July 1, 2008 / 6:40 PM / 11 years ago

New York City restaurants go trans-fat-free

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One New York City chef spent a year mastering a trans-fat-free version of his sfogliatella pastries. Boston Market restaurants have introduced a trans-fat-free chicken pot pie in New York before taking it to other U.S. cities.

A menu for fried chicken and french fries is displayed on a wall at a fast food restaurant in New York, October 30, 2006. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

All that work was in preparation for New York City’s ban on trans-fats in restaurants, which took full effect on Tuesday, and is the first of its kind among major U.S. cities. The move follows the city’s 2003 ban on public smoking.

Artificial trans-fats give French fries their crunch and pie crusts their flakiness and chefs have been figuring out how it was done before trans-fats came into wide use during World War II, when margarine became a substitute for rationed butter and Crisco became a staple in U.S. kitchens.

Artificial trans-fats, which also are known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, have just as many calories as other fats but clog arteries in the same way that saturated fats like butter and lard do.

A year ago, New York restaurants were banned from using the artery-clogging fats in cooking oils and spreads. On Tuesday, all trans-fat products were banned, although the city will allow a grace period before issuing fines up to $2,000.

Laura Stanley, a former senior editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia who heads the city’s Trans-Fat Help Center, a clinic to help restaurants make the transition, said there had been complaints from bakeries and restaurants about trans-fat-free cookies turning out too crisp. It was nothing that could not be fixed with a little adjustment in baking time, she said.

“I don’t want to be cavalier and say that it’s solved. But I’m really, really optimistic,” said Stanley, who has led a series of seminars to educate cooks about trans-fats and posted tips on a city Web site, Notransfatnyc.org.

Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, and McDonalds Corp., as well as KFC and Pizza Hut, which are both owned by Yum! Brands Inc., all say that they have eliminated trans-fats from their New York restaurants, and they are on track to do the same across the country.

At Pizza Hut, that meant altering the recipe of its Thin ‘n Crispy and Hand-Tossed Style Pizza, a spokesman said.

Boston Market eliminated trans-fats from its fried chicken nationwide and is using New York as a test case for a new crust for its chicken pot pie, said spokeswoman Angela Proctor.

“The reason that people use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to begin with is that ... it gives you a lot more flexibility,” Proctor said. “You get a very fluffy, flaky pastry crust. You get one that doesn’t break down as quickly.”

City officials say a new generation of trans-fat-free alternatives came at the right moment.

“It involved the restaurants calling up their suppliers and saying, ‘Please send me the trans-fat-free version of these oils and spreads,’” said New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden, a leading proponent of the ban.

The help center recommends shortenings derived from palm, canola and soybean oils.

Owners at smaller eateries said they supported the ban if it meant healthier food but they had reservations, too.

Rocco Generoso, the second-generation owner of Rocco’s Pastry Shop and Cafe, an Italian pastry shop in Greenwich Village, said trans-fat-free shortening did not hold up in warm weather.

“It’s not easy to maintain the same quality with these products,” he said. It took a year to perfect his sfogliatella — a multi-layered pastry filled with sweet ricotta cheese — because the dough would melt in his hand.

In Little Italy’s Caffe Palermo, owner John Delutro changed his cannoli recipe but said customers did not seem to notice.

City Councilman Tony Avella, who opposes the ban, joked that a ban on salt was next.

“The city is going way over the top in terms of dictating what people can’t do and can’t eat,” he said.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Bill Trott

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