Friday, April 3, 2009

Can You Trust a Skinny Chef?

Chefs Cook up a Weight-loss Solution

By Kelly Carter, Special for USA TODAY

Kristi Ritchey bought into the stereotypical chef image — rotund belly, chin to spare — for a while. She started cooking when she was 16, went to culinary school and nine years later ballooned to 260 pounds and wore a size 26.
"Everyone says 'Don't trust a skinny chef,' " says Ritchey, 27, executive chef at Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in Beverly Hills. "Well, you know what? I also don't like being a chef people stared at and wondered if I ate their meal. It was becoming very uncomfortable."

And unhealthy: Ritchey's wake-up call came when a prep cook rushed her to the emergency room. Now down to 150 pounds on her 5-foot-7 frame, Ritchey is among a new wave of U.S. chefs proving that size is not indicative of their talent. Not only are some losing significant weight, but their emphasis on healthier living is reflected in their menus — which means their customers reap the benefits as well.

Since losing more than 90 pounds, including 60 on an 800-calorie-a-day liquid diet, Kevin Hickey, executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, has "definitely added on (healthier) dishes," including a frittata made with egg whites, turkey, tofu, asparagus, low-fat mozzarella and tomato sauce.

He uses cream and butter sparingly. Instead of pan-searing his whitefish, Hickey cooks it in a stew with white beans. The liquid diet has helped him in the kitchen, where chefs agree the No. 1 rule is to taste.

"But I don't have to swallow it," Hickey says.


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