Lafayette — Nestled between the funnel cake and kettle corn booths at the Festival des Acadiens et Creoles in mid-October was a booth serving quinoa, and it wasn’t even fried.
Wearing his chef’s uniform, John Panaro of Anne’s Table smiled to festivalgoers as he proudly described his healthful menu offerings, quinoa and hoppin’ John salads to name a couple.
“It was a great chance to do a little PR for the restaurant. The people were pleasantly surprised that we were there,” Panaro said.
Panaro is the chef-owner of Anne’s Table restaurant, and it’s been his mission to provide delicious and nutritious meals for active people at a fair price — even at festivals — where most of the items are calorie dense and nutrient poor.
His restaurant, at 740 Jefferson St. in Lafayette, has been open for more than a year and is named for his mother, Anne, who died from breast cancer at age 53. “It helps me think about her every day,” he said.
Panaro had been practicing healthful eating for years before her death, but he decided he wanted to help others from getting cancer or heart disease by offering healthful meals.
When customers come to his restaurant, they are able to see the list of ingredients in his menu items in a book on display in the dining room.
“I try to be extremely transparent,” he said.
He also grows his own salad greens and herbs in the backyard of his restaurant.
Originally from New York, Panaro earned a degree in chemistry from Curry College. He received his master’s degree in nutrition from Boston University after getting a scholarship for creating and selling a computer program called the P and P master diet that combined nutrition and fitness.
Panaro, also a long-distance runner, worked on the program with a computer-savvy friend as he was interested in finding out what his nutrition needs were to support his exercise.
He worked as an entrepreneur in San Francisco and developed a ready-to-eat, low-fat chocolate mousse for retail markets. He also worked as a marketing director at GeniSoy food products and eventually ended up in Louisiana working as a food scientist in Crowley, where he was charged with adding vitamins, minerals and botanicals to food and drink products.
After his tenure there ended, he began looking for a way to combine his love of science and healthful food for a living. “I was always interested in healthy eating and exercise and wanted to give myself a job,” he said.
And he wanted to stay in Lafayette.
”I love the culture, the environment and the close-knit French culture,” he said. “I also love the warm weather.”
Panaro said it took him a year to develop the restaurant’s business plan and create the recipes.
“My initial plan was to have a place for take-out, but I got a place with a dining room, so it’s a full restaurant,” he said.
As Panaro was creating his recipes, he kept the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, by the U.S. Government” in mind.
According to the guidelines, no more than 10 percent of our diet should be saturated fat and no more that 30 to 40 percent of our caloric intake should be fat.
Once Panaro had the formula, he created his soups, salads, sides, entrees, sandwiches, drinks and desserts.
He offers vegan choices, and all of his menu items are gluten free except for the whole-wheat bread sandwiches. Top sellers are the Shrimp Paella and Broiled Vegetable Medley with caramelized onions and an orange-rosemary sauce. Favorite desserts are an olive-oil, gluten-free cake and chocolate almond bark.
He was able to make an oyster soup that is tasty without butter or cream. “I sauté the shallots in olive oil and chardonnay to replace the butter,” he explained.
Panaro may participate in a few more festivals to promote his cause.
“I will always push healthy eating and try to get people to get as many fruits and vegetables as possible,” he said. “I’m thankful I’ve been able to use all my skills, education, and passion all under one roof.”
Anne’s Table is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call (337) 889-3832.