Chefs often work grueling hours in the kitchen under extremely stressful conditions, tasting much of the food they cook. It's not easy to stay slim under such circumstances -- but not necessarily for the reasons you might suspect.
True, some chefs are tempted to overindulge at work, but others are so busy feeding other people and so sick of what they serve that they rarely take time to eat full meals during the day. Starving by the end of the shift, they gorge on massive meals late at night and then drop into bed with a bellyful of food. This isn't exactly a recipe for good health. Several prominent Los Angeles chefs, however, have managed to avoid these professional hazards and get fit while working around food. Six of them share their secrets here.
Ritchey, 27, was overweight most of her life. By the time she moved to Los Angeles two years ago, she weighed 260 pounds and was a size 26. Like many chefs, she wasn't eating enough during long days at work, and when she did eat, it was all the wrong stuff.
"When you're around food all day, you lose your appetite," she says. "So many of us have coffee or soda in our hand all day and don't eat healthy, regular meals. We have too much to do. Then we scarf it down. I'd eat . . . Jack in the Box at midnight or 1 a.m."
The wake-up call came after she landed in the hospital for 12 hours because she was so exhausted and out of shape. "My prep cook took me to the ER," she says. "My veins had collapsed from dehydration."
Meanwhile, working next to a movie studio made her self-conscious about her appearance. "There were all these movie stars around," she says. "I remember people staring at me -- like, 'Look at the chef, what did she do, eat my dinner?' "
One day, she decided she'd had enough.
Her friend Jonathan Rollo, the owner of Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, encouraged her to try Barry's Bootcamp, a fitness program in West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, California, designed by instructor Barry Jay, whose workouts focus on high-intensity bursts of weights and cardio that change every minute.
"I worked out five days a week for nine months," Ritchey says. "The classes are really intense. They're supposed to burn 1,000 calories an hour. I would do an hour a day, sometimes two classes a day. I lost 100 pounds."
After the opening of Italian restaurant Murano, where she was executive chef, Ritchey didn't have time for organized classes anymore. So she started working out with a personal trainer twice a week and running three to six miles five or six nights a week. She dropped an additional 10 pounds.
"I ran the Turkey Trot 10K on Thanksgiving in under an hour in the rain," she says. "It's a great feeling to go from being that large and wearing a double-X chef jacket to a small."
Ritchey started eating three healthful meals and two high-protein snacks a day. She limits refined carbs, typically eating salads with 4 ounces of protein for lunch. While she still enjoys multi-course gourmet meals for dinner, she's careful not to finish each plate. "When you're shoveling food in, you don't appreciate it," she says. "My palate is much sharper now. I'm savoring the food."
Of the foods she has given up, Ritchey misses pizza and sweets the most. When she craves a pizza, she eats a healthful version with whole-wheat crust, soy cheese and turkey. To satisfy her sweet tooth, she drinks chocolate, almond and banana protein shakes.
But it hasn't been easy resisting temptation. At Murano, to test for quality, she had to taste each batch of cheesy risotto used for risotto fries, not to mention doughnuts and cheesecake. At times, it was torture limiting herself to just a bite.
"It's so hard -- a fresh, hot doughnut straight from the oven," she says. "There were definitely times after a workout -- I'm not going to lie -- there were a few days when I ate cheesecake for breakfast, maybe three times in a year and a half. But I made sure I compensated for it."
Keeping a food diary helped her stay on track, and she eventually lost all cravings for junk food such as burgers, fries and soda. "I haven't drunk soda in over two years," she says.
At 5-feet-7 and 150 pounds, Ritchey is still hoping to lose more. "My goal weight is 140," she says. "I haven't weighed that since the fourth grade."
Erik Oberholtzer: Chef-owner of Tender Greens, former executive chef at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, California