Need a detox? Chef Juliet Stephenson of Brookdale Health Hydro has just what you need
So here we are in February, some of us carrying the ghost of Christmas Past – a little extra padding, a lingering queasiness, a touch of self-loathing at having indulged in pies and puddings, bubbly and beers, braais and fries, as if there were no tomorrow.
Of course we’ve made New Year resolutions. We’ll take ourselves in hand, cut out this and that, exercise more. But like the gift wrappings, those ideals lie torn and tattered. Still, we really do want to set out on a healthier path. It’s just so hard to start.
“People often know what they should be doing but lead such busy lives they’re not sure how to do it,” says Juliet Stephenson, chef at Brookdale Health Hydro at Nottingham Road in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Juliet has been motivating people to change their eating habits since she arrived at Brookdale in 2010. “The key is simplicity and going back to basics.”
She doesn’t mean nibbling on a lettuce leaf, or pursuing a one-size-fits-all regime.
“It’s about moderation. Fasting isn’t the way to detox. Eating the right foods is.” What are those right foods? “Fresh, home-cooked, natural, fibre-rich and mostly plant foods,” Juliet says, adding that guests are pleasantly surprised at how delicious and satisfying Brookdale’s meals are. “Quality not quantity is our guideline. Our food is nutrient dense, unlike on-the-go items like snack bars that are energy dense and low in nutrients.”
Juliet works closely with dietician Caryn Davies, who also joined the Brookdale family in 2010. Together they create imaginative dishes that Juliet describes as low carb, low fat, Mediterranean-style food. And while three things are excluded – caffeine (gulp!), alcohol, and red meat (although the latter is included in recipe books) – there are no blanket rules
or restrictive diets. Says Caryn, “Our guests are inspired by a different way of life and realistic alternatives that are both healthy and delicious.”
Breakfast that morning is a good example of those healthy, delicious alternatives. There’s smoked salmon, avocado, pumpkin seed pesto, cottage cheese and fresh fruit. No coffee. Midmorning brings a glass of kombucha that’s alive with probiotics. “We’re big on gut health,” Caryn explains. “You’re only as healthy as your gut.”
Great, but I’ll do anything for a cup of good coffee right now. No chance. “Caffeine raises adrenalin levels. A lot of people aren’t aware of the symptoms of caffeine intake – nausea, flushing, shakiness, racing heart, and insomnia.” I can’t say I’ve noticed that in myself but as Caryn explains, some people are genetically equipped to metabolise adrenalin quickly whereas others aren’t.
I like to think I’m in the fast category but, to know for sure, I could avail myself of a DNA-analysis service offered at Brookdale. “It tests for 36 gene variants to pinpoint sensitivities and guide people on what foods to avoid,” explains Caryn, who is accredited to DNAlysis, the company that pioneered this testing in South Africa.
There’s not one food (other than the trout – I’m a vegetarian) at lunch time I’d want to avoid. Everything is so gorgeous it’s like looking at a beautiful garden, a fitting simile because plant-based dishes play a starring role in all Juliet’s recipes. What’s more, many
of those plants are freshly harvested from Brookdale’s veggie garden.
Keeper of that garden is Ostern Chafuka. He’s carrying an armful of magnificent greens when I meet him. What is his secret for growing such exceptional veggies? “Sun, ozonated borehole water, no chemicals, and lots of love,” he says.
So there before us on the table is a loveinfused feast so colourful it could have been made from rainbows. Ginger turmeric soup, trout fillets with spinach basil pesto, roasted pear salad, and quinoa salad bursting with micro greens and sprouts. “They contain digestive enzymes which help with gut health,” says Juliet.
Creamy mango lollies make a mockery of sugar-laden ice cream, and the fig and pistachio truffles are as good as the best chocolate. It’s almost hard to believe these desserts contain no sugar. “By eating simply you learn to appreciate natural flavours,” says Juliet. “So when you reduce your sugar intake, you start to appreciate the natural sweetness in foods.”
Not that the occasional chocolate is a sin.
“If you follow the 80/20 rule – 80 per cent healthy food – you’re on the right track,” says Wendy Somers-Cox who, with her husband Tony, founded Brookdale in 1992. “We bought the property in 1989,” says Tony. “The buildings were abandoned and the land covered in bluegum and wattle.”
Two-and-a-half years later, after much hard toil, Wendy and Tony opened their haven of peace. Set in beautiful surroundings, it’s the answer to the stresses and toxins of the outside world. “People don’t come here for weight loss, but to get off the treadmill for a while and to detox,” Tony says. Manager and co-director, Marilyn Cox agrees, adding, “We’re the real thing. Relaxed, homely, and with a holistic approach.” As we speak, guests in white dressing gowns stroll serenely past on their way to that health-restoring lunch on the deck above the brook bubbling through the dale.
It’s all so heavenly and healthy, a phrase echoed in the title of Brookdale’s two recipe books: Heavenly and Healthy Foods, and Heavenly and Healthy Flavours. “The books were a response to guests asking for inspiration for when they went back home,” says Juliet. “We’re working on a third that will focus on lifestyle and will be a useful resource during festive times.”
Excellent news for those who don’t want the ghost of Christmas Past haunting us again next year.
OPPOSITE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: The route to Brookdale winds through sweeping landscapes typical of the KwaZuluNatal Midlands. Originally built as the country retreat of the last administrator of the old Natal, Brookdale is now a retreat for those seeking a break from the rat race. Once abandoned and overgrown with bluegums and wattle, Brookdale was brought back to life after Tony and Wendy Somers-Cox bought it 30 years ago to realise their dream of opening a proper health spa. CLOCKWISE FROMABOVE LEFT: Ostern Chafuka is the greenfingered king of Brookdale’s vegetable garden. His recipe for success? “Sun, ozonated borehole water, no chemicals, and love.”Water features throughout the gardens enhance the sense of tranquillity. The indoor dining area is beautifully appointed but retains a sense of long ago. Chef Juliet Stephenson and dietician Caryn Davies – the talented duo behind the delicious, nutrient-dense food that inspires Brookdale guests to maintain a healthy way of life.
ABOVE LEFT: Guest suites that were once stables surround a courtyard garden. ABOVE: Two pools – this outdoor saltwater one and an indoor ozonated one – make aquacise possible all year round. LEFT: The super six who make it all happen in Brookdale’s kitchen: Thandeka Shezi, Bright Nqwenya, Juliet Stephenson, Janet Duma, Khombi Zuma,Lina Madonsela.
ABOVE: Tony and Wendy Somers-Cox and Marilyn Cox (right) are dedicated to providing a holistic health experience that debunks the ‘lettuce leaf myth’.