February 11, 2007

Most chefs don't give a damn about calories!

When restaurant chefs consider portion size they don't think about calories at all. That's what a recent Pennsylvania State University research study found. Chefs said these factors strongly influence portion size: food presentation (70 percent), cost (65 percent) and customer expectations (52 percent). Only 16 percent said calories were a big influence.

So don't expect chefs to help out diners. In fact, while it may make diners happy to get piles of pasta and mountains of meat, they'll pay the price in pounds, said doctors at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society, where the survey was presented.

Chefs agreed that big servings encourage people to eat too much, but said it's up to the diner to decide how much to consume — and how much to take in a doggie bag.

"As you increase portion sizes or the variety of meals served, people are going to consume more calories," said Thomas Wadden, president of the Obesity Society.

"Most of the chefs thought they were serving regular-sized portions," the study said, but four out of five gave more than the recommended 2 ounces for pasta and 3 ounces for strip steak. If they were worried about competitor restaurants, they served more pasta and steak and used bigger plates, researchers found.

Portions are a touchy subject for many restaurants and some chains outright refused to discuss it.

But at Cheesecake Factory Inc., "we're known for our generous portions" and the value they offer, said Howard Gordon, a senior vice president of the chain whose signature dish is dozens of varieties of cheesecake.

One slice of cheesecake is almost 800 calories, which is 40% of your calories for the entire day. It also coats your heart with 150% of the daily recommended saturated fat.

"There is a 'wow' factor in the way that it looks," he said of the food. The chain doesn't provide information on calories and customers ask for it "very, very rarely," he said.

This is why we need to stop the portion poison in America. Don't you want your chef to at least think about calories when preparing your meal. It's only your life.

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