Secrets of Slender Chefs

Here are 12 tips for preparing (or eating) a feast without overindulging.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

How do they do it? With all the svelte restaurant chefs, many people wonder how they manage to stay slim when they're around fabulous food all their working hours.

Many also wonder how to keep themselves from overindulging when preparing a feast for a holiday or party. To get the answer, WebMD asked some rather famous yet slender chefs around the country for their secrets.

Cat Cora, one of the "Iron Chefs" on the Food Network show Iron Chef America, is a self-described "sampler". She tastes food while cooking, which she says cures her of the urge to overindulge.

For Daniel Patterson, chef of Coi restaurant in San Francisco, it's a combination of a fast metabolism and an active lifestyle. Patterson's 16-hour-workdays are fueled by a substantial sandwich for lunch, and supper around 4:30 pm.

"I eat whatever I want to eat, but I eat lots of vegetables and I watch my sugar intake, not for calorie concerns but for general health reasons," says Patterson, author of the cookbook Aroma. He also exercises, playing tennis and riding a stationary bicycle.

Geno Sarmiento is chef of Son'z Maui at Swan Court at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. He says that when he's working, he is constantly on the go, burning up plenty of calories.

"We also 'taste' every menu item rather than sitting down and having a full meal," adds Sarmiento.

An active, vegetarian lifestyle does the trick for Annie Somerville, executive chef of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco.

"I eat small portions -- lots of leafy greens, whole beans, grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables," says Somerville, author of Everyday Greens. "I don't eat processed foods, and I eat very few sweets."

Somerville also enjoys all sorts of sports, from swimming in the San Francisco bay, to rowing, and riding her bike.

12 Tips for Fixing a Feast without Over-Indulging

How can you stay slim, even while preparing (or eating) a feast for a holiday or party? Try these tips from the experts.

  1. Don't be starving when you cook (or go to a party), suggests Cora, author of the cookbook Cooking From the Hip. It's best to prepare your feast when you're comfortable (not hungry and not full).
  2. Eat a healthy snack beforehand, adds Cora. If the snack is high in fiber, it will help keep you feeling full longer.
  3. Don't waste precious calories on dishes you aren't crazy about. At parties and during the holidays, we're surrounded by a plethora of foods. So you can afford to be choosy.
  4. Remember, the first 5 bites rule! When you sit down to the big meal, start with small portions, Somerville suggests. We get the most flavor and enjoyment from the first 5 bites of any dish. So really savor the first few bites of the foods you're most excited about tasting. If you sampled a particular dish while preparing the feast, you may want to move on to something else when it's time to sit down for the meal.
  5. Cut calories where you can. When you're cooking, cut calories in places people are less likely to notice. For example, make your stuffing with a bit less fat, and bake it in the oven instead of letting it absorb all the drippings inside the turkey. Mash potatoes with fat-free half-and-half and flavor with roasted garlic or herbs instead of using a stick of butter and a pint of cream. When whipping up salads, use a light dressing, light mayo, or fat-free or light whipped topping instead.
  6. Don't drink your calories. Balance out any extra food calories you may take in by choosing mostly zero-calorie beverages. Try club soda with lime, brewed coffee, or flavored teas. And when you're cooking, enjoy sipping a hot cup of tea. It will keep your mouth and tummy momentarily occupied.
  7. Take a walk. Don't blow off exercise when your social life gets busy, especially around holiday time. "The holidays are often stressful, so get some exercise," urges Somerville. You can even fit a power walk in on the day you are preparing a feast. Time it for when you're waiting for the turkey to cook or the rolls to rise. All you need is 30-45 minutes, and the fresh air will do you good.
  8. Serve fruit and vegetable platters. For easy munching, have fruit and vegetable platters set out in the kitchen -- both for the guests and for the hard-working cook. Having some fruits and vegetables out not only helps keep the cook's mouth busy, it helps guarantee that everyone gets plenty of nutritious produce that day.
  9. Leave room for dessert, suggests Somerville. You know you want it, so plan for enjoying dessert at the end of the feast. If there are two desserts and you'd like to taste both, try a sliver of each.
  10. You don't have to try everything! "Just taste at the party; and remember you aren't obligated to taste everything," Cora says.
  11. Don't pile the food on your plate, recommends Cora. Use smaller plates, when possible, and don't fill them to the brim.
  12. Offer more courses, each with small portions, suggests Sarmiento: "Your guests will enjoy the variety, and the digestion process will benefit by the extra time between courses."

Published November 17, 2006.


SOURCES: Daniel Patterson, chef, Coi restaurant, San Francisco; author, Aroma. Cat Cora, "Iron Chef" on Food Network's Iron Chef America; executive chef, Bon Appetit; president and founder, Chefs for Humanity; author, Cooking From the Hip. Annie Somerville, executive chef, Greens Restaurant, San Francisco; author, Everyday Greens. Geno Sarmiento, chef, Son'z Maui at Swan Court, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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