For the longest time, Pascal and Sylvie de Sarthe were deeply involved in the art world. Their passion for art took them across the world, from Paris and the US to Beijing and now, Hong Kong. Along the way, they realized their busy schedules were having a negative effect on their diet. That realization evolved into a passion for healthy eating and now, 12 NOON, a truly nutritious health food café. As they open their newest outlet in Sheung Wan, we caught up with Pascal to discuss 12 NOON and healthy eating.
Your background is in the art world. Why make the move to restaurants and food?
In our family, most of what we talk about is art and food. Sylvie, who was a nurse, has always been interested in dietetic and taught us the art of eating well.
How did you become interested in healthy eating?
I work long hours and most of the time, do not take time to eat a proper lunch. Fast food, which is so convenient, was my regular lunch for many years. Sylvie was always complaining that I was not taking care of my health and saying that I should eat proper lunches. At the time, we didn’t have many healthy food alternatives, especially on delivery services.
What inspired you to start 12 NOON.
I have always been an entrepreneur and my passions become my work. My wife, who works on the retail side of 12 NOON, had always been interested in dietetics. We always ate fresh and non-processed food at home and often, sugar was – and still is – off the menu. However, on my side, being a workaholic and left to my own devices for lunch mean that my daily routine for many years was junk food! When I decided to change my lifestyle and eating habits, I realized there was very little choice in Hong Kong. Some fast food restaurants exist, pretending to be healthy, but a salad isn’t a healthy meal if youre dressing is not! So we decided to go into the business of healthy food and founded 12 NOON.
What do you think makes a good healthy dish?
Your body’s health reflects what you put into it. A healthy diet prevents malnutrition and help protects from diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke. Today, many people’s diets consist of more saturated fat, trans fats, sugars, and more sodium than fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber. A healthy diet starts with eating smaller portion of well-balanced and freshly prepared nutrients with no sugar and additives added. A healthy dish will come from a variety of foods, which will include fruits and vegetables, meats or proteins, dairy or calcium, grains and cereals, and healthy oils and fats. It should also have the right amount of calories to help you maintain a healthy weight.
What are you favourite healthy ingredients/superfoods?
Today, I can say that I love vegetables. Was not always the case.
How do you ensure nutritional standards at 12 NOON?
We work with our nutritionist and our chef to ensure well-balanced dishes, and monitor cleanliness and food quality. Our suppliers are also carefully vetted. 12 NOON avoids genetically modified food and demands the best quality produce. Finally, we also maintain nutritional and ingredient information on all our menus.
Is sustainability something you incorporate into the 12 NOON ethos?
Green thinking is part of 12 NOON’s culture. You can’t be concerned with your eating habits and care for your body and not recognize the seriousness of environmental issues. We are committed to a green lifestyle and are serious about our own impact. It can be a challenge in business. We need to balance our desire to have a 100% green concept with the economic reality of our business.
Our biggest challenge right now is to eliminate the use of plastic bottles. The excess of plastic use is a major issue for our environment. But the reality is that it offers the convenience and price level demanded by our customers. Our immediate solution was to use PET plastic, which is completely recyclable, and is the most recycled plastic worldwide. We provide a recycling bin in store to ensure that custoemrs dispose of their recyclable and compostable materials in an environment-friendly manner, and we partner with HKrecycle.
We are working hard to improve our supply chains and reduce the amount of packaging used. Although recyclable, we traded the plastic packaging of our salads to more easily recyclable cardboard boxes. We offer paper straws and have resuable bamboo trays; our cleaning supplies are eco-friendly and non-toxic; and all the lights in our restaurants are LED so they use far less energy and don’t contain mercury or other toxic gases. We also collaborate with Feeding Hong Kong, who picks up our edible surplus food. They redistribute the food to charities and community programs, which means the food doesn’t go to waste.
What are your favourite dishes at 12NOON? Why?
I used to eat lots of instant noodles. That was definitely not healthy! But I really enjoyed the taste. So I decided to put a cup noodle made of fresh ingredients on the 12 NOON menu. As a result, this dish is made of yam noodles. It’s largely made of water and glucomannan (a water-soluble dietary fibre) that’s very low in digestible carbohydrates and calories. These have little flavor of their own, so we add fresh ingredients to create a wonderfully tasty fresh cup noodle. We now have five on these on the menu. It was an instant success. It really fills you up and it’s delicious! I have one every other day.
For someone just embarking on a healthy-eating lifestyle, what are some small steps they can take to smooth the beginning of the journey?
It’s a lifestyle, so you have to be conscious of the type of food you put in your body. It is important to maintain a healthy diet, perhaps try to eat smaller portions of well-balanced nutrients with no sugar and additives added. We eat too much, and we certainly consume far too much sugar! If you eat a well-balanced meal with protein, vegetable and fruit you have fed yourselves correctly. If you crave junk food, find substitutes. For example, instead of snacking on sweet protein bars, bring some veggies, nuts, or fruits to your office.
Many people believe that healthy eating means they can’t treat themselves. Is this true?
I don’t believe in this! While I believe that too much of anything is not good, I love a pizza or an ice-cream once in a while. It’s like alcohol. A glass once in awhile will not do you any harm. However, if you drink a lot everyday, then you may face serious health issues. That’s why the food you consume at lunch is so important.
Having been a junk food addict for so many years, I understand the convenience of fast food. But most of what you eat is processed food with added sugar and salt. This is an unbalanced diet. Since I eat my lunch at 12 NOON almost daily now – either delivered on my desk or at the shops – I have lots of energy and lost weight. In fact, my last medical check up came back above normal on all fronts. Lots of people need a treat in between meals. Just stay away from the sugar coated treats! There are many alternatives; you can eat fruits, nuts, and raw veggies. For most of us, it has become a habit to grab something to eat in between meals.
My eight-year-old grand-daughter loves to grab food from the kitchen pantry or the fridge. So, I suggested that my daughter replace the junk food with fruits and veggies and place them in small cups in the fridges. She encountered some resistance at the beginning because the habit was hard to kick. But now, my grand-daughter is getting used to picking up the healthy snacks in the fridge. What was most important was the habit of snacking and not the food itself. It is so important to teach our children how to eat well. When you think that 15% of the world’s population is obese – and that this number will double in the next ten years – there is a need to be concerned.
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