Jenny Morris
Jenny Morris
Siba Mtongana. Picture: Neil Baynes
Siba Mtongana. Picture: Neil Baynes

You’re a chef, surrounded by the best-of-the-best produce out there, with the ability to make it taste amazing. So how on earth do you stay slim and trim?

A recent survey of top international chefs lists small portions, healthy snacks and plenty of water as the healthy way to keep off the weight.

Reuters reports that Marc Murphy, of the Landmarc restaurant in New York, admitted he can nibble on up to two plates of French fried potatoes during a busy day at his restaurant.

To offset the additional calories, he refrains from drinking alcohol during the week.

“I try to do cleanses Monday to Friday,” he said during a panel discussion moderated by author Allison Adato at the recent New York City Wine and Food Festival.

Murphy also uses fresh herbs to cut the amount of oil and butter in his dishes, and reduces the temptation to over-eat at friends' restaurants, where extra dishes can flow freely from the kitchen by chefs eager to impress, by letting it be known he wants nothing extra.

It took a health scare for Art Smith, the owner of the restaurant Table 52 in Chicago, to change his eating habits. Just before his 50th birthday he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the illness that killed his father.

Since his diagnosis, the 52-year-old who occasionally works as the personal chef of President Barack Obama and television personality Oprah Winfrey, has shed 54kg by eating smaller meals, taking up running and boxing and eating healthy snacks.

“I keep almonds and apples around when I'm on the go,” he said.

Sue Torres, the owner of Suenos in New York, recommends a hearty breakfast to keep trim, and likes steel-cut oatmeal with different fruit toppings each morning.

Torres, who is known for her Mexican cuisine, also uses chili and other flavourful ingredients to reduce the amount of fat in her cooking.

“You could have cream and butter, but it's about portions,” the 39-year old chef explained.

Celebrity US Chef Katie Lee, 31, is also careful about what she eats.

“From Monday to Friday, I am very disciplined. I try to have 70 to 75 percent of my plate filled with vegetables. On Saturday and Sunday, I have more fun,” she said, adding that she also exercises like a mad person.

South African chefs have some of their own secrets for staying slim, while still taking pleasure in eating.

Many say spending so much time around food actually makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

“We are around fresh raw ingredients all the time, and through this you are able to understand the difference between healthy slow food or easy fast food options,” explains Jeremy Vermaak, executive chef at personal chef service

Celebrity chef and Food Network host Jenny Morris says using fresh herbs and spices brings out the flavour of food – without adding fat.

And she recommends lighter cooking methods, like stir-frying and steaming, which lock in food’s natural texture and flavour, while also preserving the nutrients.

“It is what I call ‘nude food’,” she explains. “I hate overcooked food. Fish should taste like fish.”

Fellow Food Network star Siba Mtongana says she uses olive oil instead of butter to cook, and adds herbs and spices like rosemary and garlic to the oil to zest up a dish.

Personal chef Neill Anthony suggests brushing meat with olive oil, rather than oiling the pan, or char-grilling for a smoky flavour.

Vermaak says he chooses fresh, high-quality ingredients, and avoids processed foods. “Before fast foods and convenience stores, we had hours where we felt hungry. This is normal,” he says. “If you are always satisfying your hunger there is a problem. We need to feel hunger. We are designed to be hunters and gatherers, not drive-through, microwaving slobs.”

Portion control is all part of the job for chefs, who taste their dishes while cooking, rather than eating full servings.

If you want to eat like a chef, fill your plate with small amounts of a range of foods, so you can enjoy different flavours and get a variety of nutrients.

“You are like a cow, so if you just graze all day that’ll limit the fat intake,” says Morris. “It is all about balance and moderation.”

Preparing gourmet meals can be quite a workout too, and the chefs agree that staying active is key to staying slim.

If logging miles on the treadmill isn’t your idea of a good time, find an activity that you enjoy, and and feel you can stick with.

Anthony’s five to six weekly workouts include hikes up Cape Town’s Lion’s Head.

Vermaak says he eats, breathes and dreams surfing, and also enjoys hikes, mountain biking and trail running.

Morris keeps active by maintaining her garden.

Anthony says chef’s attitudes towards fitness are changing, with celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux competing in several marathons. Diners have become more health conscious too, and chefs are responding to that demand for lighter foods.

Mtongana says: “There is a misconception that if you are a chef you have to be big-boned, which is not true. I’ve always been trim and I’ve always loved cooking.”

These fit chefs are proof that skinny cooks can indeed be trusted. - Cape Argus, Reuters