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Chef the force behind the Ornish recipes

Thursday, April 05, 2001

By Jane Miller

For people on a special diet, eating out can be the worst part.

Jean-marc Fullsack made this Pasta Primavera as part of his demonstration of Ornish-style recipes to reverse heart disease. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

People following the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease particularly have a hard time, since the diet contains no meat, no dairy fat and no oils.

"I'd never heard of this diet, until a guest presented a card and asked us to prepare this kind of a dish," said Lavender Hill's executive chef Jon Gardner.

Gardner was one of a dozen chefs (200 were invited) who attended the "Creating a Healthy Life Through Healthy Eating" cooking demonstration offered by chef Jean-Marc Fullsack to teach about tasty low-fat entrees -- and not just steamed vegetables.

Fullsack is the chef behind the recipes in the books written by cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish. He was brought to Pittsburgh by Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield to prepare a banquet for the 300 participants in the first three years of the company's Dean Ornish program.

To prove low-fat cooking doesn't have to be tasteless, Fullsack began the one-hour demonstration by serving low-fat "Egg McMuffins" to the Pittsburgh chefs.

Low fat "McMuffins"? Served to chefs? It shouldn't be a surprise. After all, Fullsack is known for serving a Boca Burger to the president of the United States.

He shared his story about then-President Bill Clinton. A White House chef had said to him, "You come to the White House with [expletive] Boca Burger burgers?"

"Just watch," Fullsack replied.

"They got very quiet as the president wanted another burger, and then another. It was a favorite dish," said Fullsack.

His point? "We have to give people what they like," he said.

To drastically reduce the fat in the popular fast-food dish, he gave a list of substitutions. Use a whole wheat muffin, scramble a nondairy egg substitute, add a slice of "Veggie Slices" (the soy equivalent to Kraft Singles) and a Canadian Bacon look-alike, also made of soy. (You'll find most of these products in the health food section of large grocery chains or specialty health food stores.)

Since Fullsack's 1993 meal at the White House, he has instructed the White House, Air Force One and Camp David chefs and the Navy Mess in low-fat cooking during retreats with the Ornish program.

The heart program involves lifestyle changes that focus on four components: exercise, stress management, group support and a low-fat diet with under 10 percent of calories from fat (the equivalent of a little more than a tablespoon of ranch salad dressing).

Ornish's books with recipes by Fullsack include "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease," "Eat More, Weigh Less" and "Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish," which was dedicated to the Clintons.

Fullsack became associated with the Ornish program more than 10 years ago. Born in France, he was trained in French high cuisine but early in his career was chef at the largest women's club in California.

"Women are always interested in diet, and healthful cooking was a natural," he said.

Later, when he was the head instructor at the California Culinary Academy, he was asked to open a restaurant that specialized in low-calorie cuisine.

Ornish was a guest about 10 years ago, and their association has become cardiac history. Ornish was brought to work at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute.

At last month's seminar, Fullsack also served the chefs a Boca Burger dish. He chopped it into meatball-size chunks and served it with a rich tomato-mushroom sauce combined with pasta.

For luncheons, Fullsack recommended serving soups which contain tofu, such as his Soybean Minestrone soup. He also made a Caesar salad dressing using tofu as a base, and he added homemade croutons to avoid preservatives. (Ornish diet followers must also stay away from all partially hydrogenated oils.)

"One of our nurses calls tofu 'the other white meat,' " said Wendy Vida, a registered dietitian with the Pittsburgh Ornish program.

"How do you feel about using tofu?" she asked the chefs.

One of the four chefs attending from the Club at Nevillewood admitted that he didn't much care for tofu. Some made faces as Fullsack talked about the two kinds of tofu, soft or hard. Make hard tofu soft by adding water and putting it in a blender. Soft tofu can have the extra water squeezed out by placing it between two small dinner plates.

Fullsack said to "shop around" until the chefs found a tofu that is palatable. "It's like breads. You don't like one, find another," he said.

For dessert -- low-fat desserts can be amazingly flavorful, he pointed out -- he made a warm cherry pudding and an apple strudel that used whole wheat phyllo dough.

But the show stopper, served with all the flourishes you'd expect in a fancy restaurant, was a Pasta Primavera with a Tomato and Red Bell Pepper Sauce.

Fullsack also demonstrated a way of making one-size servings to keep frozen for special requests at restaurants or for meals at home.

After the workshop, there was a quick sampling, before chefs had to return to their restaurants to prepare for lunch.

Evaluations were positive, said Vida, the Highmark dietitian. "Everyone said they plan to add Ornish-friendly items."

It's hard to fool an Ornish grad, though. "Some of our participants tell us that they have requested meals without oil, but they know there was oil," Vida said. "Your tastes change and become that sensitive."

Chefs are generally happy to make dishes for special dieters. (Call ahead in the early afternoon when they have time, most advise.)

The next night, The Club at Nevillewood served the Pasta Primavera.

"It was our chef's special, and a lot of people who aren't on special diets ordered it, too," said executive chef Garry Burgess by phone early the following week. "We completely sold out."

For details on the Ornish program, call 800-447-1352.

Jane Miller is a free-lance writer living in Avalon.

Related Recipes:

Pasta Primavera
Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
Warm Cherry Pudding

Thursday, April 05, 2001

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