If she hasn’t already, at some point the woman you’re with is going to make a commitment to eating healthier foods. It’s as inevitable as walking her small dog, holding her purse in public and standing on a pink rug while you brush your teeth. One of the terms she might throw out there is macrobiotic food. What is macrobiotic food? It’s hard to explain, so I asked an expert, Lee Gross, the consulting chef at M Café. It was hard for him to explain, too.
“There is no short answer,” laughs Gross, who used to be Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal chef. “It’s a rather large philosophy. It comes from the Latin macrobios – large or great life. A lot of it is based on the Eastern philosophy of yin and yang and energetics. It boils down to a diet based on seasonal, whole-food ingredients. It’s a lot of plant-based foods for optimal balance of those yin-yang energies.”
Macrobiotics is a mostly plant-based diet. M Café, which invited me to sample its food, does not serve meat, poultry, dairy, eggs or refined sugar. Also, no artificial foods, flavors or seasonings. The restaurant does serve fish, which some macrobiotic purists consider cheating, but anyone with a firm opinion on the subject is doomed to a life of neurotic misery anyway, so who really cares what they think? Fine, yes, tuna is cheating. You win, Gideon.
Here’s the good news. I’m a meat-and-potatoes guys from Ohio – I like football and consider Guinness a food group – and while I fully disclose that I was eating for free and that the PR person who set up lunch at the restaurant’s Melrose Avenue location in Los Angeles was very nice, I don’t think those factors biased my conclusion, which was: It isn’t meat, but it isn’t bad.
I tried the Seared Tuna Burger, which I liked a lot, a Big Macro burger (like Big Mac, get it?) and the Carolina-Style BBQ Seitan Sandwich (seitan is wheat protein). They were good. As good as a meat sandwich? Let’s not go crazy. Good enough to eat on a date with a health-conscious woman or one who wants to try something new? Yes. And you might even like it.
What are burgers made of when they’re not made of meat? Gross says mushrooms, whole grains and soy, among other foods. Chefs even make bacon out of tempeh, a cousin of tofu. Because they can’t work with a large number of foods, chefs must get creative.
Where macrobiotic food wins is the healthy side dishes and desserts. I enjoyed split pea and barley soup, sweet potato fries, kale with peanut sauce, seaweed salad and soba noodles. For dessert – chocolate cake and chocolate pudding. None of these dishes tasted as if they has been ruined by hippies. In fact, all were delicious.
While the trend of macrobiotic-only restaurants has yet to spread beyond the coasts, restaurants across the country are incorporating macrobiotic principles into their menus. It’s possible that you have unknowingly eaten a macrobiotic dish.
“The principles of macrobiotics have gone mainstream,” Gross says. “The idea of eating locally and organically has caught on.”
What is macrobiotic food? At the end of our conversation, Gross finally came up with the short answer.
“It’s all about balance,” he said.
(Joe Donatelli is Senior Editor of Made Man. He recently wrote a Beginner’s Guide to Caviar. E-mail him at jdonatelli[at]breakmedia.com.)