BY PETER BOWES | JUNE 27, 2023
How do we create tasty food that is not only satisfying but promotes good health? At the Swiss longevity-focussed medical spa, Clinique La Prairie (CLP), Chef David Alessandria caters for diners who want to nurture their healthspan while also enjoying a gourmet experience. CLP’s SEEDS restaurant has a plant-based menu, serves modestly sized dishes and discourages alcohol and coffee consumption. Live Long and Master Aging host Peter Bowes recently spent a week at the clinic to meet the team behind its holistic approach to good health. David is a French chef by training. In this interview he discusses the relationship between the food we eat and the quest to live a longer, healthier life. He also explains how his thinking towards food has evolved and the challenges involved in creating healthy, plant-based dishes while still maintaining flavor and satisfaction.
In this interview we cover:
The challenge to meet the demands of healthy living and fine dining
David’s culinary journey and life as a French chef before joining CLP
Embracing vegan and vegetarian diets while reducing meat consumption
Inflammation in the body and meat-eating
Creating relatively small meals that are varied and satisfying
Transitioning from using butter and cream in traditional French cooking to working with different fats; and removing animal proteins and dairy products from dishes.
The focus is on using seasonal, high-quality ingredients to extract and concentrate flavors, creating appealing presentations that make vegan and vegetarian options more enjoyable.
The negative impact of red meat and processed foods on health, as well as the importance of reducing sugar intake.
The challenge of creating desserts without gluten and sugar
Using fruits to enhance the flavor of main courses
Nurturing the gut microbiome with a healthy diet
In-season fish, as a protein source, from local sources
The down side of processed vegan or vegetarian food
Preparation of beans and chick peas for optimum digestion
Tips for cooking healthy meals at home. Meal planning, using natural sugars from fruits and vegetables, and taking time to cook and prepare food instead of relying on processed options.
The importance of considering the impact of food on gut health and the role of fermented drinks like kombucha in promoting digestion and probiotic intake.
Creating a diet to promote good sleep
Encouraging a shift towards sustainable, plant-based diets for the well-being of individuals and the environment.
Creating good habits to live a healthier life
“As a French chef I used to use a lot of butter and cream in my other restaurant but now I have to work with different fat.”
This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie
, the award-winning spa-clinic and pioneering health and wellness destination, nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
TRANSCRIPT – This interview with David Allissandria was recorded on April 27, 2023 and transcribed using Sonix AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.
David Alessandria: As a French chef, I used to use a lot of butter and cream in my old restaurant. But now I have to work with different fat instead of butter.
Peter Bowes: Hello again and welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity.
SPONSOR: This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie, the award winning spa clinic and pioneering health and wellness destination. Nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
Peter Bowes: You’re feeling hungry. Well, how easy is it to prepare food that’s tasty, satisfying, and also good for our long term health? A Clinique La Prairie in Montreux, Switzerland. The restaurant called Seeds does just that. It has a plant based menu. Some animal protein is served at lunchtime. The meals have three courses, the dishes are modestly sized and alcohol and coffee are discouraged. In this episode, we meet the chef, David Alessandria, whose job it is to design the dishes that put our well-being first. David Alessandria, welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging Podcast.
David Alessandria: Thank you Peter.
Peter Bowes: Thank you for inviting us into your restaurant. Yes, your kitchen as well. How big a challenge is it for you to keep the dishes so healthy with our well-being in mind?
David Alessandria: The hardest thing is to adapt gastronomy, basically with all the standards of dietetic in the clinic. It was really the hardest part for me to to adapt myself with my basic brand about gastronomy. What is gastronomy?
Peter Bowes: And just tell us a little bit then about your background, what you’ve come from to do this job. What’s your career been like so far?
David Alessandria: So I started basically in a catering school in France at 16 years old. After my four years in this catering school with my bachelor, I started to work in Michelin Star in Luxembourg and Belgium. Then I came back in my city. So I was born in Chambéry in Savoie. And after that I was lucky. I started to work in Switzerland and also the famous school in, in Lausanne, then in Glion. So Glion is just up to Montreux, up to La Prairie. And after this ten years in Switzerland, I like to change, basically to change my mind. My wife is vegan, my children are vegetarian. So I think about what I can do better in gastronomy. And I think in the clinic we do. We do it better.
Peter Bowes: So your wife and your children have particular culinary needs. What about you? Do you have any particular regimes that you follow?
David Alessandria: Not at all. But I reduce a lot the animal proteins since basically I started here, but a bit earlier. So since two years basically now I eat I think two times a week meat and that’s it. No more, no more but eggs every day because we need the protein. This, this energy. And I love eggs. I’ve got some chickens at home, so it’s good.
Peter Bowes: Oh have you. Oh, that’s good. You’ve got your own fresh eggs. Yes. Let’s talk about meat then, because meat is key for a lot of people in terms of reduction of especially red meat. Yes. Some people prefer and myself included, more fish than than red meat. What is the theory behind that as a chef, clearly you like serving a wide range of foods. But why do you restrict the amount of red meat that you serve?
David Alessandria: Anti-inflammatory, these type of proteins give inflammation. If you remove that, it’s better for you for your health. Chicken is okay, But again, not every day. And we do it at the clinic just for lunch, meat, protein and then in the evening it’s only vegan. We have to remove these bad habits also for the planet.
Peter Bowes: I’m curious about the challenge that you face as as a chef to still make food that is very, very tasty and that people want to eat and that satisfies people that they feel as if they’ve had enough food for their needs. Where do you start when you’re when you’re planning a menu in terms of balancing protein, animal protein and protein that we can get from vegetables?
David Alessandria: First of all, we have to follow the season. This is the most important to get the best product at the best moment. This is the first thing. Then to extract the taste, the flavor of each product. We make a lot of extraction concentration. Basically, we do the same process for meat, but with vegetables. You can make a nice stock with celeriac or carrots or beetroots and the concentration will be a bit similar as a veal juice. Basically the looking at the taste, of course, but the looking. And this way you can have a lot of palate like. Like a painter, you know, to make a new taste and new new creation.
Peter Bowes: And does the I’m curious, does the variety of food that you serve on a plate, does that have any bearing on how satisfied someone feels at the end of the meal? I’ve noticed eating your meals all week, all being delicious.
David Alessandria: Are you satisfied?
Peter Bowes: Yes, that’s the point. I’m yes, I’m very satisfied with relatively small helpings.
David Alessandria: Yes.
Peter Bowes: Is there a secret to achieving that?
David Alessandria: No there is no secret. But I think that the appearance is really important. You forget the vegan part and the vegetarian part if it’s appealing like that. That’s my opinion and I think it works. So this is one of the secret, if you can tell that’s a secret. But then the taste is really important, of course.
Peter Bowes: Do you use much dairy in your cooking?
David Alessandria: No. Also, we remove all the dairy products. As a French chef, I used to use a lot of butter and cream in my in my old restaurant. But now I have to work with different fat instead of butter. But again, we reduce a lot the quantity of fat inside, and we do only with concentration. So animal protein, dairy products are not allowed in my kitchen.
Peter Bowes: This must have been quite a learning process for you.
David Alessandria: Yes.
Peter Bowes: Coming from your background, as you say, as a chef of French food. Yes. It’s quite a change, isn’t it?
David Alessandria: It’s a big change. Also with gluten in pastry, if you remove the gluten, it’s really hard to make recipes. We don’t speak about sugar. It’s the hardest part to make desserts, to make sorbet. That’s why we have to take the best product at the best moment. If you make a mango sorbet, if you do it at the best moment in January, February, the subject will be perfect because the percentage of fructose into the mango is at the best point. So if you do it in summer, it will be horrible because it’s not the season.
Peter Bowes: I’m glad you mentioned sugar because I wanted to get on to sugar because I think it is for many people the most difficult thing, maybe with the exception of alcohol or coffee. But sugar is one of the most difficult things to give up. And not only is it difficult to give up because of that sweet taste that people like, but a lack of knowledge of how to take sugar out of your diet. Many people feel as if it it is there and it has to be there. It has to be part of the recipe. And it’s actually quite difficult to make tasty food without that sweet taste.
David Alessandria: We did a taste test a few months ago to make just a creme caramel, but without caramel, without sugar. And of course, the taste is horrible, totally horrible because you use almond milk, no sugar. But we adapt ourself and we make a basically a caramel with that or prune plum. And at the end you can get the sugar just from the fruit or vegetables also. But we don’t add it sugar, we just use natural sugar. If you make a compote with apples, you can get some sugar. Also with pears with a lot of things.
Peter Bowes: And of course, not all foods, not all fruits and vegetables are equal. For example, orange juice is actually quite, quite high in sugar. Yes. Whereas a carrot juice may be slightly less and a vegetable juice even less so. So you’ve got to be careful, haven’t you, in terms of, let’s say, breakfast time.
David Alessandria: The balancing, the balancing between everything and normally I’m not allowed to, to have fruit also in the, in the starter for example. So sometimes I just put some touch of fruit you get for lunch some slices of orange with the scallops. But just to add a touch of it, to enhance the flavor also, but not too, too add sugar.
Peter Bowes: Let’s talk about the stomach, which ultimately is what all of this is about. We all know now and I think we’re becoming increasingly familiar with the idea that our stomach is full of bacteria. It is full of little bugs that are vitally important for our metabolism and general well-being. As a chef, do you think about that? Is that relevant to you designing a menu?
David Alessandria: Not before CLP, but now. Yes, I think about this. It’s like a car, basically, if you don’t put (fuel) inside. It doesn’t work. So it’s the same for us. You have to get the good product for your health. It’s not only red meat. It’s not all the animals with four legs, this type of protein. So pork, beef, veal, all these type of meat. So I remove totally meat at home to do the same for me and for my last children. He loves meat, but only chicken. We give only chicken, white meat. It’s easier to digest.
Peter Bowes: And what about fish? You serve quite a lot of fish in this restaurant.
David Alessandria: I think it’s just a question of protein.
Peter Bowes: Where do you get your fish from? Because that’s significant, isn’t it? Especially if you’re serving salmon, for example. Yes. Whether it’s freshwater salmon, whether depending on the location that the salmon has has grown in. So that can have an impact on how healthy it is.
David Alessandria: Yes. We again, we work with the season and we you try the mackerel this week. I did, yes. So the mackerel is the best season. April May is the best season after that, the sea becomes the hottest and the quality of the fish will be bad. So for the mackerel, it’s a poor fish, but by definition it’s a full of good things for health, it’s a blue fish like like tuna. And the taste is amazing. So that’s why we get it. We used to work also with the fish from the lake, from Geneva Lake, but it’s become less and less because of the pollution and the weather. And for the salmon. You, you, you spoke. You come from not far away from Switzerland, from a farm. So we do our best to take local products. But the sea is not close to here. So of course, for the fish and molluskan taxa we have to work with with Brittany.
Peter Bowes: Let me ask you more generally about your observations of people’s dietary needs and tastes and how they are evolving. Clearly, you’ve evolved as a chef from your previous life cooking French food to what you do now. What are your observations more generally when you get diners in your restaurant with a particular needs and and desires, and maybe sometimes you can’t provide them with what they have traditionally eaten because of the healthy nature of the food that you’re serving. But are you seeing any trends?
David Alessandria: Vegan is a trend by by definition. But we have to I think go ahead that and think about the future for our children, the global impact on the environment. And then it will be the same for us. Basically, when you explain the thing to the people, they understand globally why and the target and the goal of it. It’s why people come to help. I think it’s a way of life. It’s a passion. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it becomes easier. So feed ourselves is really important. It’s a three times a day minimum. So if you do it better, that’s better for you.
Peter Bowes: And what do you think about the state of the world in terms of food that is provided for people now? Clearly different countries, some nations and peoples of nations have are suffering from hunger at the moment, the kind of food that people eat in the Western world. When you look at most diets of most people, which can lead to ill health, do you see things getting worse or getting better?
David Alessandria: Sometimes I pray to get better, but I’m not sure about the industrial part. If you see every big, big brand make vegan food, but if you check the recipes on it, it’s horrible. A lot of sorbitol added sugar inside, so it’s vegan, but it’s really bad for the health. So if we speak about vegan steak, it’s better to do it by itself with chickpeas or with quinoa or something else, but do it by itself. It’s easy. It’s better than buy it in the market. So industrial part is for me, the enemy is about about health. That’s again, my personal opinion.
Peter Bowes: So what you’re talking about is essentially processed vegan or vegetarian food that is in some cases made to look like meat. It’s made to look like sausage or or a burger?
David Alessandria: This is a trend, I think if I take the example of my wife three weeks ago, she bought a vegan steak with the looking of a steak. But when she tried it, she just vomited throughout because the texture remained her the texture of the meat. And for her it’s it’s impossible to eat. So that’s for me, a trend to copy copycat and to make similar products. If you don’t eat meat, you can’t eat vegan sausages. It’s it sounds wrong.
Peter Bowes: And processed food more generally is often cited as one of the the great ills of our time, that people are eating far too much processed food as opposed to the the fresh food that you serve. Yes. Is that a big problem, do you think?
David Alessandria: We have to take time to to cook, basically. If you just buy processed food, you don’t think about you. Basically, that’s that’s. Sure. We have to remove a bit the mobile phone, the application and take 30 minutes to just to cook. It’s not it’s not too long. At the end, the longest thing is to if you think about in advance, you can prepare the menu for the whole week. Basically, you make two times the market and then you cook for 30 minutes a day is enough.
Peter Bowes: Well, let’s get some tips from you then, in terms of someone who’s leading a very busy lifestyle, who wants to to plan those meals for the week and clearly at their disposal, they don’t have the range of foods that you have in a restaurant like this. But what advice would you give to someone who wants to eat as as healthy as they can, perhaps someone who’s even eaten in a restaurant like this, which is focused on well-being and want to take that with them as they go home around the world. What sort of tips could you give them?
David Alessandria: I usually they ask for the recipes, so I give the technical sheet of the recipes and when they start to read, they say, But I can’t do this at home. I say, Yes, you follow you. You remember what you you tried. And just just practice. Practice is the best thing. If you practice, you won’t fail. It’s the same for me. I practice a lot. You can be a better father every day because of your practicing. So that’s the same for. For the healthy cooking.
Peter Bowes: Can you give me a glimpse into your lifestyle? Clearly, you’ve learned a lot through moving into this area of cooking. But when you’re at home, when you’re preparing food and planning the week, do you have a routine?
David Alessandria: Every Sunday we make a nice omelet because after three, three, four days of eggs, basically my wife stopped, stopped, stopped the eggs. That’s enough. So we basically don’t eat eggs on Friday and Saturday. But then on Sunday, we make a big omelet. So usually you big omelet with a nice salad with some some some nuts, some and lemon. I love lemon also inside. That’s the thing. We do basically not not weekly, but almost. Almost.
Peter Bowes: And there is there a good dish that you could suggest that could be made, say, on a Sunday or on a weekend that is going to last a few days, that if someone wants to be economic with their time and very little time during the week, what would you suggest.
David Alessandria: You can make a nice chickpeas, couscous style basically without lamb, of course. And then if you’ve got some rest, you can just mix it to make a hummus. It’s it’s a way to optimize basically your time and your money because you make one product and then you can use it for 2 or 3 days easily. Chickpeas is one of the best for that. One of the best. You’ve got edamame, you’ve got all the beans also are really nice. And then to digest it easily, the tips or advice is to leave them 24 hours in the water. First of all, to remove the lectin, the lectin give the bad part in your digestion. So 24 hours of just in the water, we will remove the lectin. And the second tip is if you can cook it in a high pressure cooker, you remove 99% of the lectin and this way the digestion will be perfect most of the time for the for the guest here is that after one day of chickpeas, one day of beans, one day of edamame, we have to stop. My stomach is crying. That’s normal. But at home, cook it with a high pressure. Without lectin, it will be perfect.
Peter Bowes: While I’ve been here, I’ve talked to quite a few of the other experts in different areas about the subject of sleep and how food affects our sleep. What is your experiences in terms of the kinds of food that we eat later in the day and how they affect our sleep?
David Alessandria: The vegan one. I think it’s due to the the meat protein, the animal protein. That’s why we have only vegan protein in the evening. We make the appearance nicely and pretty. I think.
Peter Bowes: You do. Yes. It always looks pretty.
Speaker4: Thank you.
Peter Bowes: But. So you’ve put some thought into the fact that 2 or 3 hours later people are going to try to go to sleep. Yes, that’s interesting. So, as you say, it’s. Vegan protein. Yes. As opposed to animal protein, which could keep us awake longer?
David Alessandria: I think so. Not too heavy. Of course. That’s it. I think. I think.
Peter Bowes: So. We’ve talked a lot about food. What about drink? You serve some interesting. No alcohol.
David Alessandria: No alcohol. It’s forbidden.
Peter Bowes: Yes, it’s forbidden. So what sort of alternatives have you come up with?
David Alessandria: We make kombucha, we make fermented drinks, and we use it also in the kitchen, in the vinaigrette, in the recipes, in the reduction or everything.
Peter Bowes: What’s the science behind that?
David Alessandria: The science is just to transform – for the kombucha. You transform the tea. Basically, we make a tea. Black tea with the SCOBY. SCOBY is a combination of bacteria and and yeast. And you transform the sugar from the tea into a gas carbonic. So basically it becomes a bit sparkling and it’s a probiotic. It’s really good for the stomach and for digestion. So we do our own kombucha in the kitchen.
Peter Bowes: Let me ask you in closing, everything here is focused on longevity. It’s focused on living a long, healthy life with the emphasis on healthy. From your own perspective, is that something you think about? Do you have aspirations for the future in terms of your own personal health? And is there something that you do every day with that in mind?
David Alessandria: I try my best to practice every day, but bad habits is the same for everybody. I think when when guests leave the CLP after a week or two weeks, the bad habits, the bad habit come back. We have to fight every day with our devil. I think. So I try my best to practice at home with my wife, with my children, with my parents, also to live a better life, of course, and to live longer. Cross fingers again. Yeah. We never know.
Peter Bowes: We never know. But it’s a great aspiration. David, it’s been really good talking to you. Thank you so much. And thank you for the wonderful food this week.
David Alessandria: Thank you, Peter. That’s a pleasure.
The Live Long and Master Aging (LLAMA) podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.