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Food Briefs

Restaurants Cut Cholesterol and Fat Out of Menus

December 17, 1987|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Operators of high-priced restaurants are reducing fat and cholesterol in many menu selections in response to their well-heeled patrons' heightened dietary concerns, according to a recent national survey.

There are limits, however, to the restaurateurs' nutritional sensitivity because desserts, for the most part, remain as "rich" as ever.

The study was conducted by Merck, Sharp & Dohme, a Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical firm that is marketing a new cholesterol-lowering drug. Data was gathered from chefs and owners at 173 restaurants who responded to questionnaires mailed earlier this year. Among the respondents were several Southern California eateries including Spago, Jimmy's, L'Ermitage, Scandia and Chanteclair.

A large majority of those queried, 74%, stated that their patrons have expressed concerns about the cholesterol content of various dishes.

An equally lopsided margin, 73%, further claimed that they were adapting more nutritious standards for their foods, particularly in regards to lessening cholesterol and fat levels.

The action has been precipitated, in part, by different eating patterns that are particularly evident in entree selection.

For instance, the study found that 75% of those restaurateurs surveyed reported that their customers were eating less red meat. Fifteen percent said that patrons were consuming the same amount as in the past and only 10% were actually eating more.

The numbers were reversed for chicken. Demand for chicken dishes was up in 86% of the dinner houses responding, while only 6% reported a decline in poultry orders. Eight percent noticed no change.

Not all responses evidenced such clear-cut eating trends. A finding that contradicts those for chicken and red meat, was that of veal. Seventy-one percent of the chef/owners surveyed said that customers were eating more of the tender, but high-fat, meat than in the past. Nineteen percent experienced a lessening in demand. And 10% said calls for veal remained unchanged.

Though there may be significant awareness of consumers' health concerns, the restaurateurs' responses are more evenly balanced on several related issues.

For instance, when asked if dining in a fine restaurant should be a special occasion, unfettered by nutrition, 47% of the respondents answered yes --indicating that health and weight concerns should take a back seat to the joy of eating. The remainder, 53%, disagreed.

On the question of desserts, the questionnaire asked whether there was any increased demand for meal-ending treats that are low calorie. Two thirds, or 65%, of the respondents said no, while 35% stated that such requests were, indeed, increasing.

Gauging Meal Orders--A more broad-based survey of nutrition's impact on menus was conducted by Restaurants & Institutions magazine. The food service industry journal has tracked the most popular entrees since 1971. Its most recent findings indicate that changes are taking place, but that some very familiar names remain on the nation's collective bill of fare.

The four leading entrees in the magazine's 1987 survey, in order of popularity, were: fried shrimp, fried chicken, steak and baked ham.

"Fads come and go. But after tracking what operators have been putting on their menus during the past two decades, it becomes apparent that (restaurateurs) remain loyal to traditional American favorites," the magazine stated.

In comparison, the top four in 1971 were, in order of preference: steak, fried shrimp, fried chicken and roast beef.

Repeat Performance--American-Soviet summitry is turning out to be good business for one Sonoma County winery. Last week's meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev marked the second time that Iron Horse Vineyards' sparkling wine was poured at a toast during a U.S. state dinner for the Soviet leader.

The Forestville, Calif.,-based firm's first brush with high-level diplomacy came when its 1982 Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine was served at a dinner Reagan hosted for Gorbachev during the November, 1985, meeting in Geneva. The selection was purportedly made as a gesture of geographic appropriateness considering that Iron Horse is located adjacent to Sonoma's Russian River.

A special blend of the winery's 1984 Brut was also chosen for Reagan's toast at the conclusion of last Tuesday night's White House state dinner. But officials at Iron Horse would like to believe that the repeat honor was a result of the sparkling wine's quality and not its point of origin.

"Yes, our proximity to the Russian River was the reason we were selected for the Geneva summit, but I don't think that's the case this time," said Joy Sterling of Iron Horse. "We have found that people will buy a wine once because it may be fitting, but they won't make the same purchase a second time unless it's good."

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