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Seasons 52's Cliff PleauLater on, the “Flexible Approaches to Healthful Options” panel at MUFSO featured foodservice leaders who have proven that healthy tastes great and is good for business. As moderator of the panel, I set the stage by emphasizing that at the heart of this conversation, we’re talking about making a difference in the health and quality of life of guests, employees, communities, our nation, our nation’s children and our future generations. And really, there is no industry like the restaurant industry that has the power to apply the culinary artistry — the culinary brilliance — to help support Americans in enjoying dining out as a delicious part of a healthy lifestyle.

During the panel, Cliff Pleau, director of culinary development and executive chef of Darden Restaurants’ Seasons 52, described his innovative blend of artistry, science and creativity that has led the growth and notoriety of the brand’s 32 locations from Florida to California (with four more opening before the end of the year).

“Our success has been based on our unique and progressive way of using nutritious ingredients and healthy preparation methods to excite and surprise our guests,” he said. “They appreciate the experience of ‘celebrating living well.’ That’s what Seasons 52 is all about.”

Silver Diner’s Ype Von HengstPleau also explained his science of layering flavor. “We meticulously blend our artistry and creativity with the fusion of nutritious ingredients combined with the perfect complement of, spicy, sweet, aromatic, sour, texture and a touch of salt, if needed,” he said. “Each ingredient works with the others for that exciting and surprising flavor we are known for.”

He added, “It’s easier to do when the fat content of the menu item is low. Fat masks the natural flavors, so we use fat sparingly. I call it ‘palate entertainment’ when we can surprise our guests with the true flavors of healthful ingredients.”

Ype Von Hengst, winner of the 2013 Menu Masters Award for Healthful Innovations, is the co-founder and executive chef of Silver Diner, with 14 locations in Maryland and Virginia. Von Hengst has led the effort in transitioning the “old style” diner to a booming brand that meets the needs of today’s nutrition-savvy families.

“We experienced growth for 20 years but then were hit hard by the 2009 recession,” he said. “At the same time, we were listening closely to our guests, and it was clear that they weren’t interested any longer in ‘old-style, high-calorie food.’ They wanted healthier options.”

With urgency, Von Hengst developed his strategy and focused on three areas of change: sourcing of higher quality ingredients; introducing healthier, lower-calorie offerings; and improving execution by simplifying the menu.

“Since 2010, our comp sales have increased 25 percent directly related to these efforts. This has all been good for our bottom line,” he noted. “Most important, though, we have a huge increase in families coming back regularly. That’s important to us because it shows that our concept is set for the future. We please all ages, mature and young alike. It’s really rewarding to know that we are making a difference in the lives of the people that we serve.”

For more information, visit HealthyDiningFinder.comor email Anita@HealthyDiningFinder.com.