No trans fats here: The issue is moot on Bill Strobel's menu at Rembrandt's. His style of cooking, he says, doesn't use them.
JONATHAN WILSON / Inquirer Staff Photographer
No trans fats here: The issue is moot on Bill Strobel's menu at Rembrandt's. His style of cooking, he says, doesn't use them.
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Simmering over trans fats

As a ban began, diners complained most about Philadelphia's meddling.

It was the dawn of a new era of trans-fat-free foods in Philadelphia yesterday, and many diners were none too happy.

Some were spitting mad.

"This is exactly the sort of issue that the city should not be meddling in, what you put in your mouth," said Jim Reed, 52, a logistics manager, as he sat outside Rembrandt's restaurant in Fairmount, basking in the late-summer sun. "There are other issues that the City Council ought to be involved in - like, we're the murder capital of the United States."

As it turned out, it was a moot issue at Rembrandt's, which doesn't use trans fats, according to executive chef Bill Strobel, who cited his cooking style and the negative press on the issue.

Liz Lichner, a financial manager with the International Monetary Fund who was visiting her sister Tracey in Philadelphia, said that diners ought to know what is in their food but that government should not look over the chef's shoulder.

"There should be good information, and then you should be able to make your own choice," said Lichner, also dining at Rembrandt's.

A short distance away at Jack's Firehouse, Vince Ibarra, 42, marketing director for a Houston chemical company, agreed that the city had no business dictating ingredients.

"Clearly, it is out of their realm," Ibarra said as he gently rocked his 11-month-old daughter, Isabella, at a table outside the Fairmount Avenue restaurant. "It really should be up to the consumer what they want and don't want, and they should decide with their wallets."

Philadelphia banned trans fats in February, setting off protests from restaurants. The ban became effective yesterday. The New York City health department banned trans fats in December. Trans fats occur in oils that have been combined with hydrogen and are used for cooking, frying and baking. They extend the shelf life of baked goods and are less expensive than other cooking oils, but they also have been implicated in an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.

Most diners said they were aware that trans fats posed a risk but that they could take care of themselves.

"When I go out to eat, I am more concerned about the taste" and less focused on ingredients, Kelvin Valencia, an art director, said as he ate lunch outside Mugshots, a Fairmount cafe.

Many of the biggest food chains, such as Dunkin' Donuts, KFC and Taco Bell, have taken steps to remove trans fats from their foods.

But it is the smaller restaurants, lacking research and marketing arms, that complained initially that they would be disadvantaged. Finding replacement recipes and products under the city's aggressive deadline, they said, imposed too great a burden.

Yet restaurant owners seemed far calmer about the situation than diners yesterday.

Strobel of Rembrandt's said that he was sensitive to what customers wanted and that when he began to hear concerns about trans fats he made sure to keep them off the menu.

That wasn't difficult, he said, because his cooking emphasizes oils that do not contain them.

Rembrandt's manager, Allison Macier, said that she had worked as a waitress and bartender and in management at Rembrandt's and that no customer ever had asked whether the food contained trans fats.

At Eulogy Belgian Tavern in Old City, which bills itself as a beer heaven, manager Chris Topham said the ban would have no impact on the menu because trans fats had been eliminated. He said he doubted it would affect diners much.

The restaurant smoking ban, he pointed out, also upset people when it was enacted but anger soon receded.

"Since the smoking ban, our business did not decline; it actually went up," he said.

 


Contact staff writer Chris Mondics at 215-854-5957 or cmondicst@phillynews.com.

 

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