Two fat chefs slim down

Updated: 2013-08-07 07:17

By Mark Hughes (China Daily)

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 Two fat chefs slim down

Celebrity chefs Harlan Goldstein (left) and Eduardo Vargas work hard in the battle against bulge. Provided to China Daily

Perspiration flies around the boxing ring, as the thwack of gloved hands collide. Temperatures rise although tempers do not. The sparring partners could not be more different.

One is a short 108-kilogram chap. The other is even shorter, far slimmer, much fitter and more skillful. Looking on and awaiting his bout is another man, taller but equally generous around the midriff.

What these two heavyweights have in common as they put themselves through a grueling, rather than the more familiar grilling, regime - is that they are both chefs. Not ordinary chefs, but Michelin-starred chefs with restaurants in China.

The taller man is Harlan Goldstein, who earned his first Michelin star at Gold, before returning to his New York roots and opening Strip House, a retro-style steakhouse invoking the atmosphere of the 1940s.

Both establishments are in Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong.

Over the water and further north, in Shanghai, Peruvian Eduardo Vargas has overseen a string of showpiece eateries, currently running Azul Tapas Lounge, Azul Urban and Ceviche.

Vargas at 44 and Goldstein at 52 had simultaneously realized their love of food was putting their health and ultimately their lives at risk prematurely.

Vargas was staying for a month in an attempt to instill a complete change in lifestyle.

Goldstein was staying for just a week with an added dimension to his big challenge. He's locked in a weight-loss bet with fellow Hong Kong Michelin-starred cook and long-time friend Alvin Leung, also 52, after being surprised at how fat the other had become.

Leung, who weighed 110 kg when the contest kicked off in May, owns five restaurants, including the two-starred Bo Innovation in Wan Chai. Goldstein weighed 118 kg at the start and the contest ends on Aug 22.

The winner will be the one who has lost most weight in percentage terms. The most successful will donate HK$20,000 ($3,300) to charity and the loser will give HK$16,000 to the winner's charity and HK$4,000 to his own.

Goldstein chose Heifer International, which appropriately helps the poor and hungry. Leung selected Pink Alliance, which aids bullied pupils, and the Juvenile Diabetes Association, given that obesity and diabetes are linked.

As an added humiliation, the loser will have to serve dressed as a waitress at one of his robust rival's establishments.

Goldstein's sister's comments when last they met struck home. "You've achieved success but you're going to die from a heart attack unless you do something drastic," she told him bluntly. That now means still tasting his legendary dishes but not finishing the whole plate.

Vargas studied cooking in Toronto and Washington DC after following his family around the world - his father worked in mining. He has worked in Singapore and Hawaii. He studied business to help him develop a strong entrepreneurial base to his cooking ventures.

"Obviously I am passionate about food but I have had difficulty achieving a balance with my exercise," says the keen tennis player who has perspired his way through a specially drawn up program of diverse challenges to become a shadow of his former self.

"One of the reasons I wanted to come here was because of its restaurant DiVine. Normally I find it difficult to get inspired by weight-loss menus but I had heard great things about the kitchens here and the creative menu had some really intriguing ideas. I'm planning to try to recreate a few of them myself."

The epic-sized epicures were staying at Thanyapura Sports Hotel, tucked in at the foot of lush mountains a 15-minute drive from Phuket Airport.

Top athletes from around the world have been lured there to finesse skills, get in the right frame of mind to win competitions and meet like-minded people in a tropical paradise.

Thanyapura offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool, fitness centers equipped with state-of-the-art machines, cycling, soccer, volleyball, basketball and rugby pitches, tennis courts, triathlon training, yoga, meditation, martial arts, boxing, Pilates, dance classes and a spa with diverse services all in a 23-hectare site.

Experts in all these fields and visiting consultants on acupuncture and chiropractics are on hand. There is a restaurant with dietary advice from a nutritionist. Every carefully concocted meal has its calorific level listed.

The chefs also benefited from Thanyapura's groundbreaking mental approach to performance sport and wellness, with its "master of mind over matter" Andrea Capellari.

"These sessions are designed to enhance the subject's focus by reducing and eventually eliminating subconscious habits, such as hyperactivity (restlessness) and hypoactivity (dullness)," he says. "Mindfulness and mental training are crucial for weight-loss programs and key to developing self-discipline, awareness, self-belief, confidence and motivation."

Goldstein says he was initially skeptical but really enjoyed the sessions. "I've been pretty stressed in Hong Kong trying to keep up with the hectic pace of the city so it is great spending a few days just winding down and taking in the scenery - and throwing myself into all the activities. It's been working - but I don't want Alvin to know the details. I'm in this to win."

But in case you are worried the regime is all work and no play, like any boutique hotel, it is possible to do as much or as little as you want. There's even free Wi-Fi.

(China Daily USA 08/07/2013 page9)