A model chef who ate to lose weight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2011, 12:00am

We've heard it all before, those flab-to-fabulous stories of miracle diets, gastric bypass surgery and intensive workout plans that have shrunk people from a size 16 to a six. But have you heard of the one about the 18-year-old obese boy from London who kept eating to lose weight - and didn't step into the gym once?

Neither had I until I met Daniel Green a fortnight ago at Kowloon Shangri-La's Angelini restaurant, where the celebrity chef whipped up a one-night-only healthy Italian dinner for hotel guests.

This former model once packed 92kg on his 1.76-metre frame, the result of a junk-food diet that began in his early teens. The turning point came one day at a downtown shop, where the biggest pair of trousers available was still tight on him.

'I suddenly realised that if I carried on this way, I'd have to go to a speciality store to buy my clothes,' says Green, 41, now a trim 70kg. 'I felt that was a disability ... I had to do something.'

So, he hopped on the fat-free diet trend of the '90s - ironically, counter-intuitive to the high-protein, low-carb plans of today - giving up McDonald's and pizza for pasta and potatoes.

It was boring, uninspiring and bland, says Green, but the kilos did begin to drop off.

A holiday to Thailand, however, was what really tipped the scales in his favour. There, he discovered a cuisine that agreed with both his taste buds and his waistline.

'I was having things I never had before, like tom yum goong soup, and I thought, wow, this is what I can eat. And it was just brilliant, and it inspired me,' says Green. 'Most people come off diets because they don't like the food they're on. I was actually having better food, so there was no reason to go back.'

For the next three years, he continued eating well but healthily, whipping up 'amateurish' meals at home inspired by recipes from cookbooks and magazines.

Enjoyment eventually turned to passion and - then working full time in retail with Benetton and modelling part time after losing nearly 30kg - he began making more 'sophisticated' food.

Over the following three years, he hosted dinner parties and catered as a hobby. He would document his recipes with photos, compiling a collection of his favourite dishes that helped him to lose weight.

In 2000, Green answered a call by Good Food magazine looking for 'the next Jamie Oliver', motivated by the desire to share his creative healthy recipe ideas. He won the competition, which earned him a magazine feature and television show reel. One thing led to another and 11 years later Green has written six cookbooks, appeared on and hosted a number of cooking shows on major British television networks and is now based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the US, where he hosts daily shows on ShopNBC as well as his own cooking segment, Kitchen Takeover.

So what does he say are the main culprits when it comes to poor diet? First, processed food, which is becoming more prominent in Asia; Second, a lack of thought and planning about eating properly, which leads to poor choices.

'And lastly, it's not focusing on really good food you like,' he says. 'So diets cannot be sustained and you just take the bad option.'

That's why he bases his craft on modern, flavourful, healthy food with as little fat as possible. On some days, however, he does indulge, giving in to his cheese craving with a huge pizza and buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese. His diet philosophy, after all, is 'what you do on average'.

'You have to have a day off,' says Green. 'You have to have a meal once a week that you absolutely love and enjoy, so you never feel like you're restricting yourself.'

Daniel Green on ...

The best meal he's ever had

'It changes all the time, but one of the best restaurants I've been to in recent times is La Beaulieu in Bangkok, by chef Herve Frerard. That was brilliant French food.'

His recipes

'They're very easy to prepare, because my background is not from a culinary school and ... it's not like I'm selling a restaurant that serves food at US$500 a head and then people realise it had just three ingredients and was so easy to make.'

Going to the gym

'I'm very active. I don't walk; I run. I'm always moving ... I've just never been [bothered] to go to the gym, but at my age I probably should start thinking about it.'

What his last meal will be

'Foie gras, steak tartare with French fries, a plate of oozing French cheese, and champagne all the way through. And if I did that every day, it would be my last meal.'

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