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5 healthier options are an ingredient away

Chef Gianluca Di Costanzo is all natural. “I don’t use heavy seasoning in any of my dishes or recipes,” says the executive chef of Empire Grill, located in the heart of Ottawa’s Byward market.

By Jack Kohane

“The flavour comes from organic ingredients. There are no heavy creams, fats, high levels of grease or salt in the majority of dishes we prepare.”

A landmark steakhouse with an Italian spin, the Empire Grill’s menu is inspired by its chief chef, who was born and raised in Ischia, a tiny island off the coast of Naples. He trained at the Istituto Alberghiero Vincenzo Telese, earning a culinary degree along with a ‘less is more’ approach to his cuisines.

“We have developed our menu for different dietary preferences and needs, including hand-made pasta made in-house,” Chef Gianluca points out. “That way we can be positive there are no added preservatives, our pasta is prepared with the freshest ingredients, never frozen, as well as allowing us better control of the level of each ingredient, particularly salt. I think food just tastes better when made from scratch.” The Empire Grill’s signature high-protein Quinoa Salad (also prepared in-house), is made with red and white quinoa, watermelon, asparagus and house-made honey Dijon vinaigrette.

Chef Gianluca estimates that about 70 per cent of his brunch, lunch, and dinner dishes are in the general healthier-for-you category. That amount continues to grow as he launches new menus (two to three times per year) with a variety of items including light appetizers/side dishes, fresh salads, and new seafood and fish items (lobster to tuna steak to seared grouper).

The big driver in the healthy dining trend is that people have become more health conscious. “That goes right from the ingredients used through to the protein that is offered at the restaurants where they dine.”

In focusing his evolving menu on healthier eating options, Chef Gianluca believes that knowledge is the key to success with each new launch.

The dishes prepared here are developed to be simple. “My way of cooking is based on the way I would make it at home for my family and friends.”

5 tips for a healthier menu

  1. Try to keep your menu simple right down to ingredients.
  2. Go with what you know for menu inspiration — the foods you ate in your childhood and in your travels.
  3. Reduce the salt — the flavour should come from your ingredients.
  4. Use extra virgin olive oil; it’s rich in Vitamin D.
  5. Make salads one of your daily features for lighter and healthier options.