Healthy Chefs: How Chefs Lose Weight & Keep It Off
"When I worked in restaurants, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to add more fat per square inch of food," says chef Rocco DiSpirito. "I've poached fish in goose fat and added foie gras to butter." After his doctor told him he'd need medication for his high blood pressure and cholesterol, DiSpirito started cutting way back on saturated fat and sugar, experimenting with healthy ingredients and exercising. Ultimately, he lost 40 pounds and trimmed his body fat from over 20 percent to 11 percent. His cooking is a lot lighter now than it was in his restaurant days.
DiSpirito, who has shared his success on television shows like The Biggest Loser and in a new book, The Now Eat This! Diet, has reinvented himself as a weight-loss guru. But he's not the only chef who has managed to take off excess pounds and keep them off, even as restaurant food has become increasingly, unabashedly hedonistic. Whether motivated by a doctor's advice, their families' urging or just a competitive desire to keep up with line cooks in the kitchen, these chefs have completed triathlons, danced alone to Lady Gaga and trained in Korean sword fighting (a martial art), all in pursuit of healthier bodies. And, just as important, they've changed the way they cook. Instead of repeating the mantra "Fat is flavor," these healthy chefs extol the value of lighter foods—citrus, a pristine piece of fish, herbs—and search out new healthy ingredients and techniques. What follows here are lessons and recipes from eight newly slim chefs, including a burger master, a pastry star and a steak-house owner, who have all figured out how to add more taste, not fat, per square inch of food.
Video: Rocco DiSpirito demonstrates how to make Vietnamese noodle soup
Healthy Chefs: The F&W Diet
© John Kernick
1. Re-engineer your palate.
Atlanta chef Richard Blais jump-started his 60-pound weight loss by following a vegan diet for 30 days. He found that the month of healthy eating made him aware of how fatty, sweet and salty his food often is. That led him to create his veggie burger, which gets its meaty flavor from dried porcini mushrooms.
Video: Richard Blais demonstrates how to make veggie burgers
2. Go for smaller portions.
"I might order a 16-ounce steak, but I don't have to eat the whole thing," says Houston-area chef Ronnie Killen, who is 215 pounds lighter than he used to be. "I cut off four ounces and have the rest wrapped up." On the days he indulges at dinner, he'll compensate by, say, having a lighter lunch, like Black-Bean Turkey Chili.
3. Discover new ways to boost flavor.
To lose about 80 pounds, Manhattan chef Michael Psilakis came up with new ways to enjoy naturally healthy foods. He poaches garlic cloves in olive oil, for instance, until they become sweet and soft, like butter, then adds them to steamed mussels and creamy gigante beans.
4. Indulge once in a while.
By eating healthy but filling meals like his citrusy shrimp coleslaw, Dallas chef Kent Rathbun found room in his calorie budget for the occasional restaurant tasting menu—a strategy that helped him lose 70 pounds. Star chocolatier Jacques Torres, who has lost 20 pounds on Weight Watchers, can't resist chocolate for long. When he needs a fix, he opts for a bark made from antioxidant-rich dark chocolate (which has less sugar than milk chocolate), almonds and seeds.
Video: Jacques Torres demonstrates how to make dark chocolate bark
© John Kernick
5. Work out.
You don't have to be a triathlete like Rocco DiSpirito, but you must exercise. To avoid boredom, San Francisco chef Elizabeth Falkner mixes things up: She does yoga, kick boxing and Korean fencing. To fuel these activities, Falkner loves eating her energy-boosting, cardamom-spiced date bites. Washington, DC, chef Art Smith has a rigorous workout routine, but sometimes he just blasts music and dances instead. "I think I lost 85 pounds listening to Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance,'" he says.
Video: Elizabeth Falkner demonstrates how to make Morrocan-date bonbons
6. Eat more plants.
Chefs are lavishing attention on the pristine vegetables they source from farmers and foragers. Chef Jose Garces credits his weight loss in part to eating a more vegetable-centric diet. "There's less room for nutritionally unsound choices," he says. He makes a garlicky pisto Manchego—a Spanish tomato-and-pepper stew—to eat with eggs or fish.
7. Jump-start your day with breakfast.
Chefs often stay up late working and tend to sleep in, which encourages them to skip breakfast; then they get so hungry that they overeat later. That's why Art Smith makes sure to have breakfast. He swears by steel-cut oatmeal, which has an appealing chewy texture.