Fruits, vegetables and broiled chicken breasts are healthy foods. Fast-food burgers, French fries and chocolate glazed donuts are not. Bombarded with dietary advice from all directions, this is common knowledge.
But even the most conscientious person, the one who buys only organic ingredients and eats at top restaurants, has a guilty pleasure. Doctors, personal trainers, even expert chefs, sometimes go rogue and head for the drive-through window.
This holds true even in Athens, according to nationally recognized chefs Hugh Acheson, Peter Dale and Joel Penn.
Trained chefs are food scientists as well as artists: they know the nutrient profiles of their ingredients and they understand how to prepare dishes that taste good and are good for you. Given this, it’s no surprise that chefs generally eat healthy diets.
Except when they don’t.
“When I’m not at work I try and keep it pretty healthy. Lately I’ve been into juicing, bulletproof coffee and focusing on more vegetables than meat,” said Peter Dale, chef and co-owner of The National, the Hancock Street eatery known for its Mediterranean-inspired menu and wine list.
“I try to make it a point to eat at local, independent spots as much as possible, as opposed to chains,” said Joel Penn, chef at Heirloom Café and Fresh Market – a Boulevard restaurant that specializes in modern riffs on southern heritage dishes.
Penn works with ingredients he buys from local farmers, because “I like to try and support my friends.”
Yet top chefs sometimes crave foods they know they’re not supposed to enjoy, but they do.
And they were willing to talk about what they all called “guilty pleasure food.”
“I eat a lot of raw carrots. Lots of salads. I try to eat well. But every month or so I crave an Arby’s roast beef sandwich,” said Hugh Acheson, famed chef and co-owner of two local restaurants, Five &Ten and The National.
Acheson and his partners also operate restaurants in Atlanta and Savannah.
A different fast-food chain is Penn’s secret vice. Like many college students, he is a huge Taco Bell fan.
“I like Taco Bell’s completely inauthentic take on Mexican food,” he said. “It’s hearty, fatty, and spicy – comfort food for me. I’m completely aware it’s super trashy and terrible for you, but I’ve loved it since high school, and I can’t quit it.”
Dale also craves the occasional dose of Mexican-style food, though he’s not really into Taco Bell.
“My unhealthy guilty pleasure is Gringo-style Mexican food,” Dale said. “With a frozen margarita on the side.”
Acheson doesn’t obsess about Mexican food, but chicken is a different matter.
“Popeye’s fried chicken is pretty rad. The chicken is crispy and cooked right. We just get the chicken and make our own sides fresh. Though I do like their red beans and rice.”
Chili cheese fries, ice cream and gelato, pizza, and Georgia’s own Chick-fil-A also made the list of the chefs’ high-calorie favorites.
“I try to eat as much responsibly-sourced meat as possible,” said Penn. “Obviously, fast food doesn’t fall into that category.”
He tries not to head for Taco Bell too often.
“I try to limit it to once a month or so, but sometimes it can be hard,” he said.
The National, Five &Ten and The Heirloom Café and Fresh Market are open seven days a week.