As track season at Del Mar gets under way, you can expect the beautiful racetrack crowd sporting haute couture hats, designer bling and skimpy dresses revealing hot airbrush-tanned bodies slimmer than the odds of a long-shot horse on Opening Day. You can bet that their svelteness is in part from a healthful diet. The iconic track eats, including well-endowed New York-style deli sandwiches with lubricated french fry wedges, cholesterol Cobb salad and million-calorie desserts richer than the Kentucky Derby purse are being replaced by smarter, healthier dishes across the board.
Barry Schneider, executive chef for Premier Food Services at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and racetrack, is committed to transforming the menus of the Turf Club and the racetrack's other restaurants under his supervision to delicious and healthy fare while supporting local vendors and preserving the environment. Mindful of the widespread cholesterol problem in this country, Schneider has replaced the artery-clogging trans fats with canola oil. He loads up on heart-friendly avocados, swaps french fries for tempura-battered green beans and substitutes yogurt in dressings and desserts instead of the standard sour cream as in the fresh fruit and berry plate.
He is also trying to stay as local as possible along with incorporating organics, including a spring mix grown exclusively for the track fare. On Opening Day in the winner's circle is a chilled Maine lobster salad tossed with avocados, golden mangoes and vine-ripened tomatoes on a bed of organic baby greens, dressed in a curry chutney yogurt sauce.
Schneider is also antioxidant, fiber and sodium-conscious. The menu will offer a fresh roasted beet salad with goat cheese, plenty of blueberries and cranberry juice, and exotic grains such as quinoa, wheat berry and couscous on some of the salad buffets as a "change from the typical pasta and potato salads and black beans found at a typical barbecue," Schneider said. All dishes are low-sodium, a light hand dispensing only trendy sea salts.
Pescavores can also dine guiltlessly on a variety of wild, low-mercury and sustainable fish and seafood such as Alaskan halibut and wild king Alaskan salmon.
"The most important thing is starting with the freshest, healthiest, highest-quality ingredients especially using as much local as we can find," Schneider said.
The chicken, while not organic, is all-natural and hormone-free.
And to ease the pain (if you're losing), the signature libations, especially the Del Martini, Del Margarita, Del Mary and the Del Mar Rumrunner, will be flowing like the palominos' manes.
Trackgoers who are on restricted diets or just like to brown bag it can bring their own food and drink. Coolers are allowed through the entrance, and the infield provides a great venue for a picnic with sea breezes and ocean views.
If you're having a pre-track gathering at home, you can kick off racing season by preparing some refreshing drinks and healthy dishes apropos of a racetrack theme. At the starting post, serve passion fruit ice tea, fresh squeezed pomegranate lemonade, dirty martinis or mint juleps. A beautiful complement to these invigorating drinks would be one of Bing Crosby's favorites, a Mexican ceviche of sorts done safely by marinating cooked red snapper or seafood in a citrus, tomato and avocado base.
The traditional Cobb salad was created in 1926 by Bob Cobb, the owner of the legendary Brown Derby in Los Angeles who threw in everything but the kitchen sink - leftover avocados, tomatoes, chicken, bacon, onions, romaine lettuce, hard-boiled eggs and bleu cheese arranged meticulously on a plate. You can tweak this classic and substitute grilled salmon for the turkey or chicken, turkey bacon for oink bacon, crumbled goat cheese instead of the Roquefort, and a heart-healthy olive oil vinaigrette rather than the bleu cheese dressing. An occasional seafood Cobb with small amounts of shrimp, scallops and crabmeat or lobster can be an enjoyable change-up.
The Kitchen Shrink's Grilled Salmon Cobb Salad
- 1 head of romaine lettuce (cut into strips)
- 1 head of watercress, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 pound of grilled or baked wild, skinless salmon, crumbled (marinate raw salmon in a mixture of virgin olive oil, lemon juice and your favorite spices)
- 1/4 pound of cooked turkey bacon, crumbled
- 1 vine-ripened tomato, diced
- 1 ripe but firm avocado, diced
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, whites and yolks separated, diced
- 1/4 pound of goat cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/4 cup of vinaigrette dressing (recipe below)
- 1/4 cup of vinegar (champagne, red wine or balsamic)
- 2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons of spicy mustard
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Blend the vinegar with the mustard. Whisk in the oil and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Toss with the lettuce and goat cheese. Place the mixture on a large platter. Decorate with the remaining ingredients, making mounds or strips across the greens.