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At just 35 years old, Ben Lee has had an impressive culinary career! Over the past 10 years he has shared his skills in such highly-revered restaurants as Morimoto, LaCroix at the Rittenhouse, Osteria, Marea and is now the executive chef at A Voce Madison in NYC. Ben is overseeing his own kitchen for the first time and on the menu is simple, market-driven, Italian food personalized by this funny, sweet and super talented young chef.
Now let’s get Ben’s take on healthy cooking…
Diane: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?
Ben: There is a popular trend of diners wanting to go gluten-free, although I can’t say (based on my limited knowledge) if I could agree it’d be a “better-for-you” option. But many people, in particular those who don’t have Celiac Disease, seem to feel it is. What I do find surprising however, is how many more people do discover gluten sensitivity in themselves. I’ve met a couple of people who were not sensitive to glutens, but later discovered it in their lives.
This is the biggest trend I’ve seen thus far. The low carb trend, the high protein trend, etc. have seem to come and gone. I think these days, people seem to be more inclined to just have a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
Diane: What’s your definition of “healthy eating”?
Ben: A balanced diet of protein, grains and tons of fresh fruits and vegetables in controlled portions. I like the approach (I believe it is a common Asian approach) to eating just until one is about 80% full. I think a lot of us just like to eat, and we will eat until we’ve reached capacity…then we feel terrible afterwards.
In Italy, it’s frowned upon to get seconds.
Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?
Ben: No secret, just don’t sacrifice the flavor. again, for me it’s about portion control and moderation. the enjoyment of tasting foods should be about enjoying the flavor, not eating so much of it until you’re full. I’m not a nutritionist but I do know when I feel like I’ve eaten way too much meat or too much butter or salt, etc. I just listen to my body. usually at that point, it’s telling me to eat more steamed broccoli.
Diane: What is your favorite dish on your own menu and why?
Ben: Insalata di Stagione. It’s my seasonal salad that contains a lot of different ingredients. I love vegetables and the challenge of cooking them and presenting them at a restaurant like A Voce Madison. It’s all about taking the best ingredients possible and just having fun with them. Depending on what I find at the union square market and what’s available from my purveyors, I can put in the dish familiar and unfamiliar ingredients, preparing them in various ways.
Diane: How about an update on what’s new and exciting in your world?
Ben: We’re excited for the summer at A Voce Madison. There are people wanting to take strolls around our great neighborhood. And while our approach is fine dining, we want our diners to feel comfortable to come in and have fun. Our outdoor café is open and it’s a great time to have drinks, some snacks, or a coursed-meal.
Click here for Chef Ben Lee's Whole Wheat Tagliatelle with Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Mixed Herbs Recipe
Diane Henderiks is a personal chef and culinary nutritionist on a mission to teach America how to cook and eat well. Follow her on Twitter @dhenderiks, "Like" Diane on Facebook, or visit her website.