Tired of those bland tiny-sized "healthy-diet" foods that leave your taste buds numb? Now, chefs have come up with what could be called "every dieter's delight"- delicious gourmet dishes with not more than 400 calories per serving!
Heirs of the light diet cuisine of the 1970s, the new ''spa cuisine'' chefs spawned in Asia boast menus as colorful as those of top gastronomy guides: scallop carpaccio with artichokes and roast pumpkin seeds, pan-fried kidney in beer with crunchy buckwheat, lemon mousse with peppered mint and biscuits.
Just like richer heavier cuisines, spa cuisine's aim is to titillate taste buds.
Until recently, meals at spas were ''a sham'', said chef Yves Toublanc, who runs the kitchen at the Miramar Crouesty Resort in western France.
''There were tiny portions, people barely had anything to eat, and none of it was pleasurable; all they got was steamed foods, marmalades, stewed fruit, cottage cheese ... and it was incredibly expensive.''
Aimed at keeping the calorie-count in check, Toublanc's dishes also aim to ''satisfy fondness for food in the same way as does gastronomy''.
''It's not diet cuisine, it's a balanced cuisine'' that weighs in at an average 400 calories a meal, he said.
At the Evian Royal Resort spa also in France, all foodstuffs are weighed and calories counted. ''The basics of our cuisine remains dieting,'' said chef Michel Lentz.
But the chef has taken the notion of spa food a step further, offering ''special care menus'' which he says are in synergy with the tender-loving-care on offer.
On top of the calorie-count, Lentz weighs and watches vitamins, proteins and anti-oxydants, whipping up salad dressings without oil, mixing cooked and raw foods, and concocting broths made from roots.
''Spa food first and foremost is food for well-being'', said Lydie Boisseau, who heads the Evian's ''synergy'' restaurant.
Born and bred in Asia before being adopted in the United States and Europe as spas mushroomed worldwide, spa food traditionally has been linked to the more-or-less philosophical notion of wellness.
At Hua Hin in Thailand, the Chiva-Som, one of the first luxury spas to provide a holistic approach to health, says ''our concept is to provide healthy cuisine but with so many flavors you will never notice it's good for you!''
''Our view of spa cuisine is that the moderation should be in the ingredients, not the flavor.''
At the Heritage Golf & Spa Resort on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, chef Philippe Rozel uses essential oils and flower waters in his ''energy cuisine''.
''It is based on the interaction between the chakras (or centers of spiritual power) and the colors of every individual'', said Rozel, whose sophisticated menus come by color code.
But the new cuisine leaves food historians and experts under-whelmed.
Historian Patrick Rambourg scoffed at the notion of spa food, saying ''this has existed for years. One of the great French chefs, Michel Guerard, did this 30 years ago by marrying gastronomy and health-foods in his 'cuisine minceur'.''
Guerard, one of the founders of so-called ''nouvelle cuisine'' is termed the inventor of ''cuisine minceur'' or light food.
''We're just changing one word for another,'' said Rambourg.
And foodie consultant Albert Nahmias had even harsher words. ''It's nothing but marketing,'' he said. ''People lap up the message as if it was comfort-food. It makes them feel better.''