Back of the House

Flay, Guarnaschelli, Humm Stay Fit With Boring Routine of Diet and Exercise

Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

The balancing act between a love of great meals and a trim waistline is a struggle any foodie must face and a topic the New York Times Magazine explored in this weekend’s look at the debate over the benefits of exercise. But if the average person struggles with this, how do food professionals meet this challenge? Unfortunately, they don’t have any weight-loss secrets, as a panel on this so-called “foodie’s dilemma” revealed on Saturday. As part of the Times’ first Health and Wellness Day, Bobby Flay, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Daniel Humm spoke to a crowd at the TimesCenter, revealing that chefs have to abide by the same guidelines of diet and exercise as the rest of us.

Moderated by Frank Bruni, whose memoir extensively addressed his own body-image struggles, the panel shared their past experiences with unhealthy eating and tips on how they’ve struck the right balance in their daily lives. Flay spoke of cutting portion sizes, Humm admitted he eats less at his restaurant Eleven Madison Park, and Guarnaschelli, chef at Butter, actually uses less butter in her cooking these days. But exercise also matters, and as the svelte chefs onstage reminded us, staying trim has as much to do with breaking a sweat as with eating better. Read the highlights below to find out how these chefs manage to indulge their love of food without packing on pounds.

Struggles with weight:
Humm: “When I was 19 years old I was a competitive cyclist in Switzerland, and I was on the Swiss national team. Over [the next] ten or twelve years, exercise was not as much part of my life as when I was young. I was never way overweight, but I definitely saw that I was gaining weight.”

Flay: “I think I weigh about 170, 172 right now, and I’ve weighed between 170 and 190. I was exercising less and eating without abandon.”

Guarnaschelli: “I gained about 75 pounds when I had my baby, and my baby was [only] eight pounds, fourteen ounces. I’ve lost about 55 pounds in the past two years.”

Eating in the kitchen:
Guarnaschelli: “That can be 600 to 800 calories if you taste everything, and it’s just a drive-by, SWAT team check on what’s going on; it’s a bird’s-eye view. My emotional state will dictate how much I decide I need to taste.”

Flay: “We have to taste the food, it’s the thing that we have to do. Now the bites are much smaller when I have to taste the food.”

Humm: “You have to be able to experience the experience you provide to your guests. I go to all the stations and taste them all, from the vegetables to the sauces to the foie gras to small pieces of everything else.”

Examples of past excess:
Flay: “When I first opened Mesa Grill, I would go out with Mario Batali and a host of other chefs, and we’d go to Blue Ribbon. We’d order a couple bottles of wine, the fried chicken would come out, then a plateau of shellfish would come out. We would just sit there for hours drinking and eating until three o’clock in the morning, literally two or three times a week. It was a bad idea, for lots of reasons.”

Guarnaschelli: “I had a job years ago that really made me unhappy, and it was in a steakhouse, so I decided that it was only I that could work the fry station. And I would say, ‘One crabcake for me, one crabcake for you, one crabcake for me, one crabcake for you.’ And then I’d move on to the onion rings. I was buying elastic pants.”

Exercise routines:
Humm: “I just started [spinning] recently, and what I love about it is it gives you a very hard workout in a very short time. It’s an hour, you give it your all, and you move on with your day.”

Flay: “I find that running burns the calories the most. The elliptical machine doesn’t do anything for me. Riding on the stationary bike, I mean, I read the New York Times when I’m on that. It doesn’t give me that vicious sweat that I’m looking for. When I have my heart rate up and I’m dripping, I know that I’m burning calories and it’s good for my health in general.”

Guarnaschelli: “I work out with a trainer four or five times a week. I don’t know how people do without it. For years I did spinning classes and stuff like that, but I need that added discipline of knowing that someone’s waiting for me.”

Healthier approaches to eating:
Humm: “It’s important that you taste all the food that’s necessary [in the kitchen] on a daily basis, and for me, that has become my meal.”

Guarnaschelli: “I’ve never cooked with so little butter because when I make a menu now I think, How would I feel if I ate this, or if I cooked this at home and I ate it, how would I feel?

Flay: “When I’m working, I don’t sit down and have dinner anymore. When I’m sitting down for a meal in another restaurant or at home, I eat three quarters of what’s out in front of me as opposed to all of it, which I would always do. I haven’t stopped eating anything. I still eat carbohydrates, and ice cream is one of my true loves.”

Practical advice:
Flay: “I like to think of it in the big picture: eat better, eat basically whatever you want as long as it’s healthy, eat in moderation, eat less, work out, and feel better. You have to go to the gym. Believe me, I hate the gym. I hate it, but I know it’s going to make me feel better the next day. Fitting into clothes always makes you feel better. I do it because I have a beautiful wife who’s nine years younger than me and I don’t want her to throw me out of the house.”

Guarnaschelli: “Anything that says you can go on a diet by going to the supermarket and buying all the low-fat foods is really a crock. My mantra is if you want to lose weight, you have to stop eating [so much].”

Flay, Guarnaschelli, Humm Stay Fit With Boring Routine of Diet and Exercise