Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Serious Reads: Smart Chefs Stay Slim, by Alison Adato

"Life is meals."

This is the powerful, simple message that Alison Adato leaves the reader with at the end of Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living from America's Best Chefs. The book discusses how men and women who are surrounded by food all day—whose jobs necessitate them to taste in excess of 4,000, 6,000, or even 10,000 calories a day—are able to maintain healthy lifestyles and a trim waistline. The book generally has a healthy outlook on proper eating: you should appreciate your food, don't deprive yourself, and embrace the many important meals that make up your life.

The book is organized into 92 lessons, each of which provides a tip or trick for eating better. Most tips have to do with the lifestyles of chefs themselves: "Smart chefs eat oatmeal;" "They have a routine;" even "They eat roast chicken." For her book, Adato interviewed 39 famous chefs and food celebrities, from Michael Psilakis to Joe Bastianich to Alex Guarnaschelli. She integrates the insights of all of these chefs into nicely-organized chapters based around how to eat. She is able to seamlessly wind together the thoughts and opinions of chefs who cook all types of cuisine and are of all shapes and sizes.

Indeed, the one uniting factor among these chefs is that all of them have struggled with their weight at some point—and have also succeeded in shedding those pounds. Adato emphasizes that she made a point not to interview twenty-something chefs whose metabolisms would allow them to stay trim no matter how many chocolate cake tastings they had to endure. Instead, she opted for slightly older and more experienced chefs whose insights into health and dieting come from true experience.

By and large, these chefs are not judgmental or prescriptive about diet—most of their philosophies can be summed up into some combination of exercising moderately, enjoying small portions of satisfying food, and allowing indulgences. There are some, like Joe Bastianich or Nate Appleman, who use extreme exercise as a means of controlling their weights. But most of these chefs are normal folk who use the same dieting techniques that any non-marathoning person might.

Smart Chefs Stay Slim accomplishes its goal of sharing helpful tips for dieting and weight loss, and also provides many inspirational tales for dieters who might feel overwhelmed or exhausted by the thought of making significant eating changes. I was a little concerned that at no point does Adato really question the use of weight and trimness as measures of health and dietary success. It's an assumption throughout the book that being thin is every chef's (and every person's) ultimate health goal, and that this goal is appropriate for all of them. But at the same time, chefs of all ages, genders, and weights are represented and each bring a different perspective on dieting. This book was encouraging and optimistic—plus it includes lots of delicious and healthy recipes straight from the kitchens of internationally-renowned chefs.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.

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