"Many top chefs have discovered some surprisingly tasty ways to keep the pounds at bay. [Their] tantalizing suggestions [are] put forth in Smart Chefs Stay Slim, a new book detailing the eating strategies of today’s culinary superstars." -- OPRAH.COM

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3 Qs for: Melissa Perello

The chef-owner of Frances in San Francisco is an inspired cook in her restaurant—or around the campfire with her dog, Dingo.

photo from SFWeekly


What are your favorite pursuits outside the kitchen?

MP: I try to ride my bike. I snowboard. And I really like camping and hiking in Mount Tamalpais state park or Point Reyes or Big Sur. More often than not, it's just myself and my dog. I bring a book, a cookbook, my diary and just veg out.

Any thought of a campfire cuisine cookbook in your future?

MP: I've been toying with that idea. That's the funnest part for me, getting creative and cooking outdoors. The last thing I did was a roast chicken in a big metal pot [over the campfire]. It was roasted with kale, potatoes, lemon, marjoram and garlic. Dingo enjoyed it as well—he's a little bit spoiled.

Do you actually cook from cookbooks sometimes?

MP: For me, a recipe should be a source of inspiration. My mother is an amazing cook, but she'll grab a recipe from a book or magazine that she is excited to try and she's hellbent on cooking it specifically to the recipe—exact ingredients, exact amounts. I'm always harping on her to do a little of this, a little of that, change it up. The more acclimated you feel doing that, then you're able to go to the market, grab a handful of ingredients that look beautiful and really sing to you, and bring them home and inject them into whatever you want to cook.



3 Qs for: Tom Colicchio

A New Jersey native, a boxing fan, and an erstwhile vegetarian-for-a-year, Tom Colicchio is the chef-owner of the Craft restaurants and Colicchio & Sons (of which he has three: a teen, a toddler and an infant) and the head judge on Top Chef.


Q: Do you ever modify a dish for yourself to make it lighter or what people think of as "diet food"?

TC: I don't understand "diet." You can eat anything. Maybe I'm not going to roast a chicken with butter, but I'll use olive oil. I think it's about eating less. Have a smaller portion, cut out extra fat: I've stopped eating butter on bread and putting milk and sugar in my coffee. I'm eating fewer white things, but I haven't cut them out.

Q: Why did you take up boxing?

TC: I've been a boxing fan my entire life. My parents were both fight fans. I have to work out, or I have a tendency to put on weight. I was a competitive swimmer from 10 to 17. In my 20s I ran 4 to 10 miles a day. I used to play a lot of basketball until I broke my elbow on the playground in Battery Park. Boxing is a great workout, but you're [also] learning something. It's like a little chess match.

Q: What's always in your home kitchen?

TC: My wife does the shopping. We shop online and also get a delivery of organic vegetables every week, so whatever shows up, I cook with. If I'm catching fish, there's fish. There's always cheese, olives. It's not that exciting. There's no time at home for fancy food. Last night I got home from work and had cheese, crackers and Fresca. I love Fresca.



Imagine no decisions... 

I've been on vacation, at a wonderful place in Maine where my husband's family has gone for decades (I'm a relative newcomer with only 12 summers so far). Besides the lake and the kayaking (and this year, paddleboarding) and the music and the mountains and the trees, there is wonderful food. Wonderful not only because it is beautifully prepared (and the Maine lobster is plentiful) but because at this resort there is virtually no decision making at meal time. I find this extremely relaxing. I love cooking, I really love eating; I abhor figuring out what to make. There was a story this past week in the NY Times that suggests many people feel this way, as they are paying services not to deliver food or cook for them, but simply to tell customers what they should make and eat -- they are paying to have their decisions made for them.roast chicken by A. Helm

I thought I might try offering this on the blog. Not a pay service, but once the school year starts I'll post what I'm planning to make for a few days running in the hope that it might save someone else from having to stare blankly at a stack of cookbooks or a partially empty fridge. Would this be helpful? Feel free to comment below.  Meanwhile, enjoy the waning days of summer.


Memories: Guacamole at the graduation party

I'm at home in New York, listening to Jonathan Schwartz's radio tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, who died earlier this week. A little "Chorus Line," a little nobody-does-it-better Carly Simon, and of course Barbra singing "The Way We Were."

For some reason, I'm reminded of avocado. When you grow up in Southern California, as I did, there are a lot of avocados in your recollections. I'm thinking this time of guacamole, which I think we consumed by the gallon in high school, at a graduation party which was hosted by one of my classmates, David Liebling, at the Malibu beach home of his uncle, who happened to be Marvin Hamlisch. I recall a rather clique-fractured class coming together in a beautiful location, and playing games on the beach for a late afternoon and evening, before we went off on our ways in the world.

When I first moved to New York City in the last millennium, it was hard to find a good avocado; now it's no problem.  I like them in the morning spread on toast instead of butter. (So does Tom Colicchio, for those keeping track of the Smart Chefs connection here...)  And I still love guacamole. Here's my own recipe:


3 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and roughly smashed

1 medium red onion, very finely chopped

1/2 tsp. chili powder (or to taste)

juice of 2 limes (or 1 lemon)Photo: "Live, Eat, Run"

hot sauce to taste (Tabasco works great)

generous sprinkle of sea salt

Combine everything, stirring until uniform, but still chunky. Taste and adjust seasoning and heat. Serve with raw vegetables -- red pepper strips, carrot sticks, jicama, etc. --  for dipping. 

(Yes, you can serve with chips, of course. But dipping vegetables is a way to keep this favorite in my life without making it a calorie explosion; plus I'm always looking for ways to get more vegetables into a meal or snack.)


Chefs Behind the Lessons: Art Smith


Have you seen Art Smith on "Top Chef Masters"? He looks ah-maze-ing! If you caught him last time he competed on the show, you probably remember a hilarious, charming, big Southern teddy bear of a chef -- at about 325 pounds. This time around, the chef-owner of Table 52, Southern Art and Art & Soul still has that unmistakeable charm, but he's 125 pounds leaner.  I loved seeing him Wednesday on the season debut, and pleased that they touted his incredible transformation. He goes into detail in "Smart Chefs," about how he changed his eating, started exercising, and eventually reversed his diabetes symptoms.  Here's some of Art's story from the foreword to "Smart Chefs," which the chef himself was kind enough to write...


In my years as a chef, I’ve made Hummingbird cake for Lady Gaga, dirty rice for the Dalai Lama, chicken with pomegranate sauce for the first George Bush, and a Valentine’s Day dinner for Barack and Michelle Obama. I prepared countless meals for Oprah Winfrey as her personal chef and served my fried chicken to ballrooms full of Hollywood luminaries—and let me tell you, I’m not being proud when I say that they loved me for it. Everybody loves a chef, because everybody loves food.

But the most important meal I ever cooked wasn’t for any of these big names. It was for just me.

It was a bowl of oatmeal with berries, and some egg whites scrambled with zucchini. The first time I ate that breakfast I weighed 325 pounds and had recently been given a diagnosis of diabetes, the disease that would take my father from me too soon. Chef Art, before (photo: Bravo TV)

I knew I had to make changes, but even though I’d expertly prepared thousands of meals for other people—many tailored to their diet specifications—I had never given much thought to how to feed myself in a healthful way. If the boss said, “Art, I need steamed vegetables, I need a grilled piece of fish,” that’s what I gave them. But I never actually connected the good choices I was helping them make, with how I could improve my own poor habits. I knew other chefs who struggled with their weight, and some chefs who stayed fit—I just didn’t know how the second group managed it, since all the chefs I knew seemed just as passionate about great food as I was, and still am.

Someone, in my case a health coach, needed to say, “Art, eat oatmeal. Eat berries. Eat egg whites and vegetables.” So I did. Now, more than one hundred pounds lighter, I still have that same breakfast virtually every day. I’ve run marathons and in 2010 married my love, Jesus Salgueiro, wearing a suit that was smaller than the one I wore for my high school graduation.

Chef Art, today (photo: Bravo TV)

The moral of the story is that while the motivation had to come from within, I still needed some inspiration from outside. That’s what I hope this book will do: inspire you. When I heard that Allison planned to tackle the very question I once puzzled over, I decided right away I wanted to be part of this project, and share what I now know to be true: that you can be fit and enjoy wonderful food."


Excerpted from "Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living from America's Best Chefs" by Allison Adato, foreword by Art Smith (c. 2012)