Consultant tailors lunch menu to fit needs of working diners

By Lynda Exley

When the powers that be at Bahama Breeze decided to go from a dinner-only concept to serving lunch, they knew their mid-day meals would have to be exceptional to attract today’s discerning diners. Merely serving smaller sized dinner entrees at a reduced price during lunchtime wasn’t going to cut it, which is why they employed Pam Smith, a nationally known nutrition and wellness coach, to develop their new menu.

In addition to authoring books on diet, nutrition and cooking, Smith coaches the likes of L.A. Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal and senior pro golfer Larry Nelson--when she’s not too busy hosting High on Health on The Health Network by Fox or appearing on CNN, The TV Food Network, The Today Show, CNBC and Focus on Family.

“I work to try to stabilize the body to be working at its best, stabilize its chemistry, get the metabolism boosted up, and do that (by) focusing on food,” explains Smith. “The right food at the right time.”

Smith made the leap to menu development when her corporate clients, such as Hyatt and Darden Restaurants (the parent company for Bahama Breeze), recruited her to work with chefs to develop their bill of fare. So naturally, Bahama Breeze turned to Smith to perform her magic on their luncheon menu.

“What we wanted to do was develop a menu that was really built around the way people want to – and even need to – eat at lunch. What they don’t want to do is eat boat sinkers, and go back to the office and either fall asleep or have to be carried home on a cot,” explains Smith.

Smith says customers will return from lunch at Bahama Breeze refueled by healthful food, refreshed, recharged and full of energy. She accomplished that lofty goal by using “tremendously fresh ingredients” and preparing them in very progressive ways to bring out the best of flavor.

“Caribbean inspired is probably the most perfect cuisine for that,” explains Smith. “Because rather then having to stretch hard to think about how you’re going to spice something or how you’re going to bring color and flavor in, the Caribbean has it all, the fresh fruits, the wonderful vegetables, the unique kinds of spices.”

But even Smith admits, “We’ve really had this kiss of death attached to food that is good for us. We think if it’s good (for us), it’s going to taste like cardboard.”

Not so at Bahama Breeze. Steve Avery, the restaurant’s general manager explains. “We have a new soup for instance, Corn and Chicken Chowder. It’s thickened with potatoes that we put in it with the corn. We cook and puree it up. The starches and glutens of those two vegetables thicken the soup. We don’t use cream in any of the soups. We have an oak-grilled asparagus soup that is really good. It’s thickened with rice.”

“You don’t have to muck it up, if you will, with a lot of heavy sauces and fats,” adds Smith. “It’s basically fat free. That’s almost like the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence. You don’t really know that when you’re buying it. You just think, ‘my gosh, this is the best asparagus soup I’ve ever dreamed of.’”

The same science works for Bahama Breeze’s salad dressings. “We use fresh fruit juices and Dijon mustard to emulsify the dressing, thereby enabling us to use a much smaller amount of olive oil than what you would normally do,” explains Avery.

The red pepper Caesar dressing on Bahama Breeze’s Grilled & Chilled Double Caesar with Oak Fired Chicken is a perfect example of Bahama Breeze’s wizardry with salad dressings. The dressing is tangy with hints of citrus and mustard, a natural complement to the smoky undertones of oak-grilled romaine hearts.

Thanks to Smith’s guidance, instead of building a “healthy” menu on chemically altered products like lite mayo, fat free sour cream and butter substitutes, as some restaurants would, her team of chefs made subtle changes with “real” ingredients that improved the menu’s nutritional value while enhancing its flavors.

Instead of the typical store bought, mushy white bun, for example, Bahama Breeze’s Oak-Fired Angus Burger is served on a homemade corn muffin bun, giving it a firm, almost crunchy texture. Order it Jamaican style (with pepper-jack cheese, grilled onions and smoky barbecue sauce) and you’ll be hooked for life.

The Sun-Drenched Portobello Vegetable Stack sandwich is loaded with char-grilled veggies, vine-ripened tomatoes, and Portobello mushrooms. It’s served on freshly baked Cuban bread with pepper-jack cheese and comes with a side of Citrus Cous Cous instead of fat-drenched fries. And unlike some side dishes that are served more for esthetics rather than consumption, the Citrus Cous Cous is deliciously satisfying—even if you’re not a cold salad person. It owes its flavor to currants, dried cranberries, papaya, mangos and cashews, which give it a nice crunch.

When it comes to seafood, Avery says his chefs are careful not to overcook it, which keeps it juicy and tender in addition to retaining its valuable nutrients. According to Avery, many people are uneducated about fish. They think it must be cooked well to eliminate bacteria, but the key to “clean” fish is in the handling. He explains that purchasing the freshest fish possible from reputable sources, storing it at the appropriate temperature, managing it properly in the kitchen and using their stock up daily, allows Bahama Breeze to serve it at the optimum temperature with a moist, soft center.

“So many people don’t recognize you can go to a place that gives you a very relaxed, very fun ambiance that (usually) relates to more casual dining, but experience food that’s just so fabulous you might expect to find it in a much more expensive, much more formal kind of environment.” says Smith about Bahama Breeze.

“Most people don’t realize that it’s chef prepared, house-made. They make everything from scratch, which is just unheard of in the casual dining industry.”

You’ll understand what Smith’s talking about when you check out Bahama Breeze’s new lunch menu yourself. You’ll want to come back with a friend, but shhhhhh, don’t tell them it’s healthy until you’ve hooked them too!

Hours: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Sun. through Thu., 11 a.m. – midnight Sat. and Sun

Entertainment: Live entertainment on the air-conditioned gazebo seven nights a week.

Price range: Lunch: $6.75 to $12.99, Dinner: $6.75 to $19.99, Drink Special: 20-ounce glasses of Aruba Red beer $2.50, daily.

Special accommodations: Full service catering available. Reservations not accepted. Kids menu, coloring book and crayons.

7200 W. Ray Road, Chandler. (480) 705-7399. www.bahamabreeze.com.