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On Monday, I spent a delightful evening in a supermarket.

With a group of about 15 others, I attended the first "Nutritional Walking Tour and Dinner," held in Red Hook’s Fairway Market.

Fairway, which opened in May to the profound joy of the borough’s chowhounds, is, as we know, like no ordinary market. And being the specialty purveyor that it is, the store’s management created a position that is unique among the four Fairway markets, if not all food retailers: "lifestyle facilitator."

The "lifestyle facilitor" is Marlo Mittler, a registered dietitian specializing in pediatrics, adolescents and family nutrition. She refers to herself as "anti-resolution, anti-diet," believing that a healthy diet is one that "sets a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat" with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables for their antioxidant powers.

During the hour-long talk and walk, which also served as a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the energetic Mittler led the group throughout the vast store, stopping briefly to offer nutritional tips. In front of a pyramid of blueberry boxes, Mittler expounded on the "optimal" fruit.

"Did you know the blueberry has the highest antioxidant value of any food?" she asked.

We didn’t.

None of us realized that the blueberry helped increase math and memory skills either.

"People are put off by the ugly kiwi fruit," said Mittler, but warned us not to be swayed by its hairy, dun skin. "Not only can the fruit help to regulate respiratory illness, but it can be used in place of a baby aspirin as a blood thinner," she said.

Thanks to Mittler, we now know that goat cheese is lower in fat than other cheeses; high in calcium, protein and vitamin A; and a great energy booster. She informed the group that calcium, in the form of low-fat cheeses, binds to fat cells, so it functions as a weight loss aid. Who knew cheese could do that?

As Mittler talked, the group tasted tiny South African pickled red peppers called peppedews filled with the creamy cheese.

One attendee was skeptical about buying organic products. Fairway stocks organic produce in abundance at prices higher than conventionally grown crops but considerably lower than you’ll find in other borough specialty markets.

Mittler is pro-organic.

"There are so many health risks out there with pesticides and pollution that it’s important to our health to control what we can," she said. Mittler suggested avoiding fruits and vegetables with high "permeability levels and residues," specifically strawberries.

"The fruit’s delicate, porous skin will absorb more pesticides than organic varietals and should always be eaten organic," she said.

After swiping crusty slices of bread in grape seed oil selected by Mittler for its "protection of cardiovascular health and its promotion of good cholesterol," we wandered over to the cafe where chef Alan Reisenburger had a three-course dinner prepared.

Reisenburger is the executive chef for all four Fairway Markets. The meal he created reflected the store’s approach to healthy, balanced dining with plenty of nutritious ingredients and a few indulgences.

Some of the participants were reluctant to take their first courses outside after enduring a brutally hot day. However, once we assembled beneath the umbrella-topped tables on the store’s deck, all was well. The air was cool and a calming breeze blew from the river. In the distance, the Statue of Liberty was bathed in glamorous pink light.

Michael Romano of Romano Brand Fine Wines, who supplied the drinks for the evening, poured a crisp, lemony Pinot Grigio that complimented our appetizers, following it with a soft Merlot as the meal progressed.

As we nibbled on tiny spinach pies, filet mignon with horseradish cream, sea bass and a luscious wild mushroom strudel, the diners at my table chatted about cooking at home and restaurants to visit. After a couple glasses of wine and a (small) serving of strawberry gelato, the sky was inky and only the lights of nearby boats aided our way back inside.

Fairway Market is located at 480-500 Van Brunt St. between Water and Reed streets in Red Hook. For more information, call (718) 694-6868.

The next educational tour is scheduled for Sept. 18. The event is being held in conjunction with the American Cancer Society and will focus on cancer prevention through diet. Dinner will follow. For more information, including fees, for upcoming tours, contact Tara McBride at (631) 583-5085 or e-mail her at

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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