How Smart Chefs Stay Slim
If you were surrounded by all of the delicious food most chefs are—baskets of bread, decadent sauces, fabulous desserts—you’d weigh 400 pounds, right? Me too. Which is why food writer Allison Adato set off to find the magic behind how so many chefs and people in the food industry juggle delicious food and healthy bodies.In her new book, Smart Chefs Stay Slim (Penguin, 2012), Adato writes: “Chefs work long hours, eat irregularly, and are frequently tempted by an abundance of rich foods. Who among us isn’t working hard, fitting in meals, and often tempted by the abundance of food—both good and bad—that is everywhere? But the people who make their living with butter or duck confit or chocolate and still look amazing—they must know some secrets.” After interviewing chefs from Wolfgang Puck and Tom Colicchio to Rick Bayless and Cat Cora, here’s what Adato learned:
Secret 1: They eat the food they love.
But, writes Adato, “there’s a big
difference between eating only what you
love and eating whatever you like. Says Rick Bayless
host of Mexico: One Plate at Time and owner of Frontera Grill in Chicago, “When
you eat good food, it satisfies you and you don’t have to be gluttonous about
it. I’d rather have one bite of a great dish than fifty bites of a mediocre
That might seem obvious, says Adato, but start here: what did you have for lunch today? Often, we end up grabbing whatever’s near our office, in our kitchens, or available at a restaurant, just because we don’t have any great food handy. Her solution: surround yourself with the good food you love, and you’ll choose it every time. And when it’s not great, stop eating! Think of all of those mediocre restaurant meals you’ve forced yourself to eat, just because you paid for it. Repeat after us: not worth it.
Secret 2: They don’t feel guilty about eating.
Chefs don’t ban foods or food groups—they simply might eat some things less often, or in smaller portions. Alex Guarnachelli, celebrity chef on Chopped and owner of Butter in New York City, used to have a sip of whole cream every morning. The key here is that it was just a sip—and she didn’t feel guilty about it for one single moment.
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Secret 3: They are picky eaters.
After speaking with the world’s best chefs, Adato realized there was good reason to be a little snobbish when it comes to food: skinny chefs eat only the best chocolate—and only the best food. “Once I started thinking of myself as the kind of person who eats only the best chocolate," she writes, “The great wall of candy bars at the grocery checkout became all but invisible to me.”
Secret 4: They know exactly what they want to eat.
“When you deny yourself what you’re craving in favor of something you believe you’re supposed to eat, you’re only left wanting,” explains Adato. Pastry chef Jacque Torres—who lost 30 pounds—knows that if he’s craving, say, a baguette and cheese for dinner, sometimes he’s better off just having it. Otherwise he’ll eat a healthy dinner—and then go eat the bread and cheese.
Secret 5: Smart chefs are aware when they eat.
Food Network regular Chef Michael Symon estimates he consumes between 4,000 and 6,000
calories each work day—most of which come from tasting tiny, tiny bites of
sauces, desserts, and sides as he constantly checks that everything is perfectly
seasoned and delicious. But to keep those bites from turning into pounds, he has to constantly pay attention.
“It’s something you have to be cognizant of all day long,” says chef Michelle Bernstein of Miami. “If the pastry chef comes in with three new dishes, you taste them—but you remember you tasted them.” Later, you can cut back in other ways. And even though we don’t have to taste like chefs, explains Adato, we do still have to be mindful of all of those little bites, snacks, and on-the-go tastes we eat—at cocktail parties, while prepping dinner, or samples at the grocery store.
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Secret 6: They don’t avoid the bread basket—they make it breakfast.
One of the favorite little tricks Adato stumbled up involves that diet buster, the bread basket. Television chefs Marc Murphy and Naomi Pomeroy both avoid filling up on bread before dinner. But in a good restaurant, that bread can be rather delicious. So they (and now Adato) always ask to take it home for their breakfast the following morning. This helps them avoid the temptation to chow down, since they know they’ll try it later (and enjoy it more, when it’s the centerpiece of the meal).
Secret 7: They know you never enjoy those last bites as much as the first.
Thomas Keller, the culinary star behind fine-dining meccas the French Laundry and Per se, believes that “It’s best to stop eating a dish when you still want more of it. The most compelling portion of a dish is the first three or four bites. With the first bite you’re getting into it, by the second you start to realize it, and it is at the third or fourth bites that you get maximum appreciation and pleasure from that dish.” Adato compares it that tenth spoonful of ice cream or umpteenth tortilla chip—fine, but never as good as the first few.
Secret 8: They don’t always have three square meals a day.
Chef Andrea Reusing, of the Lantern in North Carolina, was always tasting and trying not to snack during the dinner service. But she finally just decided to give in—taste and eat what she wanted—but not sit down to dinner afterwards. The tasting became her dinner. Chef Marcus Samuelsson echoes a similar idea—“There are a lot of people in the world who don’t eat breakfast-lunch-dinner –breakfast-lunch-dinner,” he says, “And they’re in great shape.”
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Secret 9: They don’t snack.
Top Chef regular Eric Ripert, who grew up in France, says that he never saw people snacking until he moved to America—there was no popcorn at movies, chicken wings at football games, or doughnuts with coffee. “After talking to the chefs, I realized that snacks (including coffee and tea) are not accessories!” says Adato. When she focused solely on meals, they were more memorable: “Meals stand out in starker relief if they aren’t indistinguishable bumps in an all-day food graph.”
Secret 10: They stop eating after 20 minutes.
“Sit down to a meal and savor it and
eat for 20 minutes,” says Iron Chef Cat Cora. “If
you’re still eating after that, you’re no longer hungry. It’s really about
other things. Maybe your palate wants more, or you think you’ve got to finish,
or other people are still eating.” Not that you shouldn’t sit, enjoy, converse
for longer than 20 minutes—you should! But just stop eating.