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Aubergine Kitchen offers healthy, feel-good food

By Valerie Phillips - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Feb 14, 2024
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Elcio Zanatta, founder of Aubergine Kitchen, at the Farmington location.
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Mirian Zanatta, executive chef of Aubergine Kitchen.
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The Chicken Harvest Bowl at Aubergine Kitchen.
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The Exotic Dip Combo at Aubergine Kitchen.
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The Blue Wave Smoothie gets its blue color from spirulina (blue-green algae).
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"Nice Cream" at Aubergine Kitchen is a frozen dessert made with cashews, coconut milk, dates, pure vanilla and/or cocoa.

During a recent interview at Farmington’s Aubergine Kitchen, several customers recognized owner Elcio Zanatta and thanked him for serving tasty food that fits their nutritional needs.

“The great secret of our restaurant is, how do you feel after you eat?” said Zanatta. “When I leave, I feel great.”

He and his wife, Mirian Zanatta, opened Aubergine Kitchen in Orem in 2014, with the goal of helping people eat better — and feel better. It has grown to nine locations, with Farmington being the northernmost so far.

“What sets it apart is the way we cook,” said Elcio Zanatta. “We only use extra-virgin olive oil from Europe — no seed oils. We don’t use any sugar. Our bakery items are sweetened with dates and fruits. Even our salad dressings are made without sugar or seed oil.”

The proteins (chicken, tri-tip steak, tofu and fish) are baked, not fried. They are surrounded in bowls by chunks of roasted veggies such as sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms, and grains such as quinoa or almond wild rice, or even cauliflower “rice.” The salads, based on romaine, spinach or kale, are topped with a variety of veggies such as cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, avocado or berries. If you can’t find a bowl or salad with exactly what you want, you can create your own bowl or salad combination with the myriad of options.

Proof that “good for you” doesn’t have to be boring, there are international flavors such as coconut curry, trip-tip Madeira, Greek salad, the Rio Bowl and the Mediterranean Bowl. Sandwiches include a hot steak melt, avocado cashew melt, chicken caprese melt or chicken muhammara (a spicy dip made with walnuts and red bell peppers).

To satisfy a sweet tooth, there are luscious acai bowls as well as shakes and smoothies sweetened with dates, stevia and monkfruit extract, and containing nutritious ingredients like spirulina and collagen. You also can enjoy a “Nice Cream” frozen dessert made with coconut milk, or try coconut chia pudding, or gluten-free cakes or brownie bites.

“We use only great ingredients,” Elcio Zanatta said. “Of course, it’s harder, but that’s our purpose. It’s easier to buy processed foods and just open a can and serve it. But we want to give our customers the same food we like to give our grandchildren.”

The Zanattas moved to Utah from Brazil. Elcio’s family was originally from Italy, and Mirian’s family is Lebanese, and the couple spent time in Europe. So they had some background in international cuisines.

Elcio Zanatta worked many years in Brazil’s clothing business before the family moved to the USA while their children studied at BYU. He ran his friend’s Brazilian steakhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for four years. After moving to Utah, they decided to open a business.

“I had been trying to eat healthy since I attended a Tony Robbins seminar in 2005,” Zanatta said, referring to the motivational/health speaker. “But there was nowhere to go out to eat. We wanted something delicious but healthy.”

Mirian Zanatta became the fledgling restaurant’s executive chef, creating the recipes.

The name “aubergine” is the European term for eggplant. “Aubergine has a nice sound, and it’s related to Mediterranean cuisine, which uses a lot of eggplant in things like moussaka,” Elcio Zanatta said.

They lived in Orem and decided to open the first Aubergine Kitchen near the local Sprouts Farmers Market, which offers natural and organic foods.

“We thought people would go to the Sprouts Market and then come to Aubergine, and we were right,” Elcio Zanatta said.

Since then, they have opened Aubergine locations in Sugar House, Lehi, Riverton, American Fork, Utah Valley University, St. George, Farmington and Park City, in that order. And, Zanatta said, they are considering expanding farther north. (A customer at the Farmington location requested a store in her hometown of Pleasant View.)

Elcio Zanatta’s personal favorite is the Mediterranean Bowl, “because it’s got a variety of vegetables, and I love falafel. Our falafel is baked, not fried.”

The Chicken Harvest Bowl, also very popular, combines roasted chicken, broccoli, cauliflower, yams, sweet potatoes, almond wild rice, shredded kale and chopped tomato, with a cilantro jalapeno cashew dressing.

A newer item is the Exotic Dip Plate — hummus, baba ganoush (made with eggplant) and muhammara (roasted red peppers and walnuts). It includes falafel and pita for dipping.

Most recently, Aubergine locations have begun serving breakfast, with options like acai bowls, avocado toast, overnight oats and veggie omelets instead of the traditional pancakes, waffles, hash browns and bacon.

“We try to offer food that our customers love, but in a healthy way,” Elcio Zanatta said.

To further spread its nutrition message, Aubergine Kitchen is sponsoring a health seminar with New York Times best-selling author Dr. Joel Fuhrman from 5:30-9:30 p.m. April 11 at the Utah Valley University ballroom in Orem. The price is $30, which includes a $12 Aubergine gift card. Registration can be found on the Aubergine Kitchen website.


Aubergine Kitchen

Location: 1076 W. Park Lane, Farmington (also eight other Utah locations)

Contact: https://auberginekitchen.com

Price: Bowls or salads, $13-$16

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday


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