5 Senses of Spa Series:Taste
Guilt-free Gobbling: Spa Chef Toni Robertson’s Thanksgiving Tips


This holiday season, invite the spa to your house for dinner. (And we don’t mean for abdominal massages after stuffing yourself with meats, carbs, and starches.) Mandarin Oriental’s Executive Chef Toni Robertson gave us some amazing tips for incorporating the principles of wholesome spa cuisine into your holiday – and everyday – meals.

Chef Toni Robertson, Photo courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental

If there are two words you should remember when choosing ingredients for any meal, they should be “market fresh.” Robertson, who grew up in Burma without refrigerators, said that the core of every meal was based around daily trips to the market. By purchasing fresh, in-season foods, she says a lot of the need for flavor enhancers like salt, oils, and butter is eliminated because the fruits or vegetables will be at the peak of their flavor. For even more zest, she uses a variety of healthy Asian spices to add flare to her meals.

These concepts of seasonality and flavor have the ultimate influence over Robertson’s spa menu at the Mandarin Oriental, which has included delectable bites like caramelized scallops with steamed asparagus and mango chutney; chicken and wild rice with julienne leeks; and a butternut squash soup with cinnamon yogurt.

Another element of spa cuisine is moderation. Robertson says that she makes no restrictions as to what can be on the spa menu (except she avoids fried foods at all costs), but everything is portioned appropriately, and healthier alternatives are always opted for. You want pasta? You can have pasta, but use a whole wheat version instead. Craving some hearty bread? Look for a whole grain variety. Want a buttery taste? Use butter, but toward the end of cooking – you’ll use much less and still have a buttery flavor from the emulsification.

Now that you’ve got the basics down, consider using them to create a healthier version of your traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Here are some of Robertson’s tips:

– Instead of the traditional roast turkey that’s been basted and massaged with butter for hours, try steaming your turkey with honey and just a tad of soy sauce, which will impart the same golden glow to your Butterball.

– For stuffing, use a nourishing whole grain bread, and use a quarter of the amount you usually would. Cook with vegetable stock and add volume with generous helpings of lightly sautéed veggies like parsnips, celery, onions, leeks, and mushrooms.

– Nix the yam that’s stuffed with marshmallows and brown sugar, and opt for a sweet potato roasted with honey, cayenne pepper, and sage.

– Forget the gelatinous blob of canned cranberry sauce and make your own with fresh cranberries, apples and orange juice.

– Don’t skip dessert. Instead of pie, try making a pumpkin custard with a buttery toasted granola topping.

VIP Suite at the Mandarin Oriental, Photo courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental

All these ideas and more will be discussed at the Mandarin Oriental’s special “Healthy Through the Holidays Wellness Series,” which will be held at the hotel on Nov. 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Robertson will be there to give a cooking demonstration as well as recipe ideas to attendees. Susan Torn from Scentient Beings will also be on hand to talk about aromatherapy meditation, which can help curb and control food cravings during the holiday season. Reservations and more information are available through the spa at the Mandarin Oriental.

Mandarin Oriental, New York
80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street
New York, New York 10023
Telephone: (212) 805-8880
Website: http://www.mandarinoriental.com

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