Despite being the author of “Smart Chefs Stay Slim” ($26, New American Library), Allison Adato never meant to write a diet book. “I started by just wanting to explore how chefs eat,” says Adato, a senior editor at People magazine, who was curious about whether the chefs prepared haute cuisine for their families, what they chose as snacks and how they stocked their home kitchens.
While interviewing 40 of the country’s top names in food — including several behind D.C. restaurants — Adato found that their strategies for keeping weight down could come in handy for anyone. The main rule they all seem to follow is the title of the first chapter: “Eat What You Love.” For people whose passion is food, deprivation isn’t a realistic option. But sticking with proper portion sizes is.
Chefs also don’t waste calories on stuff that just happens to be around, says Adato, who’s applied that lesson in her life. “I don’t need to eat a doughnut at work because someone brought them in,” she says.
And you won’t find her tossing away broccoli stems now that she’s learned from chef Thomas Keller about the joys of eating veggies “nose to tail.” He’s put Swiss chard ribs on the menu at Per Se, so there’s no reason to dump them down the disposal at home. Besides, shopping for good ingredients becomes more affordable when you’re using all of them.
Any money you save can go toward chocolate. Adato’s favorite tip came courtesy of Eric Ripert, whose Washington outpost is West End Bistro. He has a habit of eating a little chocolate every day. Even a square can satisfy your sweet tooth, and the better the quality, the less likely you are to overindulge. “If you buy a $10 chocolate bar, you’re not going to scarf it down,” Adato says.
Just ask Art Smith, the former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey and the owner of Art and Soul on Capitol Hill. He dropped 120 pounds through diet and exercise, but he still enjoys dessert. Teaching that balance has become a mission for Smith, who penned the forward to Adato’s book. “All these chefs need to teach the rest of America to get their act together,” says Smith, who’s added healthy items to his comfort food menu. “I’m not saying you need to run away from fried chicken, but you should give people a choice.”
Smith sometimes overdoes it with calories, like when he gets a craving for a Good Stuff Eatery burger with fries and a milk shake. But he always gets back on track the next day with a meal of oatmeal and an egg-white omelet.
Breakfast is also a ritual for Susur Lee, the owner and chef of Thomas Circle’s Zentan. He told Adato that every morning he digs into a bowl of his homemade muesli to wake up his digestive system and get energy for the day. It’s lower in sugar than the boxed varieties available in most stores.
But the best part of the no-cook recipe to Adato is that it’s something anyone can make, even if you’re not a chef.
Susur Lee’s Muesli
1 cup raw oatmeal
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped (or sliced)
1/2 cup raw walnut halves or pieces
1/2 cup raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup raisins
Makes roughly 18 quarter-cup servings
Mix ingredients together. Serve a portion (1/4 to 1/2 cup) in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of Greek yogurt, a splash of milk and a small trickle of honey. From “Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Living and Eating from America’s Best Chefs” by Allison Adato. Reprinted by arrangement with New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Allison Adato, 2012.