I had been feeling slightly nauseous for a while. I would have a normal meal and then would feel a little bit dizzy. After spending a service at the pass in the kitchen, tasting the food before it was served to our guests, I would feel bloated, slightly weird and again a little nauseous.
I had a feeling of over eating even when I had just eaten a simple salad. It was strange, so I decided to pay a visit to my doctor. She didn’t seem too worried by my symptoms and recommended a liver scan.
The first thing she asked me was: “Do you drink a lot?”. My answer was that I drank like an Englishman rather than a Frenchman – as I did not think that the few drinks I occasionally had would have an impact on my health.
So, there I was, lying down in a doctor’s room with my tummy covered in weird gel and looking slightly wary. The nurse came, rubbed a small camera over my stomach and the doctor took some pictures. It took five minutes, then I was asked to get dressed.
When I saw the specialist who had checked my scan she was giggling and almost arrogant. “Are you a chef?” she asked. “Yes”, I replied, giving her a don’t-you-know-who-I-am kind of look. With a very wide smile she said “You have a fatty liver. It’s time to count. Count your intake of calories. You have been flooding your liver in fat and you are now paying the price for it. The only way out of this is to start counting calories and stick to what you are supposed to eat. No more, no less.”
I was a bit worried and wondered if this was going to be fatal. She looked at me as if I was stupid and said “A glass of wine is a glass of fat, so good luck.” She laughed, then asked the name of my restaurant (which she had never heard of) and took £350 from my credit card.
Seriously, I had been overindulging on calories without realising. I started to think: ok, so every night I spoon in 30 bowls of risotto, have 25 slices of cooked meat, about 30 different spoons of meat and fish jus, eight to ten bread rolls, four or five different puddings, a tasting of puff pastries, Chantilly cream, mashed potatoes, ravioli with different stuffings, sautéed vegetables, creamy mushrooms, spoons of consommé, creamy soup, brown buttered pieces of fish, glazed vegetables…every service, twice a day, six days a week for the last 15 years.
So I reckoned I had been slowly poisoning myself, while making sure that my guests had perfectly cooked meat, precisely times risotto, not over-sugared whipping cream , etc.
I hadn’t even reached 40 years old and my liver was as fat as a French duck ready to be slaughtered. That reminded me I had been tasting our delicious Terrine de Foie Gras for the last 15 years at a rate of 15g per service, twice a day, six days a week, meaning my body had tried to get rid of just over 150kg of foie gras.
That’s about 300 duck livers!
Not exactly good for me.
Any anti-foie gras campaigner would be been delighted and would call it a fair revenge, unlike my gastroenterologist who now knew exactly the source of my illness!
Counting calories was the only way to stay alive. So how would I know how to calculate the number of calories I was consuming on a daily basis?
Easy! It took me 10 minutes of research on Google to find out what top athletes do as a rule of thumb to never exceed the right amount of calories.
First of all, I look at labels. By law in the UK, calories have to be published on supermarket packaging, so it is very easy for me to control my intake when I am at home and using pre-cooked food.
In the kitchen, I use an app called Caloriecount.com. It is easy to use and recommended by athletes. It is so easy to use that it takes less than 5 minutes per recipe to calculate. I enter the ingredients list with the quantity and the number of portions it is supposed to serve and I press Enter. My four-year-old daughter could work it out.
Then I made a small list of things that I know I should be careful with: a glass of wine, a slice of white or brown bread, a square of dark chocolate, a scoop of sorbet…
I did not start going to the gym three times a week. I did not stop drinking wine and I did not stop eating red meat. However, I have managed to lose 10% of my weight in the space of four months.
Now, almost 2 years down the line, I have not regained my old weight and at my last liver scan the amount of fat covering my liver had been more than halved.
So when I decided to print calories on my menu back in Spring 2011, I did not do it out of trying to buy myself a good conscience. I had the information and thought that my customers had a right to know the number of calories in each dish. What if someone like me had entered my restaurant and needed to make sure his of or her calorie intake without compromising their choice?
There was nothing nannyish in trying to inform my guests. Just like the price on an item on the menu, I thought that it was fair to know the impact a particular dish may have on the body.
I did not change the way I cooked not did I ever think of removing butter or cream from some recipes. Our Tasting Menu was 1900 calories.
A day’s calorie intake!