Camelback Inn Cooks Healthy with the Chia Pet

Last week, Sprouts Wellness Restaurant and Juice Bar at Camelback Inn introduced a new "Cooking Nutritionally Smart" workshop series hosted by executive sous chef Brian Archambault and featuring beverage director Trudy Thomas' organic cocktails. "Healthy? Organic? Oh, no," lamented cameraman Jonathan McNamara upon hearing of the restaurant's lower-calorie cuisine.    

Two hours later, he was singing a different tune. Sprouts managed to pull off the impossible: a three-course meal (plus wine and cocktails) of delicious dishes that each clocked in at 310 calories or less. Far from the cardboard-like microwave entrees that boast similar health claims, Archambault's cuisine was flavorful and filling. And creative, as evidenced by the inclusion of milk-soaked chia seeds in the dessert course.

Yes, chia seeds as in the famous Chia Pet.

Before we tell you how last year's tacky White Elephant gift can be turned into a tasty yogurt parfait, let's start with the appetizer course. Black quinoa, Marcona almonds, dried cranberries and fresh-picked kale came together for a light, refreshing salad that tasted of summer.

The tartness of the cranberries and the subtle sweetness of Meyer lemon olive oil used as dressing mitigated the slight bitterness of the Seacat Gardens kale. "I always refer to myself as a grower, not a farmer. Farmers are those people that you see riding around in air-conditioned tractors," owner Carl Seacat joked. His single-acre plot at Blue Sky Farms in Gilbert is Phoenix's oldest certified organic farm

Jonathan McNamara
The only thing fishy here is the lack of calories.

​For the main course, Archambault taught guests how to steam true cod over seasoned water to infuse it with flavor. The flaky white fish was placed in a savory ginseng and soy broth with soft udon noodles. At 310 calories and a whopping 84 grams of protein per bowl, it was clearly a winner in terns of health benefits.

By itself, the fish was near flavorless, but the mushroom-infused broth made up for any inadequacies in taste. Sprinklings of togarashi (spicy japanese red pepper) were a bit intense, but you could always lighten up or leave the ingredient out when cooking at home.

Of the few dozen guests present at the class, at least half raised an eyebrow when the host brought out a dish of tiny, greyish seeds and passed it around the table. Harvested from the chia plant (the same species as the trademarked planter), the seeds can be soaked overnight in milk, soymilk or water to form a goopy gel similar in texture to tapioca pearls.


With the addition of vanilla frozen yogurt, strawberry sauce made with agave syrup, and fresh strawberries, the chia seeds went down easy. An accompanying strawberry cocktail made with Square One Organic Spirits was surprisingly smooth given the 90 proof gin-like alcohol involved.

Overall, the class was a success. Though there were an abundance of ingredients ("too many," remarked some diners), each dish was well-planned and easy to replicate at home. Cost was $45 per person, including Paul Dolan vineyard wines, cocktail and three courses. Future classes are planned, though location and dates are still up in the air.  

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