Westchester Chefs Weigh in on Juice Cleanses
Julia Sexton surveys local chefs to get their take on whether cleanses compromise culinary integrity.
Here’s one of the tougher things about being a chef (or, for that matter, being a clothing designer or an architect): Anyone who sells expert creative services needs to protect the quality of his or her product. Often, those experts must strive to protect that quality despite the input of their clients, who may feel—because they are paying for the product—that they should have some control. Is it fair, from a chef’s point of view, for diners to swap out components on a plate? Or to ask for sauce on the side, or—on an artisanal pizza—more or different toppings? Is it fair that a diner should leave a restaurant thinking that his meal was nothing special, when it was the diner himself, and not the expert, who designed his food?
Given the pressures that chefs endure to protect their (forgive me) professional brands, it’s a daring move for some to dabble in the “neutraceutical” world of juice cleanses. Locally, you’ll find chefs Eric Korn of Good-Life Gourmet, Anthony Goncalves of 42 The Restaurant, and Bonnie Saran of the Little Kabab Station/Little Crêpe Street/Little Spice Bazaar dynasty all vending their own juice-cleansing regimens.
The cleanses, which differ from restaurant to restaurant, are designed with the primary goal of delivering nutrition. Generally, these are one- to three-day regimens of different blended fruit and vegetable juices (and, sometimes, nut milks) extracted with high-performance juicers. The juices, which concentrate the nutrients from—often—boxes and boxes of produce, can be a hardship for the restaurants to provide. The regimens require a huge amount of vegetable storage, they take time to extract and package, plus, it's recommended that the customer drink the juices on the day that they are made. Finally, there is the professional risk that happens whenever a chef hands a product to his loyal customer and it is a cup of salt-free, pea-green fluid whose flavor was not the chef’s number-one concern.
Says Chef Korn of Good-Life Gourmet in Irvington, “I bought a juicer to cook with and I was just playing around. One of my customers came in and said, ‘You’re doing all this stuff with the juicer, why don’t you just do a juice cleanse?’ I thought about it—and, by the way, she was actually a nutritionist. We talked about it and we designed the juice cleanse together.”
Ultimately, offering the cleanse created an identity crisis for Korn. “With me, it was weird because I was the nice food guy, then I was the sandwich guy, and then I was the health-food guy. I was confusing people. Customers would come in and say, ‘Well, you’re doing juice cleanses—how can you also be serving pulled pork and fried pickles?’“ Given the huge sacrifice of time and storage required to provide the cleanses from day-to-day, Good-Life Gourmet now only offers them occasionally (to find out when, go to good-lifegourmet.com).
In Mount Kisco, Chef Bonnie Saran offers “The Little Three-Day Cleanse,” a project that she developed with Pharm. D. candidate Jhanvi Shah, who worked for Saran when not attending classes in Boston. Says Saran, “At the Little Spice Bazaar juice bar, we get many people from the [nearby] health club. A lot of them came in asking for juice cleanses. We [Shah and Saran] just sort of got brainstorming. Our idea was, ‘Why don’t we have a product?’ because we have so many people who come in for the spices and lassis for nutrition and digestion. So I thought, ‘Why don’t we make a product that is completely about nutrition?’ Jhanvi formulated this whole thing with us and is a part of the company.”
The three-day cleanse, which includes a carefully designed regimen of six different juices, has, according to Saran, “the minimum amount of fat and 30 times the fruit and vegetables [that the USDA recommends]. And the spices we use in the cleanses are basically impractical for anyone to eat in a normal diet.” As a chef, Saran is not daunted by offering an edible product whose focus is not, primarily, flavor. “You know, I actually like the way they taste. The second one is not my favorite, but, really, all of them are excellent. There are people who come in and just buy the last one. It’s got some almond milk, walnut, cardamom powder, dates. It’s yummy.”