Choice Morsel: Chef Scheehser reveals the relaxing qualities of "Living Salad"

Exploring Spa Food, Part 2

I went on my first and only spa weekend in the late ’80s. Looking to retreat from my fast-paced life in fashion, I took the train from Manhattan to the Spa at Norwich Inn in Eastern Connecticut, wearing a brown herringbone suit with enormous shoulder pads and draped in a huge paisley shawl.

Spa cuisine was all the rage at the time. It had arrived from France thanks to Michel Guerard and his cuisine minceur. The owner of the Spa at Norwich Inn, Edward Safdie, who also ran the Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa in California, made a splash with his own book, Spa Food, in 1985. Back then, spa cuisine meant healthy, low-fat, low-calorie foods, thoughtfully prepared and beautifully presented. Dining was formal and tiny portions of lightly sauced fish or chicken were served on big white plates.

[More after the jump.]

I had all this in the back of my mind when I went to meet Brian Scheehser (left), executive chef of Trellis, the restaurant inside Kirkland’s Heathman Hotel. Chef Scheehser also created the menu for the hotel’s Penterra Spa, a subterranean retreat that offers a whole range of spa services including body wraps and soaks as well as skin treatments and massage.

In Chef Scheehser’s hands, spa cuisine has become even more healthy, more fresh and more fun. And I am most grateful. His Spa-pet-ti-zer menu focuses on raw foods like the Living Salad (below), made with pea sprouts and watercress, walnuts, pears and shaved onion. Both the pea sprouts and watercress are grown hydroponically and cut to order.

Chef Scheehser wants the vitamins and nutrients in his dishes at their fullest, not just raw, but freshly picked.  With five acres of vegetables and another five of fruit trees on his own farm a mere six miles away, Chef Scheehser can do things that other restaurants can’t, like serve salad greens or baby vegetables that are just hours old.

Unless you follow a raw food diet yourself, you’ve never eaten lentils the way they show up in the Lentil Tabouleh (above) — plumped (not boiled) in hot water and then mixed with diced cucumbers, red onions, parsley, tomatoes, minted olives and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Unlike the more refined cuisine minceur, fun finger food is on the menu too, including tacos and fries, but not like those you’ve ever seen before. Crispy carrot sticks sprinkled with poppy seeds become “mock fries” (above) when paired with a bleu cheese dipping sauce, and thinly sliced Pink Lady apples become tortillas that hold a filling of vinaigrette-laced endive and arugula. 

When you’re sweating out toxins at a spa, hydration is of particular importance, and Chef Scheehser offers a wide selection of healthy spa drinks (above) — Carrot Kick, Garden 10, Lemon Splash — that are juiced to order. In fact, the entire Spa-pe-ti-zer menu is made to order and exclusive to the spa; you won’t find any of these dishes on the menu at Trellis. Just one more reason to retreat.

Photos by Tracy Schneider

Follow Choice Morsel biweekly on the CAB to read about the most delicious — and sometimes the most quirky — local cuisine.