Winning the weight wars with spa cuisine created by the chef in a Maui hotel

January 02, 1994|By Maureen Sajbel | Maureen Sajbel,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The typical holiday weight gain is riding on your hips or cruising around your middle. All that heavy eating has prompted yet another New Year's resolution to lose weight, but the word "diet" makes you wince. So what do you do this time in the battle of the bulge?

The answer may come from Hawaii, where a transplanted, Michigan-raised chef lost 65 pounds over a little more than two years while creating -- and eating -- her own kind of "country spa cuisine."

"I'd been on a million diets, but I had never seen spa cuisine," says Kathleen Daelemans, referring to the elegant rabbit food served in expensive spas and fat farms. "What I did [to create my own] was find out what people can eat in large quantities and what you can eat with abandon, like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. To me, eating is all about having a big bowl."

Ms. Daelemans opened Cafe Kula (which means "open country" in Hawaiian) in the Grand Wailea Resort, Hotel & Spa on Maui more than two years ago after a stint at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe.

Perhaps the 5-foot-2-inch chef, who weighed 195 pounds at the time, appeared to be an odd choice for the spa-theme cafe. But when she got cooking, she made the small terrace cafe one of the most popular in the resort's lineup of five eateries, drew a following that included hotel guests Sharon Stone and Paula Abdul, and showed that what she had to offer was right on the money.

Not only did she feature quantity in her cooking, but she also sought to satisfy her own gourmet taste buds. The result was a few delicious sins rationed into her virtuous low-fat and high-fiber menu, which ends up with 20 to 25 percent calories from fat, which is 5 to 10 percent lower than the U.S. Surgeon General's guideline.

"I have a realistic approach because I lived it," she says, adding that everything had to taste so good that she wouldn't miss the fat.

Technicolor ingredients

Another appealing aspect is that this trompe l'oeil (fool the eye) approach to dieting avoids the bland look of high-fiber food by featuring Technicolor ingredients and beautiful presentation. Likewise, her food fools the palate. One healthy, high-fiber bean dish, for example, becomes a zingy hot and sweet Pacific Rim-inspired salad with the addition of Vietnamese chili paste, Japanese rice vinegar, cilantro and sweet tropical fruit.

For dieters, the biggest relief here is that the 30-year-old chef doesn't believe in eliminating beloved foods. If fried chicken and chocolate cookies are a part of your eating patterns, you can still have them if you take certain steps to make them lower in fat. Her "fried" chicken recipe has a bit of olive oil and Parmesan cheese; and her chocolate cookies substitute prunes for part of the fat and have an unexpected hint of mocha because they include coffee. Grind real Kona coffee beans for a true Hawaiian touch.

Ms. Daelemans' country spa cuisine is so innovative, in fact, that three publishers immediately said "yes" to her cookbook proposal based on this approach. The cookbook won't be out until later this year, but the now-trim 130-pound chef is willing to share a few notes beforehand.

In examining Ms. Daelemans' approach, NIH research scientist Pamela Peeke says she's pleased with the level of carbohydrates (about 55 percent), protein (about 20 percent) and fat (20 percent to 25 percent). The average American diet is 35 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent protein and 40-45 percent fat.

"They're in tune with the standards I'd adhere to," Ms. Peeke says, adding, "Kathleen is able to show one thing I've stressed time and time again: If you substitute carbohydrate calories for fat calories, you can eat twice as much. The catch is that people can never eat this much. You put it in front of them and they say, 'I can't eat all that.' It eliminates the psychological deprivation that precedes bingeing."

Loads of fruit

Ms. Daelemans forgoes the artery-threatening American breakfast of bacon and fried eggs in favor of loads of fresh fruit, granola, turkey hash, low-fat breads or fruit smoothies.

Mounds of scrambled egg whites are made tasty with a teaspoon of tangy pesto sauce and savory dried tomatoes. To roughly approximate her appealing, custardy yogurt, people can use home yogurt makers, available in appliance stores. (One model by Salton is available in appliance stores for about $16.)

The no-oil granola served in Cafe Kula is a homemade recipe first concocted by the cafe's resident nutritionist, Elaine Willis: Two cups rolled oats; 1 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds or other nuts; and 1/2 cup pure, real maple syrup (blends or imitations will burn) are tossed together, spread 1/2 inch thick on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and toasted at 350 degrees, with occasional stirring, for 25 minutes.

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