When Allison Adato began covering celebrity chefs for People Magazine, she found herself in a conundrum common to many New Yorkers: how can we appreciate good food without compromising our health? For her book "Smart Chefs Stay Slim," Adato asked just under 40 top-name chefs, some of whom have achieved stunning weight loss, how they maintain control with some of the world's finest cuisine within a tasting spoon's reach. Or, as Adato put it, how to "strike the proper balance between pleasure and caution." We asked her for tips on how to walk away from the table satisfied, not stuffed.
You make a great case for sharing entrees --- what are the benefits?
I like sharing, even when the plates are moderately sized, just because I want to taste a lot on the menu, and I don't necessarily want to eat an appetizer and an entree and dessert myself. Several chefs told me that that's how they eat themselves: Tom Colicchio talked about ordering just appetizers. He'll get two or three, and that makes a more interesting meal for him: more flavors, more tastes, better portion sizes.
Is it ever inappropriate to ask for a substitution, say, if you wanted salad instead of frites with your steak?
I don't think anyone should ever be intimidated by a restaurant to the point where they won't even ask: Can I have that with the dressing on the side? ... I think it's always okay to ask --- you may not always get the answer you want. A chef once told me, "You can take away whatever you want, but you can't add anything. That's why we went to cooking school."
What about asking for a takeaway bag?
If you eat the right amount of food and there's an untouched piece of chicken left, I think it's fine to take it away. And it gives you another meal. If you take home that piece of chicken, slice it up over salad, then you have lunch for the next day.
I was at The Dutch recently, and they give you a beautiful little loaf of cornbread when you sit down. We had taken one little slice, just to taste it, and I thought, "Man, that would be good for breakfast." When I asked the waitress, "May I have that cornbread wrapped" -- because obviously they were going to throw it away once we touched it -- she said, "We'll give you a full loaf."
Because you don't really need to eat a lot of cornbread before you eat dinner, right?
Right. Don't eat breakfast for dinner. That's actually one of my favorite tips in the book. When I look at that cornbread, as delicious as it looks, it's definitely better for breakfast.
What is your favorite dish in New York to share?
I love going to Otto, which is Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's pizza restaurant downtown. If I
go with my son and my husband, we might get one pizza, one pasta and one salad. And then we'll usually get the gelato, ostensibly for our son. [Laughs] Somehow we eat some of it, too.