A check on healthy eating

In a light-filled space on Church Street in TriBeCa, guests gather amid flora for a multicourse meal designed to make them feel good about themselves. Vertically stacked planters overflowing with edible greenery and fragrant herbs are backlit by large windows so the leaf-filtered sun envelops diners in a greenhouse-like setting. 

This is Bouley Botanical, chef David Bouley’s living event space and urban farm in Manhattan. 

It’s a multiuse facility with a performance kitchen that can be rented for professional or personal events (organic wedding, anyone?) and is perhaps the most obvious expression of the direction Bouley has taken in life and in food.  

The “living pantry” provides a perfect location for his ongoing series, “The Chef and The Doctor,” in which Bouley collaborates with health professionals to focus on the benefits of food for well-being in a multitude of areas. Diners attend expert lectures on a wide range of subjects like gut-health, holistic dentistry and joint pain while Bouley cooks and serves his latest iteration of the ingredients on topic. 

For example, “the spirulina sauce we make contains organic spirulina, organic pumpkin seed butter, organic lemon scented cod liver oil and Bragg’s apple cider vinegar,” he said.  “These ingredients composed together makes it an off-the-chart omega food.”

Bouley is the influential chef who headed the kitchen at Montrachet in 1985 and opened his much-lauded Bouley in 1987. He went on to open Bouley Bakery, Danube, Upstairs at Bouley, Brushstroke, Ichimura at Brushstroke, Bouley at Home and the private event spaces Bouley Test Kitchen and Bouley Botanical.

Botanical provides Bouley with an opportunity to learn from the plants that he cultivates. It’s where he can explore techniques, combining and cooking with the more than 400 plant species he grows and experimenting with ways to optimize their healing power.  

After all, plants and herbs have a long history in mitigating disease and boosting health. In the heady days before symptom-suffocating pills were our first line of defense, wasn’t it an apple a day that kept the doctor away? 

It’s ancient wisdom that foods can have anti-inflammation and antiaging properties, boost immunity, affect mental health and support the fight against cancer and obesity. Now professionals in the medical field are revisiting and incorporating some of that wisdom. This coming October, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will begin implementing a Nutrition Research Plan in an effort to accelerate progress in that area. It’s further indication that food is being considered part of the prevention as well as the cure, supporting medical treatment in a more integrated way. The adage “we are what we eat” is starting to mean something again.

At Bouley’s “The Chef and The Doctor” series, the caliber of professionals willing to bring nutrition back into the discussion on health is also encouraging. 

Previous guests have included Lloyd Sederer, MD, chief medical officer of the New York State Office of Mental Health; Dennis Goodman, MD, clinical professor and director of integrative medicine at New York University, where he instructs students on how to use ingredients to combat heart disease and stroke; and Charles Czeisler, MD, director of Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University. 

These guest speakers mingle with diners while, back in the kitchen, Bouley works his magic (mushrooms).

On a recent night, the woodsy, umami treasures of the mushroom kingdom got his star treatment in his “Forager’s Treasure” dish. Wild Alaskan Salmon was served with the nutrient-dense fungi known to “boost your immune system, destroy cancer cells and fight obesity,” Bouley said. “Mushrooms… are popular because of results. Most countries in the world eat more mushrooms than Americans because of health reasons.”

Another specialty was Bouley’s coconut garlic soup. It’s one of his oldest dishes and he prepares it to coax maximum medicinal properties from the two headlining superfoods.

“The Chef and The Doctor” series is Bouley’s expression of the hope that, armed with the right information, anyone could implement these ideas in their everyday lives. Indeed, everywhere you look, it’s starting to happen. Superfoods like turmeric, kale, blueberries, eggs and avocado have been finding their way to more home tables across the country. “Pure, nutrient — dense ingredients form the building blocks of a wholesome kitchen,” Bouley said.

On another evening at Bouley Botanical, Vincent Pedre, MD, was the guest speaker at a dinner entitled “Happy Gut: Going Back to the Roots of Digestion.”

According to the National Library of Medicine at the NIH, the human microbiota is made up of 10 to 100 trillion microbes, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, the benefits of which health professionals are just beginning to understand. Pedre’s presentation was followed by a “gut-friendly” wine dinner. The higher the diversity of microbial species in your gut, the healthier you are. 

When it comes to cultivating good health, it’s good to know that at the microbes’ dinner party as well as at Bouley’s, the more the merrier.

For more, visit davidbouley.com/bouley-botanical/.

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