Getting a flavour for non-fat cooking

Second nature: Healthy low-fat choices for Mick Burke, left and John Janiszewski
Second nature: Healthy low-fat choices for Mick Burke, left and John Janiszewski
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Chefs who load their dishes with butter and cream help us pile on the pounds - but often end up counting the cost themselves. But Sheffield College chefs John Janiszewski and Mick Burke are turning the tables. After realising rich food was fast becoming their downfall, they have devised a cookery course which teaches amateurs how to cook without fat.

It was all second-nature to him....

Back to basics: Jo receives step-by-step instruction from Masterchef college lecturer Mick Burke.                 Pictures: Sarah Washbourn

Back to basics: Jo receives step-by-step instruction from Masterchef college lecturer Mick Burke. Pictures: Sarah Washbourn

Sliding a hunk of beef into a pan of sizzling oil; ladelling double cream into the richest of sauces and adding a glossy sheen with a knob of best butter.

When you’re a professional chef, fat means flavour.

But the working kitchen’s favourite ingredients are the most calorie and cholesterol-laden.

And, as John Janiszewski now knows, they are a heart attack waiting to happen.

After 40 years in the hotel and restaurant trade and the teaching kitchens of Sheffield City College, the butter and the cream caught up with him. And they brought him down.

It’s two years since he staggered to the phone to call 999, his heart feeling like it was in the clamp of a vice, beads of sweat forming on his brow and his chest about to implode.

Within 45 minutes of that call, John was in theatre at the Northern General and surgeons were using mini drain-rods to unblock the lump of fat that had almost completely closed one of the arteries.

“It was a huge wake-up call,” he says. “I was very overweight, I got hardly any exercise and I ate far too much of the wrong things.

“It’s an occupational hazard. Chefs have to love food,” he says. “And they need to create flavour.”

But, he now firmly believes, too many cooks - both the professionals and those at home - mistakenly believe that the best way to make food taste good is by adding in the fat.

“Being a chef can be a pretty unhealthy way of life anyway,” he adds. “You work unsociable hours, which often means you’re eating at the wrong times. And you have so little time to eat, you cram. I can get through a three-course meal in 15 minutes,” says the 58-year-old head of the college’s Department for Hospitality and Catering Business Development.

“Plus you have to taste as you cook. For some, that kills the appetite. But it increased mine. I adored the rich sauces with pan-fried meat and the desserts.”

But after his heart attack, John realised he had to change his ways.

He started walking, eating more fruit and vegetables - and cooking without fat.

“I went back to methods like steaming and casseroling. I wasn’t happy about it - I expected everything to taste really bland,” he admits.

“I’d been trained to add fat to everything from sauces to the leanest meats and fish. We wrap loin of pork and chicken breast in streaky bacon or caul, which is basically a thin net of fat, to add moistness and flavour.

“The celebrity chefs on telly are forever glugging olive oil over everything and enriching dishes with butter and cream because it’s second nature to them - they have been classically-trained.

“But once you have made the break, your sense of taste actually increases. You discover that food does actually taste better without there being a coating of oil in your mouth. And that there are so many ways of adding flavour to dishes without using fat - or salt, which is also so bad for you.”

John got together with College catering lecturer Mick Burke, also a recent disciple of low-fat cooking having lost two stones.

The men have devised a course to teach the public how to cook using barely any fat.

“People just don’t realise how much fat is hidden away in what they eat,” says Mick. “With know-how, you can add flavour without putting back the calories.”

Healthy cooking

Bakery and Cookery School classes are led by the college’s award-winning catering team and held in the catering wing at the recently-opened £60 million Sheffield City College on Granville Road.

Cooking Without Fat runs on March 1, costs £195 and is crammed with tips and advice.

Classes are aimed at everyone - from enthusiastic amateurs to keen foodies. Other one and two-day courses include Cookies and Biscuits (March 23 and 30), Innovative Desserts (March 25 and April 1) and a variety of cake-making (April 27 to May 10). n The finale is the antithesis of the Cooking Without Fat Day - it’s a chocolate workshop.

To book a course, go to www.sheffcol.ac.uk ,or call 0114 2602600.

Success on a plate which will help to keep your heart fit

A spray can, a roll of clingfilm and a sheet of cellophane...

It looks like the table has been set for a Blue Peter art and craft session. All we’re lacking is the sticky-backed plastic. But these are your secret weapons in the war against an expanding waistline.

A kit to keep your heart fit.

And Mick Burke, college lecturer and a cook so good he’s a Masterchef of Great Britain, is about to show me what to do with it.

He hands me a sheaf of recipes from his Cooking Without Fat course; no surprise, the methods look complicated. What is, though, is the total absence of cream, butter or oil in the ingredients lists. I can’t imagine them working - or satisfying the tastebuds.

But Mick has tricks up his chef’s coat sleeve. He honed them as he battled to lose two stones with Slimming World.

He’s not ashamed to admit that he had got up to 14-and-a-half stones - and needed a slimming club as backbone. “In my job you know what foods you should and shouldn’t eat to excess, but you’re only human - and when you’re making cakes, bread and chocolates all day long, you still need someone else to tell you,” he says. “I followed their advice and used my know-how to cut the fat out of my diet in a way that didn’t detract from the flavour.”

He went back to some of the oldest cooking techniques - like baking meat and fish en papillote (in a bag) and also embraced some of the newest - like Heston Blumenthal’s beloved waterbath. And he used herbs and spices in abundance.

“My secret ingredients? One-Cal cooking spray and low-fat creme fraiche, which works exactly like double cream,” says Mick, 55, who hails from Bolton on Dearne and was the only boy in the domestic science class at Pope Pius School. A former Sheffield College pupil, he joined the teaching team at 24 having worked at Claridges and a host of Yorkshire restaurants.

I do wonder what the head chef at Claridges would say to One-Cal. But Mick is resolute as to its brilliance.

We’re going to cook fish, but he produces not a frying pan but a sheet of clear cellophane (you and I can buy it on a roll at Lakeland).

We cook up a fat-free stuffing of mushrooms and onions, paste it onto fillets of sea bass and wrap them into parcels. After 15 minutes in the oven, open the bag and a rush of fragrant steam gushes out. All the flavour is in there - and the kitchen is odour-free. Double result.

Though surely no dessert can ever be good for you, Mick’s chocolate roulade with soft fruits, raspberry water ice and raspberry meringue comes pretty darned close, if you excuse 265 grammes of sugar, a bit of cocoa and a blob of creme fraiche. It takes time and patience, but we end up with something that looks disgustingly fattening.

Success on a plate, I’d say.