While many young people exist on hamburgers and pizza during their college years, members of the UNLV School of Medicine charter class are learning why the better option for optimum health is a “superfood” salad of organic quinoa, farro, baby kale, radishes and tomatoes — with a drizzle of herb vinaigrette dressing.
As part of their course, Food as Medicine, the students were granted the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes of Wynn Las Vegas to see how one of the finest culinary operations in the world operates. Students quizzed a few renowned chefs at the property’s award-winning restaurants, observing their exacting standards and learning about vegan menus, allergen awareness and third-party food analysis.
An estimated 12 to 15 million Americans have some type of food allergy, so today, top restaurants are going to great lengths to protect their guests. At Wynn, the students learned about thoughtfully designed special menus and allergy “kits,” which are clearly marked containers of sterilized utensils that are brought out and used to cook an individual meal for guests whenever one makes it known they have a food allergy.
The chefs at Wynn talked about ways to make special menu items healthier, while maintaining, and even enhancing the taste. The chef in charge of the Wynn restaurant, Sinatra, provided examples.
“For the dough in our ravioli, we can use flour and pureed tofu instead of eggs,” Chef Luke Palladino told the students. “Then we do a seasonal vegetable emulsion — right now we’re using tomatoes, squash puree, or asparagus, depending on the season. Then, to bread the ravioli, we use pureed tofu to mimic the breading. And we avoid eggs, and we top it off with a vegan mozzarella cheese made with tapioca starch and coconut oil. When it melts, it’s pretty amazing how the flavor comes out.“
Maintaining rich flavors while cutting calories can be done many different ways, according to Chef Palladino. One such example is using less cream and butter, and adding smoked mushrooms to mimic the taste of bacon.
Second-year medical student Damien Medrano calls the visit to the Wynn one of the highlights of his course. “I really enjoyed learning how the Wynn is incorporating healthier food principles. It is important for the hospitality industry to embrace the growing emphasis of healthy dining habits that many people desire. Great food with fewer calories, less butter and sodium are practical changes that we, as future doctors, can certainly appreciate.”
Medrano is also a member of the UNLV School of Medicine Cooking Club. “It’s a fun way to get us students practicing Hippocrates’ philosophy of “food as thy medicine.” Students take turns hosting dinner and sharing tasty recipes. We just started, and so far, we have 15 members and two great recipes: turkey chili and chicken tikka masala. Our school was fully supportive and even bought us special UNLV School of Medicine aprons.”
Medrano actually brought his apron to the Wynn. Although he didn’t get a chance to cook, he and the other second-year students were invited to sample some of Wynn’s “Vanity Menu” items, including the “superfood” salad.
They also toured Wynn’s Staff Café, where approximately 12,500 Wynn and Encore employees are fed.
It is here that employees are allowed one free meal a day — and it’s not typical cafeteria fare. The food, and even the dining room décor, rivals many fine restaurants. Every entrée is color-coded to help employees make healthy choices, and Wynn chefs go out of their way to know exactly how many calories are in each dish. While most restaurants “estimate” caloric content, Wynn conducts third-party food analysis by periodically scooping up everything on a plate and sending it to a lab for examination and caloric measurement.
The students seemed fascinated by this. Student Emily Guyaux asked Wynn Executive Chef James Benson. “Do you have any data to show your efforts to provide healthier food is paying off with better employee health?” Chef Benson didn’t offer any hard data, but pointed out the company’s health insurance provides incentives for weight loss and lower BMI — and that every calorie saved is a step in the right direction.
Article credit: Paul Joncich/Manager of Media Relations UNLV School of Medicine
Photo: Courtesy of UNLV School of Medicine