VAIL, Colorado - Some people would argue that "gourmet healthy cuisine" is a contradiction in terms. For a long time "gourmet" meant butter and cream and rich, rich food.
That's exactly the perception author and chef Martha Rose Shulman is working to change.
"Many great cuisines in this world - the cuisines of the Mediterranean, Asian cuisines, even the cuisines of Mexico, do not rely on butter and cream, yet when made well these are as gourmet and memorable as any great, rich meal," she said.
Shulman, a longtime New York Times columnist, is in town this weekend for two events that are part of Vail Restaurant Month. First up is a dinner and demonstration at Terra Bistro Saturday night, where Shulman and Chef Kevin Nelson will team up to make three recipes from Shulman's just released cookbook (her 27th) "The Very Best Recipes For Health." Sunday, Shulman will appear at Masters Gallery in Vail for a champagne reception where she'll be signing copies of the book. Grappa is providing the bubbly, and there will also be bruchetta for attendees to nibble on.
Shulman pens the column "Recipes For Health" for the Times, which means her dinner is often the recipe she's testing out for her column. This week it was lasagna with pesto one night and spaghetti squash gratin the next.
At Terra Bistro Saturday she'll prepare several whole grain salads, including farro salad with beets, beet greens and feta and a wild rice and brown rice salad with green beans and walnuts.
"People think of grains as something to serve on the side, but they can take center stage when combined with vegetables, herbs, nuts, and a great dressing," she said.
Attendees can also expect a Swiss chard and red pepper gratin, which Shulman said "makes a wonderful main dish as well as side."
Her philosophy is simple and goes something like this: Eat fresh ingredients, skip processed foods, eat low on the food chain and stop to sit down for meals.
For Shulman, who also teaches cooking classes at Venice Cooking School in California, it's a way of life she's been embracing since the '70s.
"I've devoted my career to healthy eating, but in a very unscientific sort of way. My passion for good food and conviviality, and my instinct for a balanced, healthy lifestyle have always gone hand in hand. I've never sacrificed one in favor of the other, and don't believe you need to."
There's no brush-with-death story, no cancer scare. Shulman started eating healthfully decades ago.
"It was part of the ethos of the '70s," she said. "But at the same time I was a passionate cook, so I applied my cooking knowledge and my standards for food that tasted good to healthy cooking. I was always committed to the two. And once you begin eating like that, there's no turning back. I wasn't ever doctrinaire, I just believed that you could eat well and in a healthy fashion if you were a good cook."
It's no coincidence that Shulman's event is taking place at Terra Bistro. The two are a fitting match, according to Greg Hittelman, who co-founded and co-produced Vail Restaurant Month with Ilene Rapkin.
"Her big event on Saturday is really all about the themes that are embraced at Terra Bistro - all about eating naturally, healthfully and in a gourmet and delicious fine fashion," Hittelman said. "Terra Bistro planted the flag for Vail a long time ago with gourmet, nutritious food that's visionary."
While Shulman isn't comfortable calling it a "trend" just yet, she has noticed that some restaurants are going in a healthy-yet-gourmet direction.
"Many restaurants are embracing the 'Meatless Monday' concept, and almost all restaurants now offer vegetarian choices," she said. "But I really believe that the easiest way to eat a healthy diet is to cook. That's what my column 'Recipes for Health,' and the book, 'The Very Best of Recipes for Health,' is meant to empower people to do."
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.