It was just about a year ago that famed chef Patty Queen was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.
The treatment and recovery had her thinking more than ever about her passion, food.
Queen, who, with her brother Dave and mother Dorothy, own the acclaimed Cottage Restaurant and Café in Plainville, admits she was not a particularly healthy eater, and beyond the tasting that goes hand-in-hand with the celebrated dishes she creates, she pretty much lived on ice tea during the day and "whatever" when she got home from work each night.
But she is changed her eating habits and is reworking the restaurant menu a bit with better health and preventing cancer in mind.
"I'm not really changing anything or making anything that is not as good. I am just paying more attention to what I cook, how it is cooked and how foods are paired," says Queen, who was featured in the "Great Women Chefs" cookbook by Julie Stillman.
"I read everything I could about cancer and food and learned how food can heal you and help you during my treatment" she says. "I'm not a scientist or a doctor, but I learned cancer hates alkaline, and it got me to thinking about food combinations and choices.
"Green tea, chilies, ginger, good fats, shrimp, cod; I learned what was really good for you and foods that are considered anti-cancer, foods that cancer cells don't like."
Slowly and with restraint, Queen has been introducing more fruit and less sugary desserts, less starch and more fresh vegetable sides. The array of ever-changing specials still boast the color, texture and taste Queen is best known for, but also provide health benefits that are often overlooked.
Among the new choices that please the palate but empower the body are ginger fried local calamari with mango sesame slaw and wasabi aioli; crispy, fried oysters and soba noodle with cucumber and wakame salad; grilled wheat flatbread with soy-rich edamame; and good-for-you ceviche made of mixed poached seafood, lime, chopped vegetables and guacamole with a warmed corn tortilla. Giant shrimp, a mushroom and spinach tart with cheese and a spring pea salad, and baked cod with a crab crust and lemon and white wine dressed spring salad are more of the tasty yet health smart menu items.
"You can't really write on the menu that it's healthy food. You have to let diners order it and taste it," says Queen, whose down time includes yoga and running. "And for those who are wondering, we still have many of our most popular menu favorites including short ribs, house made gnocchi, chicken marabello and a prime rib steak with a baked stuffed potato."
Queen is not trying to force any food choices on her guests, but rather bring what she has learned about food and well-being to her menu.
"I think of it as being a different layer to our menu, a layer of choices that have additional benefits," says Queen. "I have always wanted my guests to have a great meal, and they still are, with some healthy benefits on the side."
>>The Cottage Restaurant & Café is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Information: 860-793-8888 or cottagerestaurantandcafe.com