After Spain, Thailand and Hong Kong… Twente. Good match or not? Twente is a relatively low-key rural region in the east of the country. I was born here. By Dutch insiders, however, it is fondly known as Country Estate of the Netherlands. ‘Why not search closer to home?’ officials at the local Chamber of Commerce asked me. I got curious because I am in the process of writing about Health Cuisine, featuring 12 Top Chefs in 12 Destinations around the World, and I wondered if the Twente region would fit in such a global book. But what started with a little hesitation, turned into a rediscovery of my own green region and an unexpected destination marketing tool, full of healthy gastronomy. A perfect match.
MODERN MACROBIOTICS IN ALICANTE
Our first culinary health travel brought us to modern macrobiotics Chef Pablo Montoro, who was handpicked directly from the kitchen of celebrity Chef Ferran Adrià. Pablo’s task was to cook healthy gourmet at the ultra luxury SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain. The philosophy of SHA is based on the ideas of macrobiotics guru Michio Kushi who stood by SHA owner Alfredo Bataller during his recovery process.
Macrobiotics is a universal philosophy and way of life based on nutritional and health-based values developed by the Japanese George Ohsawa. Kushi was one of his pupils. Macrobiotics comes from the Greek word “macros”, meaning long or great, and “bios”, meaning life. Grounded in the traditional teachings of East and West, macrobiotics originates from the Yin & Yang philosophy, a combination of 5000 year-old experience with incorporated knowledge about Japanese Zen, Buddhism and Western science. In Western Europe, in the 60’s, it was known as ‘hippie-food’ and considered boring and not very tasteful. To Chef Pablo the SHA owners said: “We would like you to apply the presentation techniques you learned at El Bulli to the ingredients we use in our (Kushi’s) teachings”. From a nutritional point of view, Chef Pablo is supported by a team of medical, alternative (Eastern) medicine and macrobiotic experts.
One of those experts is Ms. Virginia Harper (pupil of Kushi). I had an interesting interview with Virginia who learned to cope with Crohn’s disease and Takayasu arteritis thanks to macrobiotics, and she explained how essential proper nutrition is for your bowel function and how simple it can be to combine ‘tasteful’ and ‘delicious’ food. Interestingly, Japanese Cuisine has a lot of macrobiotic components, such as sushi, miso, edama beans, tofu and sencha tea.
HEALTH & WELLNESS IN THAILAND
After Spain, we travelled to the famous Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Hua Hin, since decades the retreat town of the Royal Thai family. General Manager Paul Linder advised us to first undergo the ‘guest experience’ with therapeutic massages and a health scan, which includes a ‘mental & emotional health’ consultation. Only afterwards were we able to taste and photograph all the tasteful dishes that Thai Spa Cuisine has to offer. ‘You had a long journey, and if you are going to write about us, then you first need to experience our approach to Wellness. Then work.’ Paul smiled. Needless to say we enjoyed and learned from every single second during our stay.
Upon our departure Chef Paisarn Cheewinsiriwat quickly highlighted his signature dish with a cheeky smile; ‘Khun Nico, look up the Latin description of my special flower when you’re home.’ I didn’t get the hint back then, but when I was back in the Netherlands I looked it up; ‘Clitoria ternatea, or butterfly pea’. I took a closer look at the purple/blue flower again on the picture we shot of the Monkfish and Spinach Terrine with Madras curry emulsion and Dijon mustard. ‘Ha ha!’, then I realized why he smiled so cheeky, Chef’s joke from Khun Paisarn. But very healthy indeed; ‘butterfly pea is one of four herbs traditionally used as Shanka Pushpi, an Ayurvedic medicine used to promote neurological health and is proven to have memory enhancing effects’. That is something you don’t forget. Back home, Studio Paf graphic designer translated our Thai and Spanish culinary travels into beautiful moodboards and the design of the book, as well as the culinary story we wanted to convey to our audience, began to take shape.
TCM IN HONG KONG
In China we visited Design Hotel The Mira Hong Kong, located in the middle of trendy Tsimshatsui, to write a chapter about delicious Cantonese Cuisine in this super modern 5-star hotel, and about the influence of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Chinese food therapy with Masterchef Ken Yu. Chef Ken does not speak English but he has a Michelin star. We ate lots.. lots of good food. Special dishes too, with Sea Cucumber, Chocolate-infused Tofu with Goji Berries, Sea Star soup and Black Hen. Healthy and tasteful eating is embedded almost religiously in Chinese Cuisine. TCM is all around you, in Herbs & Spices shops around every corner, in restaurants and supermarkets etc.
We knew this before we arrived, but when you eat and drink amongst Hong Kong residents, you become deeper immersed into their food culture and that makes a big difference. Because, within that diverse Chinese Cuisine, Cantonese cooking (i.e. thanks to the many special spices used and slow cooking) is regarded as healthy haute cuisine. And this is exactly what Health Cuisine is all about; healthy gastronomy with Top Chefs such as Chef Pablo, Chef Paisarn and Chef Ken Yu, who incorporate ancient and tried-&-tested knowledge (which has been passed on from generation-to-generation) into modern tasteful dishes. These Top Chefs did not reinvent the wheel. Rather they recognise that the knowledge is already amongst us for centuries. They just preserve that knowledge in a very appealing manner, they improve where needed and present their dishes in a highly attractive and modern way. They keep our interest warm.
INSPIRATION ‘WHAT IS HEALTHY FOOD?’
Other Health Cuisine destinations include India, Jordan, Italy, Poland and Indonesia. All countries with traditional cuisines where ‘healthy’ and ‘tasteful’ food go hand-in-hand, grounded in culture and in authentic lifestyle. As a personal touch, for instance, I want to write about traditional ‘Djamus’, those smelly herbal medicinal potions and lotions from Java which I still recall my Indonesian grandmother use to make and which are nowadays being used in the most luxury 5-star resorts on Bali and Java, simply because it works. During my research for Health Cuisine a befriended homeopath drew my attention to the late Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, author of ‘Anticancer: a new way of life’, who, despite a brain tumor, managed to prolong his life 19 years by eating more consciously. I lost my father to cancer, 58, far too young to die. During times like those you also asked yourself several essential life questions. My photographer advised me to read Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defense of Food’, about how we have collectively forgotten how to eat well; mainly because of mono-culture, eating too much of the same type of food and our reduced sense of taste. I became inspired by Ayurveda and Dr. Vandana Shiva from India, author of i.e. ‘Monocultures of the Mind’ and in 2010 pronounced by Forbes as one of the 7 most influential women in the World. Dr. Vandana is a strong advocate for Indian farmers and fights for the preservation of seed banks through her Navdanya program, which means 9 seeds and stands for the protection of biodiversity. Because without seeds, there can be no life. I began to recognize touch points and common ground and a connectedness between the stories of Chefs, Farmers, Gourmet lovers, Culinarians, Spa & Wellness experts and bon vivants who spoke to me about the rediscovery of culture-based knowledge of our food. A culinary heritage of core values.
FROM FARM TO FORK
Based on those core values, local farming and eating what nature has to offer in our close vicinity, became one of Health Cuisine’s 12 themes. ‘Let the story of the Farmer, the Chef and biodiversity do its’ work.’ That is how the Dutch theme ‘From Farm to Fork’ was born. I began to tickle the interest of Chefs in the west and south-west of the Netherlands, those with Michelin stars and who are listed in the top 100 of Dutch fine-dining restaurants. But I could not quite find what I was looking for. Then that tip came in from the local Chamber of Commerce. The article they gave me read; ‘Country Estate hotel De Bloemenbeek, awarded with a Michelin star, has a long established tradition within the world of international Top Sports, thanks to the specialized knowledge of SVH Masterchef Michel van Riswijk about healthy and delicious dishes. Chef Michel enhances sports accomplishments of athletes and sports professionals.” Perfect, I thought, close to home and top sports and a top Chef who also happens to work closely with artisan farmers and regional food products. That very same day I drove through the countryside of Twente, passing rural farms, endless greenfields with cows and horses and sheep, to the famed Country Estate hotel where world-famous soccer clubs like Ajax and the likes visit the hotel annually since more than 39 years to prepare for their upcoming competition season.
HEALTHY GASTRONOMY IN TWENTE
From that moment on, a personal rediscovery began of the region where I was partly brought up, as a child of the ‘double East’ (Twente and Java). Country Estate hotel De Bloemenbeek recognizes regional core values in the book and decided to participate. One month later we held the first Health Cuisine event, which led us to a presentation to the Twente Association of Artisan Chefs (Twentse AAK). There we were in rural Bornerbroek, a place very few people ever heard of, standing between Dutch cows on the left and farming tractors on the right, talking about exotic destinations like Thailand and Hong Kong and Spain. The artisan chefs were slightly confused at first, but the more we engaged in conversation about healthy cooking, organic farming, pure food and culture-based knowledge about food, the more they understood that their story is essentially the same as those top chefs and farmers abroad, but just in a different cultural context. It triggered a sense of connectivity – connected through healthy gastronomy.
Things moved fast since then. Harry’s Farm called to ask if an authentic organic cattle farm, 200 years in the family, could be suitable for the book. A few days later, we were walking in the countryside again between Black & Red Angus cattle in Wierden, the first in the region: 80 pedigree cows on 40 hectares of farmland, 100% free range, purely organically raised, hormone-free and no antibiotics. The result: ‘stress-less’ tasteful meat with intra-muscular fats (or marbled meat as we know it), full of omega-3.
My ‘Twente-tour’ took me further to other organic farmers, local top chefs and artisan entrepreneurs from north to south, and from east to west of the Twente region. Chef Willem Dankers of Dorset Restaurant and Chef Jelle Wagenaar of Restaurant Het Seminar joined as well, and in September 2012 we finished our photo-sessions. It turned out that we had more material than we needed for the Dutch Health Cuisine chapter, so we decided to publish a separate book, like a prelude to Health Cuisine. Soon enough 3 students of the Cas Spijkers Academie Twente (the best culinary school in the Netherlands), Dr. Frank van Berkum (author on diets and nutrition, who graded the students’ dishes), Chef Rob Fiselier of award-winning Spa Resort De Holtweijde and even the Regional Tourism Office of Twente participated in the book which we titled ‘From Farm to Fork in Twente’, a book about Health Cuisine in the Country Estate of the Netherlands. The book was symbolically released on 12/12/2012 and in January 2013 the book was being sold by the Twente Regional Tourism Office during the ‘Vakantiebeurs’, the largest annual international Tourism & Travel Trade fair in the Netherlands.
What the Twente story has taught us, is that Health Cuisine (linked with Wellness & Spa’s), has strong Destination Marketing value. Food Tourism is a growing worldwide trend. Wellness & Health Travel is a growing trend. And when we combine and build on the two, placing it in a cultural holistic context, and where possible supported by evidence-based material about health benefits, then you have a powerful Health Destination Marketing Tool. The main challenge here is to connect private with public, farmers with hoteliers, trade associations with entrepreneurs, educators with the work field, young talent with professionals, and more importantly to recognize that healthy food is universal and culturally binding. However, once packaged and presented in the right manner, be it a book or a magazine or other media, you have a formula in your hands for a successful addition to your health travel portfolio.
- contributing author TOHWS/Routledge book ‘Health Tourism and Hospitality‘, Smith & Puczko, chapter 35 ‘Health Cuisine – a new destination marketing tool’ , publication November 2013
- this article is the foreword of the book ‘From Farm to Fork in Twente‘ CIP-details, Royal Library of the Netherlands, The Hague, ISBN 978-94-6190-061-6 © Hospitality in Health 2012
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
- Michio Kushi, Japan, michiokushi.org
- George Ohsawa foundation, ohsawamacrobiotics.com
- Chiva-Som Health Resort, Hua Hin, chivasom.com
- Chiva-Som Academy, Bangkok, chivasomacademy.com
- The Mira Hong Kong, themirahotel.com
- Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, anticancerbook.com
- In Defense of Food, michaelpollan.com
- Dr. Vandana Shiva, India, navdanya.org
- Twente Tourism Office, The Netherlands, twentsbureauvoortoerisme.nl
- Hotel De Bloemenbeek, The Netherlands, bloemenbeek.nl
- Dorset Restaurant, The Netherlands, dorset.nl
- Het Seminar Restaurant, The Netherlands, hetseminar.nl
- Wellness Resort De Holtweijde, The Netherlands, holtweijde.nl
- Cas Spijkers Academy, The Netherlands, casspijkersadacemie.nl
- Slow Food Netherlands, slowfood.nl
- Slow Food International, slowfood.com
- Dr. Frank van Berkum, drfrank.nl