Dr. Nadia Volf remembers the first time she dined at L'Atelier du Joël Robuchon, in Paris. Robuchon was a friend of hers and knew that the medical professor was mindful of what she ate. “He said to me, ‘I want to give you a little bit of foie gras, but probably you wouldn’t eat it,’” Volf recalls. “And I said, ‘Oh no! It is the best medicine that you can give me! Thank you, doctor!’”
Foie gras, Volf explains, contains high levels of iron, vitamins B12 and A, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. “It has very strong antioxidants, which protect the blood vessels.” Volf says. “In foie gras you have everything.”
Few would accuse Robuchon—a pioneer in contemporary haut cuisine in his native France and around the globe—of advocating gastronomic self-denial. But the chef has long shown a dedication to living life, and cooking food, thoughtfully and healthfully. He took an early retirement in the 1990s (he’s since reneged on that decision, and now operates restaurants in 10 cities), walking away from two Michelin-starred restaurants in the interest of experiencing a less stressful life. Around that time, he traveled to Japan to cook, an experience that brought lighter, more delicate flavors and ingredients to his French-based repertoire.
Robuchon's and Volf's new cookbook, Food and Life (Assouline, 2014), is the end-product of many conversations the two like-minded food lovers have had over the years. Their attitude toward healthy eating favors balance over restraint. It’s not about cutting calories or fat, says Volf; it’s about responding to the needs of the body and composing a nourishing, wholesome meal. At Joël’s restaurants, Volf says, “all components are so harmonized. Each ingredient is so important for the body.”
“The aim of the book is to inspire people to enjoy food, not to have such limited diets,” says Volf.
Here, the authors share two seafood recipes from Food & Life: Smoked Salmon with Soy Sprouts, and Sea Scallops with Argan Oil vegetables.
The salmon is fashioned as a salad, tossed in a spicy curry vinaigrette with crunchy raw vegetables and pineapple. Salmon, Volf notes, is a great source of protein because of its high levels of unsaturated fat; it’s high in omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin D and phosphorous, which strengthens bones.
The scallops, meanwhile, are heartier, served alongside spinach and couscous and cooked with ginger—one of Volf’s favorite foods in winter, for its warming effects. The recipe calls for argan oil, a Moroccan tree oil that has many applications for health and cosmetics, as well as for food. The oil tastes nutty and smoky, with a delicate herbal edge. Several studies have found that argan oil may aid blood circulation and promote general cardiovascular health—and it can double as a massage oil if someone is experiencing cramps.
Consider pairing the salmon and scallop dishes with an Austrian Grüner Veltliner. Its crispness will stand up to the acidity of the salad, while typical Grüner notes such as green pea, white pepper and lentil will echo the green, earthy flavors of the vegetables and oil in the scallop dish. Drink up: Volf believes that alcohol is a great aid for digestion—and, perhaps more important, “it will bring good humor.”
Recipes adapted from Food & Life by Joël Robuchon and Nadia Volf. Used with permission by Assouline.
For the vinaigrette:
1. In a bowl, stir the red wine vinegar with a pinch of salt and dash of curry powder. Add the olive oil and season with pepper. Set aside.
For the salad:
1. Thoroughly wash the soy sprouts in cool water. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the sprouts for one minute. Place immediately in an ice-water bath to cool, then drain thoroughly in a colander.
2. In a large bowl, add the soy sprouts, fruits, vegetables and smoked salmon. Add the curry vinaigrette and toss gently. Serve right away. Serves 4.
For the scallops:
1. Quickly rinse the scallops under running water, then dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Put a skillet on high heat and add the olive oil. Once the skillet is hot, add the scallops, cooking about 2 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with chives, ginger and 1 teaspoon argan oil. Remove from heat and set aside.
For the vegetables and sauce:
1. Bring water seasoned with salt to a boil, then blanch carrots, asparagus and snow peas in turn, 30 seconds each. Set aside.
2. In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, chicken broth with the crème fraîche. Add the vegetables, 3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon, butter and 1 teaspoon argan oil. Season with salt. Cook 5 minutes.
For the couscous:
1. In a small bowl, add the couscous and 1 tablespoon argan oil. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons chicken broth, pour over the couscous and stir thoroughly with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for 5 minutes to absorb.
For the spinach:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, butter in a sauté pan. Add the spinach and cook 2 minutes, until wilted but not brown. Season with salt.
To assemble the dish:
1. Divide the spinach among four plates. Arrange sea scallops on top of the spinach, three per plate. Surround the scallops with vegetables and drizzle the sauce on top. Sprinkle with the couscous and garnish with mustard leaves. Serves 4.