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What's the deal with Heartbeat?


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 29 October 2002 - 07:37 PM

Chef, can you straighten me and everybody else here out regarding what the deal is with Heartbeat? I've been confused by the media coverage since day one. Is it a health food restaurant, a low calorie restaurant, a sort of kind of vegetarian restaurant, an organic restaurant, or what? Give us the long version of the answer so we'll know once and for all!

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#2 Michel Nischan

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Posted 31 October 2002 - 10:38 AM

THANK YOU FOR ASKING THIS QUESTION!! We are NOT a health-food, vegan, or no-fat restaurant. (I'm not yelling, but am excited by the opportunity to answer this. :smile: ) We focus on providing a healthful upscale dining experience to people who don't want to have to worry about what ingredients might be hidden in restaurant menu offerings (read "Poached Turbot" unadmittedly poached in goose fat with no mention of it on the menu :blink: .)

Here is what makes us more healthful than most of our peer restaurants: we do not use butter or heavy cream in any of our savory dishes. We are not no-fat as we use amazing (and amazingly expensive) olive oils, nut oil, etc. We do not use processed starches and sugars because of their highly negative impact on individuals with conditions like heart disease and diabetes. (My son is diabetic, which is why I started cooking this way.) This is what prompted me to experiment with self-thickening juices, using potato water instead of arrowroot/cornstarch slurries, etc.

We do not substitute ingredients for butter or cream because they are irreplaceable (there will never be a "creamless cream sauce" nor a "butterless Hollandaise"). Trying to replace such culinarily significant products would be sacrilegious. We pretend they never existed and focus on getting the best natural products possible and treating them in a way that shows them proper reverence.

We use amazing artisan farmers and producers like Keith Martin of Elysian Fields' lamb (he also serves Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller), Eric of Early Morning Seafood, the Khmer Growers of Western Mass., Eckerton Hills Farm, etc. Truly great lamb does not need butter to taste exceptional, rather to be respected in the cooking process and paired with ingredients it responds well to, like high-grade sumac, garlic, rosemary, pomegranate, fresh mint, chilies, etc. (not all together!). We are definitely not vegan, although because we are perceived as a restaurant of well-being, we attract some. Therefore, we always have at least two vegan items on the menu. We do not serve tempeh, soy cheese, several varieties of tofu, etc.

In short, butter and cream are the most irresponsibly used food items in many restaurants because they allow their abusers to use ingredients with reckless abandon. The result is that feeling many diners get when they try to go to sleep and can't lie on their left side, so they try their right side. :wacko: That doesn't work so they try their back - they don't dare lie on their stomach. They think they ate and drank too much when, in fact, they just weren't designed to ingest countless ingredients.

I cook with butter for my personal cooking but use it much differently. I start with an exceptionally well-made base stock with high-grade ingredients, like slightly overripe heirloom tomatoes, 12 year old balsamic, and a fresh bay leaf. To this I add a thumbnail or two of butter. Because the ingredients are well-matched and stand on their own as great products, a little butter goes a long way. :biggrin:

Many chefs reduce multi-ingredient stocks with wine and vinegar, then mount a pound of butter into 1/4 cup of reduction. This is ludicrously unnecessary. Though I cook with butter (and cream) and believe you can cook healthfully with these ingredients, we would not have been taken seriously had we used them. We needed to make a statement. I think I've finally figured out that I wasnt personally clear enough in my initial interviews to avoid the confusion that now exists. I also feel we, as a restaurant group, did not go far enough with written collateral, like take-aways, to explain what we are about.

I know this was long-winded, but I hope it helps clarify our concept.

#3 Bux

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Posted 31 October 2002 - 02:33 PM

Though I cook with butter (and cream) and believe you can cook healthfully with these ingredients, we would not have been taken seriously had we used them.  We needed to make a statement.

To me, that makes it sound a bit as if you are doing the right thing for the wrong reason. If nothing else, it makes a political statement where I'd question the need or value. If you believe you can use butter or cream judiciously, why not use them--or better yet, why did you feel it was necessary to make a statment of this kind and for whose benefit was it made?

I am someone who loves the taste of butter, but who is far more likely to saute food at home in all or mostly olive oil. By the way, I also love goose fat :biggrin: and believe it is actually one of the healthier fats although I don't have its composition in terms of saturated and unsaturated fats handy to quote.
Robert Buxbaum
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#4 Steve Klc

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Posted 31 October 2002 - 02:46 PM

Perhaps you'd be willing to talk a bit about how your dessert philosophy meshes with your cuisine Michel--do you make exceptions for butter and cream in desserts--or do you steer away from things like creme anglaise bases for ice creams and sauces and do more sorbets and ice milks instead? Have you developed ways to utilize 0% fat fromage blanc or the fat in yogurt or lebne in dessert applications? Do you use a PacoJet--and has that technology allowed you to create the look and feel of certain components--like ice cream or mousses--with a more immediate taste yet without relying so much on heavy cream?

I suspect you rely heavily on honeys--and can you mention a few you particularly enjoy and why you use them for a given application?

Do you use gelatin?

Do you "juice" by hand or machine for all of your sorbets? Do any commercial frozen fruit purees, i.e. Boiron, Ravifruit-- meet your standards for taste--some claim to be flash frozen at the peak of ripeness? I realize these wouldn't fulfill your goal of using seasonal locally sourced fruits, but do they all pale on your palate? For example, coconut--would you shave and extract coconut yourself, use a frozen coconut puree or just not use coconut in a dessert application because either the labor cost would be too high or it wouldn't fit with your concept, i.e. wouldn't be healthful, local or seasonal enough?
Steve Klc

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#5 Michel Nischan

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Posted 31 October 2002 - 06:35 PM

Hello Bux. Your point is a good one, though I don't believe I was attempting to make a political statement. When we were doing informal focus work, many of the folks that were hopeful for a restaurant like Heartbeat were skeptical as to whether they could trust any restaurateur regarding reduced butter and cream usage. Most asked us to take the plunge and try to avoid the use altogether. There are so many people in such straights with their health that they completely re-arrange dishes so they consume not butter, cream -- and in some cases -- even oil.

I was raised on Southern country cooking and believe in using the whole animal. I cooked chicken with chicken fat, pork with prk fat, etc. Roux for sauce was made according to individual animal being served and I even mounted sauces with varieties of animal fats. Believe me when I say I aged ten years just considering opening my debut restaurant in Manhattan without the culinary pillars of butter, cream and foie gras. But, as I explained to an earlier posting, My 13 year-old son was diagnosed with diabetes at age 5 and I have come to understand how eating habits spell the difference between a long or short life for literally millions of people. Therfore, I felt compelled to offer a cuisine that could be enjoyed by food lovers without their having to guess whether or not the food they were eating was truly safe.

The idea was to offer a menu where nearly anyone could order nearly anything and not worry about changing the proparation to feel "safe". There are scores of diners who are world traveled and passionate about life and food, yet, because of health concerns, reading most upscale restaurant menus is all about what they cannot have -- depressing.

Now that people trust us, we've been considering the exploration of cooking judiciously (hate that word) with fats other than vegetals.

You are correct about goose fat and the same is true of lard. Both, while high in staurated fat, are much higher in monounsaturates than butter. Again, moderation is the key. Drinking goosefat or lard would not be good :laugh: .

Sporry about the long response.

#6 Bux

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 11:11 AM

I thought the long response was a good response. I am reminded of sauce Auchoise served with duck breast by Andre Daguin in Auch. As he described it, it was Bearnaise sauce with goose fat replacing the butter. To the uninitiated, it may sound gross, but it was quite delicious. On the other hand Bearnaise sauce is not something I eat a lot of these days. I hope you didn't overlook Steve Klc's dessert questions in this thread.
Robert Buxbaum
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Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.
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#7 Michel Nischan

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 02:25 PM

Steve and Bux: I'll get back to Steve's dessert questions over the weekend as I'm gearing for a killer weekend. Regular business plus high profile events. Duckendaise sounds spectacular!

In short, I suck at desserts so I have a pastry chef :laugh: . We also have half of our menu as Heartbeat desserts (sans butter and cream) and the other half is titled Indulgences. We found that many people watch their diets, work-out, and follow their meds so they can reward themselves with dessert. :biggrin:

For more specifics to Steve's great questions, I'll have to pass them on to Wendy Israel, my pasrtry chef.

Have a great weekend. :biggrin:

#8 Michel Nischan

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 03:01 PM

Perhaps you'd be willing to talk a bit about how your dessert philosophy meshes with your cuisine Michel--do you make exceptions for butter and cream in desserts--or do you steer away from things like creme anglaise bases for ice creams and sauces and do more sorbets and ice milks instead?  Have you developed ways to utilize 0% fat fromage blanc or the fat in yogurt or lebne in dessert applications? Do you use a PacoJet--and has that technology allowed you to create the look and feel of certain components--like ice cream or mousses--with a more immediate taste yet without relying so much on heavy cream?

Hi Steve, sorry it took so long to respond. As I mentioned, desserts are not my strong point (to put it mildly). Wendy is in the weeds and I can't nail her down (she's two bodies down).

We do a half/half dessert menu. Because so many people watch what they eat to splurge on desserts, we offer half the menu as conventional - butter, cream, etc. For the others we do use the PacoJet - a real liberator, though we've never pushed it as far as figuring out how to make ice cream without dairy. We have largely featured gelati using goat's milk and cook over-ripe fruits for many of our ice creams and gelati. I have never encountered 0% fat fromage blanc (and can't wait to do so). Also do not know what lebne is.

I suspect you rely heavily on honeys-and can you mention a few you particularly enjoy and why you use them for a given application? Do you use gelatin?

Love honeys. We use Mario Bianco rhododendron honey, tupelo honey, Hawaiian white honey, chestnut honey etc. One of my desserts (yes, mine) is freshly sliced ripe peaches or figs (slightly over-ripe actually) served on semolina bread that has been pan-toasted with great EVO, then drizzled with warm rhododendron honey. We use gelatin and, for the occasional vegan, agar-agar.

Do you "juice" by hand or machine for all of your sorbets? Do any commercial frozen fruit purees, i.e. Boiron, Ravifruit-meet your standards for taste-some claim to be flash frozen at the peak of ripeness? I realize these wouldn't fulfill your goal of using seasonal locally sourced fruits, but do they all pale on your palate? For example, coconut-would you shave and extract coconut yourself, use a frozen coconut puree or just not use coconut in a dessert application because either the labor cost would be too high or it wouldn't fit with your concept, i.e. wouldn't be healthful, local or seasonal enough?


All of our fruits and syrups are hand juiced. We slip every once in a while and welcome the occasional and rare hand-slap from a guest or colleague.

We have yet to use coconut. We use some tropicals in the winter because our hotel mandates year-round fresh fruit. We do champagne mango, mangosteen, lychee and a few others.

We also ascribe to the belief that we have a duty as culinarians to continue to express and celebrate other cultures. Sometimes I get flack from a few colleagues about using imported ingredients like our premium sushi rice from Japan, the Kumai Harvest Koshihikari. The rice comes from a co-op of family farmers and is so meticulously raised and processed, that there is nothing in our country that compares (this is true largely because our culture sees rice as a side or garnish unworthy of much attention or a higher price). The same colleagues, who criticize my rice choice as fossil fuel-intensive, will not hesitate to fly a fossil fuel propelled jet liner to Japan to experience the culture.
My feeling is that there are many who do not have the luxury of time or money (or sponsor-endorsed tickets), to experience another culture. While we should be obligated to buy and cook as locally as possible, I believe we should continue to express and explore other cultures. Fruit is included in this, as there are some things that will never grow here.