Change the cycle of life
In August 2008, Andrea Oschetti was riding high in the corporate world, frequently living out of a suitcase and, at 99kg, had a host of health problems, including a bad spine and liver.
Three years on, the 38-year-old Italian is two weeks into a 3,200-kilometre expedition along the Silk Road for charity, living out of bicycle panniers and as fit as a fiddle.
'I did sport when I was teenager, but the corporate world's routine of sitting all day, client lunches and dinners, and living in planes and hotels led me to be overweight,' says Oschetti, who moved to Hong Kong nine years ago. 'I was unhappy with myself but somehow managed to live with this health failure despite the success in other parts of my life.'
He finally plucked up the courage to leave his management consulting career that August to follow his passions - food, photography and sport. The following year, he ran the New York City Marathon in a personal-best two hours, 57 minutes, one second, and continues to race, he says, as an excuse to travel around the world.
A private chef (www.cuoreprivatechef.com), photographer (www.theworldinaphoto.com) and triathlete-explorer, and with a postgraduate degree in business administration and a master's degree in anthropology, Oschetti is indeed a man of many talents.
How did the career change help you?
The first thing I wanted to do was to get my health back. It came in a surprisingly pleasurable and easy way with a detox holiday in Kamalaya, Koh Samui, which focused on body cleansing rather than calorie intake. At the end of it I lost five kilograms, felt energetic and had an appetite for exercise. My taste for food changed, and I was eating plenty, healthily and without feeling deprived of the food I like.
I started running. Three months later, I ran my first half marathon. I loved it and a passion for racing developed. Three years on, I am a competitive triathlete and runner. I've never had a bad back since, my liver functions are perfect, and I'm fit and look young.
People say: 'Never trust a skinny chef'. What do you think?
I would say the contrary: trust only a skinny chef. Cooking with tonnes of butter, eating all you can and neglecting your health are just not cool any more. Eating healthily and palate enjoyment go hand in hand. I do love wine and food, and I always spend long hours at the dining table with my wife and friends. But I do not diet. Eating per se does not make you fat.
I choose the freshest ingredients, which are cooked with techniques that preserve nutrients and condiments, supporting the main taste rather than masking it. The only nos are prepackaged food, deep-fried food and soft drinks. I choose menus that are balanced, and I pair my nutrition with exercise I enjoy.
What's your typical breakfast, lunch and dinner?
I start the day with a mug of peppermint tea and muesli mixed with home-squeezed apple or pear juice. I snack on fruits in the mid-morning, and for lunch I'd go for a small dish of spaghetti, simply cooked with fresh tomatoes and seafood or pesto. In the evening, I'd have a juicy piece of meat or fish with a handful of vegetables. Oh, and ice cream; I have a sweet tooth for ice cream and I find it is always the right moment for one.
Has your healthy lifestyle influenced the dishes in your private kitchen?
Absolutely. Calories are not born equal, and when I compose menus, I favour the good ones and cut off the bad ones. For example, do you know that all low-fat products have more sugar content than their full-fat counterparts? Fat is needed by the body and should account for at least 20 per cent of our food intake, while sugar is the number one abused food in the modern diet.
My chocolate truffle cake, considered by many to be the best they have eaten, has 10 per cent of the sugar content of a normal recipe.
What's your secret to looking good?
When I started doing the things I enjoyed most, people told me I looked younger. I think it is about passion, about putting your heart into what you do. I do a lot of sport because I like it, not because I have to stay in shape. When I run, I feel the same joy as children who run for no apparent reason; I do not suffer through it for the sake of looking better.
When you love something, it's easy to sustain it. You eventually fall off commitments that are sacrifices. Do you know that 85 per cent of people who diet do not experience weight loss in the long term?
If you could cook for any four people, who would they be?
Mum, dad, my wife, Sandy, and myself. Family cooking is at the centre of Italian cuisine: it is not an exercise in impressing others, but an effective way to love your nearest and dearest and be loved. There is always love at the base of any Italian meal.
Follow Oschetti on his Silk Road expedition at www.fioreblu.com, and donate to his cause, the Sports for Hope Foundation.