Rethinking Sugary Foods and Desserts with Chef Emily Luchetti

Philip Hanes

Emily Luchetti is an established pastry chef with extensive experience working in and managing restaurants across the United States. Luchetti currently holds the position of Chief Pastry Officer for Big Night Restaurant Group, which operates several restaurants in San Francisco, California. Luchetti initiated #dessertworthy, a campaign that aims to challenge the American perspective on desserts, and encourage a more healthy consumption of sugary foods, "to be mindful of sugar indulgences," she says. Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Chef Luchetti about her unique perspective on desserts and the future of pastry.

Food Tank (FT): Please describe the change in perspective regarding desserts that you are advocating for.

Emily Luchetti (EL): I've been a pastry chef for 25 years and I love sugar. I love making desserts and feeding people desserts because it makes them happy. But at the same time, I'm the first one to recognize that we have to be careful about all the sugars, fats, and desserts we consume. We have a problem with obesity and other health problems from eating things that aren't great for us.

If we correct the things we shouldn't do, there is a place for the occasional dessert. Even scientists that study sugar and nutritionists they say the same thing. You can't have it every day, but you can still have it. It's something you can incorporate into your diet. It just has to be more the exception than the rule.

FT: What is dessertworthy?

EL: I started dessertworthy as a social media platform to take a look at what we're eating and say ok, we shouldn't be eating processed foods with a lot of sugar and fat. We shouldn't be eating the equivalent of dessert for breakfast, in cereal, and yogurt with tons of sugar, because it doesn't give us enough fuel for our bodies.

When so many people are out there saying don't eat sugar, all it does is make you think of sugar or fat and make you want to eat it. So if we just take a step back and say, I'm going to eat the following healthy foods for four days and then on Saturday night when I'm out with friends, and we're going to my favorite restaurant, or I'm having people over for dinner, I'm going to make a really extravagant, really fun decadent dessert that’s going to taste amazing. We're all going to love it and we're not going to feel guilty about eating it.

FT: How important is moderation?

EL: It's really about putting everything in perspective. I hate the word moderation because everybody's moderation is different. Some people can eat dessert every other day and fit into their jeans and others can't. So you have to be careful with the term moderation but it's really perspective and personal responsibility.

People are surprised to hear this from a pastry chef because they think I'm a sugar pusher. But when you look at pastry chefs across the country, a lot of us are in relatively decent shape. We've learned long ago that when you're surrounded all day long by white carbohydrates, chocolate, sugar, all that kind of stuff, you have to exercise self-control. If you just eat what's within reach, you feel unhealthy and you can't make it through the day.

FT: How can cutting out processed sweets ultimately improve overall lifestyle?

EL: People ask me for a low-fat version of tiramisu. I say well no and not have it taste like tiramisu. I'd rather have the good tiramisu once a week and nothing else the rest of the week. And someone will say well, I had a piece of fruit for dessert. I think fruit is fabulous, I love it, but fruit is not dessert. If they think an apple is going to replace a piece of chocolate layer cake in their head, it's not. Just realize you're not having dessert and save it for another day.

There's so much guilt associated with eating dessert. If you're going to eat it, you need to really enjoy it and not feel guilty about it. Enjoy every bite. Then you're in control of it, and it's not controlling you.

If you eat a cheap candy bar with so much sugar, by the end of it you're not going to feel satiated. You're going to want another one. I've noticed this myself. But then if you eat a good candy bar or a good piece of chocolate, you're going to get satiated sooner because the flavors are much more intense.

With dessertworthy, I don't want to belittle the people with real food addiction problems, real issues, and I don't want to say it's mind over matter, just get over it because there are people for whom sugar is problematic, and they should never touch it. But there is a big majority of people in the US who just need to be more conscious of what they're eating.

FT: Is the American palate changing and how does this relate to our health problems?

EL: There’s so much sugar in foods today it’s amped up our sugar sensitivity. Many Americans have grown accustomed to a very sweet palate. This is especially true in processed food. We need to cut that back. We need to retrain our palates so we aren’t craving that sugar hit all the time. What we think of as savory, nondessert food, shouldn’t have sugar. Only eat sugar when we have dessert or the occasional breakfast pastry.  Realistically this will not happen overnight. People can, however, take small steps.