Kristy Lambrou, R.D. is the Culinary Nutritionist at Rouge Tomate, located on the Upper East Side. Kristy is the only in-house Culinary Nutritionist of a Michelin-star restaurant in New York City and was kind enough to talk with ChicFitChef about Rouge Tomate’s healthy approach to fine dining. Check out details on Rouge Tomate and Kristy’s healthy cooking tips if you’re cooking at home!
1. Thank you so much for doing this interview! Can you tell us how you came to join the team at Rouge Tomate?
Sure! Well, I was a big fan of Rouge Tomate since it opened a little over 3 years ago. I came within the first couple of weeks of the restaurant opening and met the previous Culinary Nutritionist who worked here. At the time, I was a registered dietitian at Memorial Sloan Kettering but always had a love of food and had wanted to pursue culinary school. Once I realized that jobs existed that could combine food and nutrition, I decided to pursue culinary school and eventually was able to join the team here.
2. Now more than ever, people are more concerned with the nutritional value of their food when dining out. What do you think caused this shift?
I think there’s a realization that the previous ways of eating, dining out and preparing food is not sustainable for the individual. We always talk about sustainability for the environment but at Rouge Tomate we also focus on what is sustainable for you. So many people, especially in NY, are constantly eating out -whether it’s for work or just because they have a busy lifestyle- and I think they want to go somewhere where they can feel good after they leave. At Rouge Tomate, we focus on you being able to come here to eat and feel great and healthy while having a memorable experience.
3. You’ve talked a little bit about the Rouge Tomate dining experience. Can you tell us a little bit about Rouge Tomate’s cooking approach?
Rouge Tomate really believes in the Latin phrase “Sanitas Per Escam”, which means Health Through Food. This is really the restaurant’s culinary philosophy. We’ve also turned this phrase into an acronym SPE, which stands for “Sourcing – Preparing – Enhancing”.
Where you source ingredients is important, as well as how you then prepare them, because it doesn’t do much good to get great ingredients and then not prepare them properly. You can destroy a lot of the nutrients during the cooking process if you’re not focused on the preparation aspect. We pay special attention to how the food is prepared to maximize the nutritional benefits.
Enhancing has to do with food combinations. Certain foods pair best with each other. For example, the iron that’s formed in plant foods is not easily absorbed by your body when you compare it to iron in animal products. So we may pair something that has iron in it, such as lentils, with something that has Vitamin C in it, because Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron in plant foods. Or another example would be lycopene, which is an anti-oxidant but is actually fat soluable, so your body needs some fat to absorb it. So we might pair a fruit that has lycopene in it, like say a blood orange, with some full fat yogurt.
4. I know you also mentioned that there will be a certification program that SPE is starting up. Can you tell us a little bit about that as well?
Well, currently there’s really no standard for health in restaurants. There’s calorie postings, but there’s no standard as far as a philosophy that takes into account sustainability and the nutritional content of meals from all aspects. SPE is hoping to reach out to other restaurants, hotels, hospitals to consult on nutritional content. We’ll work with whatever style restaurant -whether it’s Mexican, Indian, Spanish tapas, etc- to improve the nutritional value of that specific cuisine and make the menu healthier. That menu or specific dish will then be “SPE-certified”, sort of like LEED certification for buildings or the Green Restaurant Association certification, which certified Rouge Tomate.
5. What are the challenges to creating food that is both upscale and healthy?
I think the biggest challenge is just getting people in the door because of perceptions of what healthy food is. If they hear we’re a healthy restaurant, I think some people may assume that means it’s all raw food, or it’s bland food or it’s vegan; people have their own specific assumptions. But once people are in here, a lot of people don’t even notice that it is healthy. All they notice is that it tastes really good and that they don’t feel like they have a food coma afterwards! After eating here, you’ll feel good and you’ll feel energized.
6. Since you’re obviously a talented cook who is knowledgeable about nutrition, what are TWO tips you’d give to someone at home who’s trying to cook a healthier dish?
My first tip is to start with good ingredients. I don’t mean good as in expensive, I mean good quality and something that looks nice that you want to cook with. Try going to the farmers’ market and getting beautifully colored vegetables. If something doesn’t look good to begin with you’re not going to be inspired to cook with it. Also try to have a lot of colors on the plate too, because you get anti-oxidants from different colors. One trick nutritionists say is to ‘Shop the Rainbow”.
The second tip is that salt and pepper aren’t the only ways to season. Definitely experiment with herbs, spices and citrus, even if it’s trying one new herb or spice that you’re not familiar with.
7. So recently I attended the pastry cooking demonstration here at Rouge Tomate held in partnership with Exhale Spa. How do you make healthy pastry?
One way is to use some interesting flours that actually have natural sweetness to them. One of them was a Malted Barley Flour that we used during that demo. The other was called Mesquite Flour, which is a bean flour. These flours are a little bit harder to find but we do seek them out because they not only add more nutrients, but they also have more natural sweetness.
We also used a lot of fruit in different aplications to get natural sweetness. So whether it’s dried fruit or a fruit puree, we’ll try to incorporate that into the desserts to give more sweetness. We also use a lot of spices -cinnamon or cardamom or vanilla bean- so that also gives a certain sense of sweetness. We use teas too; right now we have an earl grey frozen yogurt. We’ll also soak raisins in earl grey tea, so it’s not necessarily sweetness but it gives another kind of flavor and more anti-oxidants.
8. Are there any other partnerships/events that are coming up for Rouge Tomate that we should be aware of?
One big thing is for Earth Day on April 22nd. We’re re-opening our food cart on East 64th and 5th Ave right in front of the Central Park Zoo. We’ll do Rouge Tomate’s take on healthy burgers, including grass-fed beef burgers and house made veggie burgers as well as market-soups and ice cream sandwiches. It will be our healthier take on a fast food cart.
9. Is there anything else that you want to add?
As the Culinary Nutritionist, I spend half of my day in the kitchen, working hands-on with the culinary team. So I understand that taste comes first – then it’s about both using nutrient-rich, seasonal ingredients and preparing them in a way that preserves their nutritional integrity. I can work with the executive chef and our pastry chef and we all have an appreciation for what the other does and what we each bring to the table.
Having worked at Rouge Tomate, I can say that I’ve never been anywhere where there is so much thought put into every step of the culinary process. Whether it’s being on the phone with purveyors asking them how they’re farming/fishing for our ingredients, or whether it’s the care put into the cooking process and educating the staff about why we do certain things- Rouge Tomate is truly unique.
***Thanks Kristy for taking the time to share what Rouge Tomate has to offer! Have you been to Rouge Tomate? Are you curious about the menu? If you go, please let them know that ChicFitChef sent you!***
 Photo Credit: Andreas Wadensten WBPstars
All other photos are property of Rouge Tomate