitness trend: Move over fad diets, spa cuisine is the healthy way to go
We have a celebrity secret to let you in on. Ever wondered, what is it that they do for their dewy skin and their well-sculpted bodies? Well, it might just be the spa cuisine route. For a while now, stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Nicole Kidman have been heading to exclusive spa retreats, such as the Golden Door Luxury Resort, near San Diego, to rejuvenate themselves. The exclusive resort is known to rustle up gourmet meals made to suit their client’s preferences.
Closer home, Atmantan Wellness Resort, in Mulshi, Pune is frequented by the likes of Bollywood actresses Karisma Kapoor and more recently, Bhumi Pednekar. Topping the list of high-profile visitors is Lisa Ray, a Multiple Myeloma survivor, who is mindful about conscious living and eating. “I make it a point to schedule a retreat at least twice a year. Reclaiming the right to rest and nutrition is not only a personal choice, but a necessity in our hectic lifestyles,” says the 46-year-old actress. Curating the menu for spa cuisine is no mean feat. The chefs often work closely with the team of doctors to create dishes that have therapeutic properties. Executive chef of Atmantan, Ishika Konar, says, “Calories have to be calculated keeping the macros in mind and also not to forget the portion sizes. At Atmantan, we follow a farm-to-table concept. Choices of dishes include gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, vegan! We have an Australian chef Ronaldo Fulieri onboard, who is an expert in the field of raw food.”
In a nutshell, spa cuisine is all about choosing food that fuels our bodies instead of fad diets, and taking a break from daily deadlines and readily available junk. The history of spa cuisine takes us back to 1983, when the landmark New York-based establishment, Four Seasons, initially used the term and later copyrighted the phrase, along with a few other restaurants.
Replete with locally produced, organic ingredients, chefs at spas across the world aim to get tailormade dishes ready for their clients that are healthy and delicious at the same time. The process usually begins by picking out seasonal veggies and fruits. For instance, some of the most commonly used and nutritious ingredients are drumstick, fennel, amaranth leaves and bitter gourd. That apart, salmon and lean meat also play a major part, as they contain a healthy dose of good fat. You won’t be depriving your sweet tooth either. Desserts made of soy milk or antioxidant-rich Blueberry entremets would satiate your cravings.
A nutritionist’s guide
We spoke to well-known clinical nutritionist, Karen Campos Bhatia, to understand what we need to keep in mind, before indulging in spa cuisine. “A person’s body mass index, medical history, lifestyle and deficiencies must be looked at, to ensure that there are no adverse effects on health,” says the Hyderabad-based expert. She also highlights that it often becomes important to choose the right spa for such regimens, as most centres may not have nutrition experts in-house. “It’s critical to have a health and diet expert. Although a lot of spas offer food choices that are more sanitary, not all healthy food applies to all,” informs Karen.
Customised food comes with its own benefits, for instance, quinoa salad with chicken can help those ardently working out at the gym, and need an increased protein intake. However, you might start small at home before opting for a full-fledged regular spa meal. Karen suggests an effective way to tackle iron deficiency or low B12 levels: “Add a large glass of pomegranate, beetroot, carrot and spinach purée extract in equal proportions. This should be taken as a snack, and not during a meal. If you have that once or twice a day, in addition to a protein-rich diet depending on the intensity of deficiency, it works wonders.”
Eat with your senses
Chef Pushkar Karandikar’s spa food offerings at Collage, Hyatt Hyderabad Gachibowli are certainly a feast for the senses. They look too pretty to eat and taste heavenly, making most people wonder if the dish is from the spa cuisine. “That’s the myth I want to break. Before I started exploring this cuisine at Park Hyatt Dubai, I had similar misconceptions. But the truth is that spa food can be as mouthwatering as any other mainstream platter,” says the Ratnagiri-native, who custom-makes dishes for his patrons, depending on the detox treatment they choose. Pushkar is also the chef who believes that every cuisine, especially the spa variety, requires one to be aware of the latest information about nutritional content, depending on average lifestyles today. “The Salmon Candy with avocado cream and coriander gel is the first experimental spa dish I made. If you experience jet lag and choose a spa treatment for the same, I would suggest you to pick this salmon dish for your meal. It’s a cured salmon, which retains all the nutrients, and is served cold,” shares the 28-year-old chef.
Salmon 200 gms | Salt 100 gms | Sugar 300 gms | Orange zest 2 no | Lemon zest 2 no for avocado cream | Avocado 1 no | Lemon juice 20 ml | Salt as per taste | For sour cream | Cream 50 gms | Hung curd 50 gms | Lemon juice 10 ml For coriander gel | Coriander 10 ml | Lemon juice 20 ml | Mint leaves 10 gms | Water 100 ml | Gelatine sheet 1 no
For curing of salmon:
■ Clean and skin the salmon pat dry.
■ Sprinkle sugar and salt. Zest the oranges and lemon in it.
■ Rub the mixture till it becomes orange.
■ Layer the salmon and cover it for five hours and let it cure.
■ Rinse with water and pat dry.
For avocado cream:
■ Blend avocado, lemon juice and salt into a fine paste.
For sour cream:
■ Whisk cream and hung curd.
■ Keep in room temperature for two hours.
■ Later add salt and lemon juice to taste and keep it in the fridge.
For coriander gel:
■ Blend coriander, lemon juice and mint leaves into a fine puree. Strain and boil it.
■ Add a leaf of gelatine and set it in the fridge.
■ Blend the leaf to get a fine gel.
■ Cut the salmon in the shape of a candy, which is cold and cured with avocado cream and coriander gel.
Here are a few restaurants in South India that offer spa cuisine.
Those who wish to experience a unique Ayurvedic fare post their rejuvenating spa session, head to Taj Malabar’s Jiva Spa, Kochi. “Since our wellness manager, Usha Kiran, is also an Ayurvedic doctor, we usually customise our spa’s appetising F&B programme after consulting with patrons and understanding their body types: vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (water),” explains executive chef of Taj Malabar, Thomas George, whose spa specials include Seared River Trout with Kaffir Lime Sauce and Soya Milk Brown Rice Kheer. Price for two: Rs.1,800.
Similar to Kochi, Bengaluru’s Mimansa at Foxtrot is attempting to revive ancient traditions and practices of lifestyle. “My mother has been growing chemical free produce to serve clean nutritious food at home, and some of these recipes have even become part of Mimansa. We source fresh and seasonal produce from local farmers’ community and make sure no artificial additives or microwaves are used in the kitchen,” says Malika Suri, founder, Mimansa. Look out for Masala Dosa made with ragi, Earth Bowl, Zoodles (a pasta made with zucchini) and Rosemary Chicken, among others. Price for two: Rs.1,000 ++.
Although a menu exclusively created for a spa is not as common in Chennai, a few popular hotels with luxurious spas offer customised meal options. “Massaging any part of the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the ‘rest & digest system’. When this is triggered, gastric juices are released and the peristaltic muscles start working. Post which, a person feels hungry. This is when we recommend our activated Charcoal Panini with greens and fresh mozzarella,” shares Mukesh Sharma, executive chef of Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort and Spa. Priced at Rs. 1,500.
Hyderabad is home to more than five restaurants serving spa cuisine including iHow Cafe, Nirva Spa and Jiva Spa by Taj Hotels. Abhiram Agarwal, owner of the year-old Sante Spa Cuisine in Jubilee Hills, says that his restaurant, one of the pioneers of this cuisine in Hyderabad, is committed to not using regular sugar and salt and refined flour. “We make salt in-house without sodium. In place of sugar, we have jaggery and honey. Along the same lines, we are planning for foods such as Pav Bhaji, where we use multigrain pav and exotic, healthy veggies. We also have an Italian and fusion menu.” Price for two: Rs.2,500.
(With inputs from Ayesha Tabassum, Anoop Menon and Sonali Shenoy.)
Featured image: Simran Choudhary in Notch Above Creations at Hyatt Hyderabad Gachibowli. Styled by Vishrutha Nare, make-up by Ronan Mili and pic by R Satish Babu.