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Pastry Chefs Rally for Health

Fresh Figs

Fresh figs with goat cheese flan

Some of the top pastry chefs in the nation gathered in Napa Valley recently to spend three days talking about healthy food. That's right: the same folks who tantalize us with croissants and crème brulée gathered to debate a topic that's almost taboo in their trade: Can desserts be both tasty and good for you?

"You didn't come to the pastry arts for health reasons," said Greg Drescher of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to the approximately 50 pastry chefs assembled for Greystone's annual Baking and Pastry Invitational Retreat. "You want to deliver a fabulous experience to your customers."

But with America's obesity epidemic showing no signs of abating, and the related public-health costs mounting, pastry chefs need to mount a proactive response, suggested Drescher. "It's not about taking things away from your menus," said the CIA educator. "It's about choices."

Oven Roasted Banana

Oven-roasted banana, roasted hazelnut madeleine, and Meyer lemon cream

The retreat combined nutrition education, pastry demos, panel debates and hands-on baking, all aimed at arming pastry professionals with inspiration for healthful desserts. Such pastry luminaries as Sherry Yard of Spago in Los Angeles, Emily Luchetti of Farallon in San Francisco, Pichet Ong of Spice Market in New York City, Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin in New York City, and Michel Stroot, formerly of The Golden Door spa in California, exchanged ideas and insights on making healthy desserts that sell.

But what is healthy, really? Dr. Connie Guttersen, a nutrition instructor at the CIA, urged the pastry chefs to educate themselves about healthful diets. Despite conflicting reports in the press, there is more consensus than one might imagine about what defines healthy eating, and the definition doesn't exclude dessert. Pastry chefs who focus on the many ingredients they can include in healthy desserts, instead of on the ingredients they need to reduce or leave out, will find that they are capable of making some immensely satisfying creations that no one would classify as deprivation desserts.