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October 11, 2012updated Dec 20, 2023

Chef Beck Sets the Bar High for Waldorf Astoria Gastronomy

By Pardhasaradhi Gonuguntla

Chef Heinz BeckLa Pergola at the Rome CavalieriBerry Sphere on Chocolate CreamNew York, New York – Reported by Tova Syrowicz for Elite Traveler, the private jet lifestyle magazine

Chef Heinz Beck, honored with three Michelin stars and a host of other awards, very rarely misses a service at his famed La Pergola restaurant in Rome, open five nights a week for dinner only. Lunches you’ll find him at his Tuscany and Pescara restaurants, and on his two days off? In London or the Algarve in Portugal, where the last of his five kitchens deliver the most delightful plates, all the while keeping in mind the cooking techniques and combinations that aid in digestion, overall health and good cheer.

You’ll never feel stodgy or lackluster after a Beck meal, even if it is an eight-course feast, like the one he recently prepared in the Cole Porter Suite at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel on Park Avenue. While this particular hotel was the sole Waldorf Astoria in the world for 76 years, it has, between 2007 and now, been joined by 22 other stunning properties around the globe, among them the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria hotel in the Eternal City, of which La Pergola is a quintessential part.

For Beck, the evening was a rare night spent away from La Pergola, an evident passion, along with his firm commitment to revolutionizing the way chefs approach healthy cuisine, a concept and philosophy he has been exploring, developing and espousing for the last ten years. Among his many cookbooks are Hypertension and Nutrition, and his most recent, a compilation of recipes and tips designed to combat childhood obesity.

But if Beck, a trim gregarious fellow of German origin, were not in the room to explain the importance of a light meal that leaves his guests visibly buoyant (read: no food coma here), the adjective “healthy” wouldn’t pop to mind as a top-five descriptor for the degustation. Indeed, decadent, intoxicating and sinful might seem more apt, which means that with Beck, you get to have your cake and eat it too.

Let them eat cake, he said, but his special interpretation of the red velvet variety (popularized by the New York Waldorf Astoria, which also invented the Waldorf Salad). This pre-dessert—following six savory courses whose highlights included Beck’s famous “carbonara” fagotelli (Michelle Obama is a fan) and tender lamb with vegetable ragout and fried artichoke—was moist, fluffy and ethereal, delicately capturing all the flavor (and color) that makes red velvet cake so beguiling without serving any real cake at all—a deliciously whimsical take on a childhood classic.

Actual dessert (yes, there was more) followed: A hollow icy sphere about 2.5 inches in diameter crafted from freshly squeezed raspberry and strawberry juice, a miracle of modern food science, and yet there was nothing “molecular” in its preparation. Just the aid of a balloon! This beautifully frosted ruby ball sat regally on a bed of silky, tea-flavored chocolate cream. Heaven, and again, playful, as the best desserts are. Beck is very careful to communicate that even though his food may seem complex, it’s really very simple and very natural. The key takeaway is that he relies on a scientific understanding of digestion and nutrition to create food that is at once delicious, nourishing and free of toxins and negative elements.

If this epic meal, and Beck as the culinary standard of Waldorf Astoria, are any indication, the gastronomic future of the brand is bright. Look out for Waldorf Astoria properties in Berlin (with a Pierre Gagnaire restaurant) by year-end and Jerusalem in August 2013, along with 12 other outposts by 2016.

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