Chefs' Unorthodox Diet Secrets

Food & Wine: © Jasmin Sun
Mission Chinese Food chef Danny Bowien. © Jasmin Sun
By Kate Krader Posted March 21, 2013
© Jasmin Sun

Mission Chinese Food chef Danny Bowien.

You don’t need me, or any chef in the world, to tell you the best ways to keep from gaining weight. They involve breakfast, balanced meals and exercise. Instead, I’ve become fascinated with the less obvious ways that chefs and other people who are constantly around food keep from packing on pounds.

Employ an Eating Double. Besides being surrounded by food at their jobs, chefs face other caloric challenges. Namely, when they go out to eat, the host chef will invariably send out endless plates of food (they call it “killing you”). Mission Chinese chef Danny Bowien brings his manager, Allen Yuen, with him when he goes to restaurants. “I make Allen eat everything they send out,” says Bowien. “He’s the closer.”

Fake the Alcohol. At some point even the most hardcore bartenders secretly stop drinking. An unnamed mixologist admits to having called ahead to bars to tell them not to put alcohol in his drinks; that way, his friends wouldn’t know he’s not drinking. Star chef Michael Chiarello (whose new Spanish restaurant opens on San Francisco’s Pier 5 this spring) has the same idea. After one or two gin and tonics, he asks the bartender to just give him tonic with lime, as it looks like the same drink but doesn’t pack any alcohol.

Only Eat Turkey-Bacon Burgers. By changing his burger habits, Erik Anderson, of The Catbird Seat in Nashville, lost 55 pounds last year. “Anytime I was going to have a regular burger, I had a turkey burger,” says Anderson, who ground in a little bacon with the turkey for obvious taste reasons. “Sometimes I switched it up with a chicken burger. And I made my sous-chef do it, too. It’s way easier when someone is in it with you.”

Go Vegetable Soup on Sunday nights. Everyone’s favorite Top Chef judge Gail Simmons makes a big vegetarian soup on Sunday nights, then eats it the one or two nights a week that she doesn’t go out. “My husband thinks it’s a conspiracy: The world is out to make me get fat,” says Simmons, whose Sunday night soup specialties range from kale and white bean to the Italian vegetable soup ribollita, which she makes without bread. “Citrus and parmesan help a lot,” advises Simmons.

Play with Your Pasta Maker. Every once in a while, Richard Blais, the chef at the terrific gastropub The Spence in Atlanta, goes gluten-free. “Farro is a big ingredient right now, and quinoa. Now that I have this pasta extruder, it’s very easy for me to bang out quinoa pasta now, or gluten-free pasta, which makes a difference. For my stomach, eating gluten-free every once in a while really helps me. The whole ‘fat is flavor’ thing—it’s definitely the way of the past.”

Eat a Little of Everything. “It’s all about taking only a bite of everything,” says Stephanie Izard, whose new Little Goat diner in Chicago includes a bakery and a menu’s worth of non-diet dishes. “I don’t think there’s any point in going to a restaurant just to order the steamed broccoli. If you want to get the truffled-mashed potato-mixed-medley-of-mac and cheese, or whatever you’re getting, do it. I order things just to eat Parmesan cheese. But I just have a couple of bites.”

Follow F&W Restaurant Editor Kate Krader on Twitter @kkrader.

Related: Healthy Recipes from America’s Fittest Chefs 
Healthy, Fast Weeknight Dinners 
Best Bacon Burgers in the U.S.

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