When old friends Harlan Goldstein and Alvin Leung met for dinner last May, they poked fun at their bulging bellies. The two chefs have physical sizes that match their culinary reputations, and the good-natured ribbing soon turned into a bet to see who could lose the most weight over three months.
For Goldstein, the challenge was nothing new - he had defeated a fellow plus-sized banker last autumn in a similar weight-loss contest, pocketing a hefty sum along the way, and was confident that he could do it again.
Since both are renowned chefs (Goldstein's restaurant, Gold, received a Michelin star this year, and Leung's Bo Innovation has two stars), they decided to turn the bet into a charity event that would be good for their health - as well as public relations.
Taking inspiration from heavyweight boxing bouts, their weight-loss battle would be settled at a public weigh-in event. The loser of the bet was required to donate HK$16,000 to charity, among other forfeits.
So it was quite the scene at Pure Fitness a fortnight ago, when the two chefs, both 52, and their entourages turned up for the weigh-in with some Rocky-like music playing in the background.
Considering the intense training the two had been through in the preceding three months, they felt they had every right to indulge in some theatrics.
Goldstein, who shed 12kg during his first weight-loss contest last autumn, by eating lean and doing high-intensity cardio training at Impakt gym, prepared for this challenge by returning to his trainer, Parfait N'Douda. His request: train me again, but with more intensity.
"We really pushed Harlan," N'Douda says on the day of the weigh-in. "No workout was the same; we put him through high-intensity compound exercises that used weights and gymnastic movements."
N'Douda estimates that Goldstein burned between 800 and 1,000 calories per session.
Leung spent the three months training at Pure Fitness with personal trainer Albert Ho and master trainer Kahei Tse.
Both chefs drastically cleaned up their diets. "I used to love eating rice and noodles, and that was all carbs, so I had to cut that out," Leung says. "I started eating mostly salads."
It was hard for Leung to stay motivated at the start, but seeing results in the mirror every day helped keep him on track.
Goldstein returned to the low-calorie menu he introduced at Gold earlier this year, which features lean turkey with quinoa, and organic vegetables.
"It was really tough for me to lose weight this time, since I had lost so much weight last time," Goldstein says. "I hit a plateau, which is normal for exercising."
He admits to being frustrated, but says the Impakt trainers kept him motivated.
"They really kicked my ass with kettlebells, crossfit training, and burpees."
On the day of the weigh-in, Leung and Goldstein's hard work was clearly visible, and there were some oohs and aahs when the chefs entered. They both looked noticeably slimmer.
As the crowd cheered, each took their turn on the scales. Goldstein's 17.5 per cent body weight loss (from 118.2kg to 97.5kg) trumped Leung's 15.3 per cent (110.3kg to 93.4kg).
Leung doesn't seem to mind losing. He says he feels healthier than he has in years, and the money he lost will go to a good cause. "I'm a diabetic myself, so I'll gladly donate the money to support the Juvenile Diabetes Association," he says.
Goldstein, who has now dropped nearly 38kg since his first weight-loss challenge, says he feels better than ever. "I am so much more energetic now, and my fitness level is so much better. I went from not being able to run for five minutes to being able to run 5k."
Leung says he will follow in Goldstein's footsteps and introduce a lower-calorie menu to his restaurants. "When I cook now, I use a lot less butter than before," Leung says.
Both chefs vow to continue their new lifestyle. Goldstein has taken up spinning classes, and Leung says he'll be getting an extra workout by waitressing at Goldstein's restaurant - that was the non-monetary part of the bet. "I feel and look healthy," Leung says. "So I will look good in a waitress uniform."