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Let's Eat Mediterranean: Three Ingredients, Five Chefs, A Competition
Photo © Hussenot/photocuisine/Corbis

Let's Eat Mediterranean: Three Ingredients, Five Chefs, A Competition

Grain, oil, wine: the model based on these foods is still considered one of the most complete way of eating. To find out why FDL went to the South of Italy

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Judging from the planetary success of his book, translated into ten languages and sold in millions of copies, the French doctor, Pierre Dukan, also seems to have won over the Americans with his diet based almost exclusively on animal proteins. An essential contribution to his cause was made by Kate Middleton, a “testimonial” who followed his indications before being led to the altar by Prince William. But this was not sufficient to curb the heated debate that ensued, nor the outright criticism expressed by the British Dietetic Association.

On the flip side, the Mediterranean diet is back in the news: especially since Time magazine dedicated a cover page to it and asserted the effectiveness of this nutritional model also endorsed by many illustrious medics and nutritionists. Its value has even been acknowledged by Unesco, and has won a place on the representative list of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

It all stems from an assessment of the lifestyle common to countries whose shores look onto the Mediterranean sea, which has for long been considered a winning model in terms of health, one that is able to protect against cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome and cognitive impairment. In terms of food, this model depends on four star ingredients deriving from the original nutritional model, as handed down from Greek and Roman civilizations: the trio composed of grain-oil-wine, in addition to almonds and a limited use of red meat and saturated fats such as butter. Early studies in this field carry the signature of the American physiologist Ancel Keys who, during the Second World War, formulated the “K-ration” concept: a food ration survival kit for soldiers in the US army.

Having landed with the allied forces in Italy – Salerno – and settled down in the Cilento area, Keys immediately noticed that among the people living in those areas of Southern Italy, cardiovascular diseases were less common than in the United States. By studying their eating habits, he discovered that olive oil, almonds and red grapes integrate our diet with antioxidants, those substances responsible for reducing free radicals. The studies carried out by Keys then became a publication entitled “Seven Countries Study” which analysed and compared the nutritional models of seven different countries in three continents.

To stimulate the debate around this theme, a foundation has been set up in Italy called Dieta Mediterranea which, at the end of April, launched its first international competition entitled “Let’s cook Mediterranean”: a contest between five chefs and an equal number of dishes, to represent the most authentic spirit of the Mediterranean region. Hosting the competition was the Masseria San Domenico at Fasano di Savelletri, in Apulia: a coastal resort located between Bari and Brindisi, at a few hundred metres from the shore and set amidst hundreds of hectares of century-old olive groves where – as logic would have it – the food served up by the kitchen is strictly Mediterranean-style.

The chefs, who come from Southern Italy (Apulia and Sicily), Spain, Lebanon and Cyprus, presented one dish each. The panel of judges decided to award ”Mediterranean delight with Lebanese frikeh and special tomato sauce”, prepared by the young Lebanese chef Salame Hussein: a little roasted green wheat cake (frikeh) covered with almond slivers and served with two rolled sea bass fillets wrapped in flat-leaved spinach and accompanied by a thick red pepper sauce.

Many overweight patients, having to follow a Mediterranean diet under their doctor’s supervision, would be in heaven to know they could enjoy a dish like this each day…

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