Last week I attended the San Francisco Fancy Food Show and Food Fete (which I will be covering next week…), culinary events that give us permission to indulge in all the foods that occupy the very tip of the food pyramid. Sure, they have their healthy pavilions and the organic aisle, but let’s face it: At the end of the day, its mostly chocolate, olive oil, cheese, jam, caramel popcorn and artisan meat. However, it’s only twice a year, and it usually only takes two weeks to detoxify yourself and get back to normal.

The Fancy Food Show’s alter ego, the World of Healthy Flavors Conference (WOHF), held annually at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in St. Helena several days after Fancy Food, is the perfect contrast and natural way to correct the FFS damage! The conference is a three-day “invitational leadership retreat for chain restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and volume foodservice that brings together the best of world cooking and the latest in nutritional research.” But what does that really mean? Basically, for three days you alternate between lectures (educational, scientific and culinary demos) and eating the most delicious, healthy, flavorful and phenomenal food in the world.

The recipes are all hand-selected by world-cuisine experts and prepared by the culinary students at the CIA under the watchful eye of the renowned chef instructors. The world-cuisine experts included John Ash, Joyce Goldstein, James Sanchez, Suvir Saran and Michael Tuohy. We all watched in awe as they whipped up (on stage) Turkish zucchini pancakes, mushroom-stuffed rellenos, romesco sauce, farro and mushroom burgers, and dozens of other flavorful and healthful dishes.

I want to say that I learned lots of new nutritional information, but I have to admit: Most of what was said on stage was a reiteration of what my mom (an avid reader of all nutritional magazines) has been telling me for years. A few things I knew, but probably needed reminding, included:

Eat whole grains like spelt, kamut, barley, bulgar and quinoa

Better to eat whole fruit over fruit juices

Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and two servings of fish a week

Eliminate the trans fats and minimize the saturated fats

“Processed” (in the evil sense, not the basic sense) foods have a high glycemic index, they are absorbed quickly and spike the blood sugar, so go for more low-GI foods which are slowly absorbed (see the Sydney University Glycemic Index website for more details)

 Then there were a few points that I never thought of, but make perfect sense, including:

Eat a variety of nuts and try to highlight them in meals for flavor, richness and texture—nuts are rich in the good fats (the healthy, unsaturated ones)

Experiment with legume and nut flours (chickpea, lentil, peanut, almond) to make breads and pasta

Crushed lentils can be used as a breading

Consume one or more good source of omega-3 fatty acids every day (fish, walnuts, flax seed, canola oil)

Like all the shows I attend, I ate lots of food at WOHF. However, unlike other shows, I didn’t feel bloated and lethargic, but energized and satisfied. As the conference went on, I started envisioning myself spending more time buying and cooking vegetables and making them flavorful with monounsaturated fat dressings and sprinklings of nuts. I became excited about changing my ways and was inspired by all of the amazing foods being served to us at every breakfast, break, lunch and dinner.

No more trans fats or french fries, I vowed! From this day forward, I would be a whole-grain-eating, MUFA-fat-loving, ancient-grain-cooking, good-carbs-worshiping foodie!

But that all went out the window when Chris Schully, executive chef at Taylor Farms and RCA member invited me to join him and his 14 best friends for an intimate dinner at Bouchon Bistro

5 Servings of Vegetables a Day!

. Ooooohhhh, temptation … the black-truffle fries, pork belly, profiteroles, and salmon rillette… Could I resist?

Of course not! I may have just become a healthy-eating convert, but I ain’t stupid! However, I did behave myself and tried to focus on the seafood platter and even ordered a salad for dinner, which paired so well with the salmon rillette, poitrine de porc and boudin. The conference went on for three days. The last day, however, went beyond the lectures and eating sessions. “Produce First” was the special day where chefs, menu developers, suppliers, sponsors, CIA faculty members and “media” (like me) were divided into teams for hands-on cooking in the fabulous CIA kitchens.

About Rachel Zemser