Spray-on flavor that hits the spot

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Healthy eaters long ago embraced spray-on butter, but will they do the same for spray-on bacon?

Renowned chef David Burke is betting consumers will. He is the inventor of the David Burke Flavor Sprays marketed as containing zero calories, zero fat, zero cholesterol and zero carbohydrates. The flavorings, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, fall under three categories: classic, exotic, and sweet and sinful. The offerings range from smoked bacon to chocolate fudge and are being billed as an alternative for those desiring to shed pounds but hesitant to surrender taste.

"My barbecue spray is better than regular barbecue sauce because it contains no sugar, no fat and no calories," Burke says. "For the person who wants the flavor but not the fat, it's an excellent option."

Burke previously developed a line of spice sheets to wrap around meat and fish, as well as Gourmet Pops, which features varieties such as a salmon-cream-cheese mousse and capers-and-scallions- stuffed smoked salmon on a stick.

Burke, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and became the first non-Frenchman ever to win France's highest cooking honor, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Association medal and diploma, glories in the concept of kitchen as lab.

"Flavors are food perfumes," he says. "There is an exciting world where culinary arts meets technology that many people are unaware of. I have such a curiosity and I try to bridge the gap between everyday foods and the culinary creative end."

That fusion between high-end gastronomy and practical taste comes courtesy of Burke's more than 20 years in the industry. Always eager to learn, he supplemented his knowledge by working in and learning his way around a flavor house, a company that can create and manufacture flavors for anything from foods and beverages to medicine and toothpaste.

It was that background, he says, that he relied on to produce his flavors. He says he worked developing his spray concept for more than eight months, inspired by the idea that people shouldn't have to sacrifice taste in the quest to be more health-conscious.

What emerged was his line of sprays containing flavor compounds similar to extracts. "It's basically water, salt and a sodium benzoate, which acts as a preserver," Burke says. "But the taste is very close to the original."

Craving a bacon-and-egg sandwich? No problem. Burke says to just spritz a bit of the bacon spray on your egg and you can enjoy a guilt-free breakfast. Dress up steamed broccoli with a squirt of parmesan-cheese spray and spice up baked chicken with some Memphis barbecue flavor.

For a sinless dessert, Burke suggests a spray of chocolate fudge on some whipped topping. "It's easy, it's vegetarian and you can have fun with it," says Burke, who adds that his kids are using the sweet sprays instead of sugar on their morning cereal. "One of my employees is vegetarian and she used the spray and said, 'I can't believe I am eating bacon on my zucchini!' "

Renata Weiss of Warwick, N.Y., has had great success taking a cue from Burke. She says she happened upon a press release about the product while searching online for diet aids and now more than six months later has lost almost 60 pounds.

"I just incorporated the spray into a low-calorie, low-carb diet," the 36-year-old says. "I've always had a weight problem so I am constantly on the lookout for something that will help." She lists the teriyaki, barbecue, banana split and chocolate sprays as some of her favorites and says she would love to see a peanut butter spray added to the list.

She's still a few pounds short of her goal, she says, and plans to spritz her way to her ideal weight. "It's healthy, there are so many variations you can use with the sprays that you don't get bored and it works for me," she says.

"Instead of dressing on my salad, I give it a squirt of bacon and that takes the place. You don't really miss the actual food because you are still chewing and eating something."

Sean Pomper, director of operations for Burke's company, says they are working to meet the demand for new flavors from customers like Weiss. Coming soon will be sausage and peppers, balsamic, birthday cake, cola float, Key lime pie and a variety of fruit flavors.

The response has been tremendous, he says. "People have been thanking us," says Pomper. "They say that they are having fun and sticking to a diet, which is often mutually exclusive."

Pomper has himself fought the battle of the bulge and reflects that after having tried just about every diet out there, he was excited about being involved in the launching of something new and unique. "It's a fun niche that has really taken off," he says.

Pomper says the company is also developing a line of sprays for kids. He envisions a day when mothers will be able to get finicky kids to eat their vegetables by masking the taste with french-fry spray. The benefit of having Burke at the helm of such inventions is that he really understands the importance of taste, Pomper says. "What is better than having a chef develop a diet?" he asks.

In addition to courting new customers, Pomper says the company also has been donating bottles to hospitals for patients, such as those suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, who have a loss of muscle control and may be unable to swallow. For a person being fed intravenously, the sprays allow them to taste the foods they may never be able to consume again, Pomper says.

"The sprays have also become very popular with those who have had gastric bypass surgery," Pomper says. "We are hearing from them that it really helps them to not feel deprived."

Word-of-mouth has quickly spread and the flavor sprays have garnered an endorsement from nutritionists and certified personal trainers Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, who bill themselves as "The Nutrition Twins." The sprays also have caught the attention of Time magazine, which named it one of the best inventions of 2005. Burke says he is working on a cookbook and his Web site, flavorspray diet.com, offers recipes as well as menu suggestions.

The possibilities for flavor sprays are limited only by the imagination and the customer's desire, Burke says. And as for those who may be critical of a non-food, food product, the chef says the future is now.

"It used to be that using a bouillon cube was considered cheating in the culinary world," says Burke, who is also working on a line of sauces and dressings. "People want something that is simple to use that is going to help them live healthier and this is it."

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