Cliff Pleau, Executive Chef, Seasons 52

Cliff Pleau, Executive Chef, Seasons 52

Anita Jones-Mueller: “I met Cliff Pleau several years ago. Back then, we were both “lonely pioneers.” Cliff was an enterprising chef who believed in a concept where eating healthy could be a wonderful celebration of the senses. And I was starting the nationwide Healthy Dining initiative to inspire chefs and restaurateurs to apply their culinary brilliance to creating a selection of great-tasting Healthy Dining choices.  Back then, most people were skeptical about whether healthy could actually taste good and whether most people even wanted to eat healthy when dining out. Times have changed and Cliff Pleau has been a major force in that change! Cliff, tell us about Seasons 52.”
 
Cliff Pleau: “Seasons 52 is all about celebrating living well. We offer a casually sophisticated ambiance with a seasonally-inspired menu and an award-winning International wine bar. But what really sets us apart is that every menu item offers sensational flavor yet has less than 475 calories. And, we’re growing. We have 14 locations now and another five opening in the coming months.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “I know you are very successful and have developed such a loyal following. You have found the right ingredients to please your guests and keep them coming back for more. Share with us … what are your secrets to creating delicious menu items that weigh in at 475 calories or less?”
 
Cliff Pleau: “Well, there are several secrets to our success. First, we start each plate with healthful, flavorful ingredients. When you’re thinking ‘healthy’ it’s easy to think about what to take away. But we think about how to add high-nutrient, flavorful ingredients to the plate. We want to amplify the flavor without adding unneeded calories. Then, we make sure the portion is right-sized, meaning not too much, not too little. Our protein portions are generally 4-6 ounces, and then we start incorporating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. We don’t sauté or fry, but instead we bring out the natural flavors by roasting, grilling and braising.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “But it’s not that easy, right? How do you amplify the flavor?”
 
Cliff Pleau: “My secret is to start with an inspiration or theme for the dish. Then, perfectly fuse sweet with sour ingredients and aromatic with spicy ingredients. Then I add crunch.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “Give me an example. What is one of your personal favorites served at Seasons 52?”
 
Cliff Pleau: “I love our Asian-inspired Curry Soup. We start with lean chicken breast. We fuse sour lime with sweet apples to thicken the soup. We blend aromatic ginger, lemongrass and cilantro with spicy chilis. The crunch and texture are provided through the apples and rice. It’s a fabulous soup and only 290 calories and 3 grams of fat for a 10-ounce bowl.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “Sounds fabulous. I love to hear how each of the ingredients work together to meet your taste profile. How about another example?”
 
Cliff Pleau: “Our guests really like our Spicy Chipotle Shrimp Flatbread. Our inspiration is Mayan or Mexican Coastal. We sprinkle feta cheese as the sour taste to complement the sweet grilled pineapple. We blend aromatic cilantro leaves with spicy grilled poblanos. The chipotle tamarind barbeque sauce adds tang. The shrimp and flatbread provide the crunch.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “What about salt?
 
Cliff Pleau: “I do use salt when needed. But only when needed. And if one of our dishes seems to require a bit of salt, I usually first try to use ingredients that add a salty flavor but also add another dimension to the dish, such as feta, capers, olives, seeds or nuts.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “You’re probably familiar with the phrase “fat adds flavor.” If you are limiting your items to 475 calories, you can’t add much extra fat.”
 
Cliff Pleau: “You’re right. And I disagree with the idea of fat adding flavor. I think fat masks flavor. It desensitizes the taste buds so they are not fully able to experience the natural flavors. We don’t use butter and we don’t use fryers. We use a spray bottle of extra virgin olive oil, and one squirt equals one calorie.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “What do your guests expect as Seasons 52?”
 
Cliff Pleau: “Our guests feel safe at Seasons 52. They know they can trust us to excite and surpise their palates. They like our ambiance. They like to explore new tastes and flavors, and yet they also like the consistency we offer. Our guests like that everything is healthy and yet tastes indulgent.”
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: “Speaking of indulgent, you do serve mini sizes of indulgent desserts, right? Do your guests generally order dessert?”
 
Cliff Pleau: “Yes, our desserts are the real thing. But they are right-sized. Seasons 52 was the first to offer the mini portions of desserts. They are perfect after a great meal. And do guests generally order dessert? Yes! Almost nobody says no to dessert at Seasons 52.”   
 
Anita Jones-Mueller:  “Cliff, I’m so impressed and so excited about how you are applying your artistry and culinary brilliance to creating menu items with health and taste and celebration in mind. You are truly contributing to a healthier America. Thank you!!”