Diary of a Diabetic Chef: It goes against a chef’s grain, but self-control wins out

They say some people eat to live and others live to eat. Then there's the third group: chefs.

ken.JPGView full sizeKen Gordon, owner of Kenny and Zuke’s Deli, was diagnosed with diabetes early this year. He will keep a diary of his efforts to help treat his condition with diet and exercise.

They say some people eat to live and others live to eat. Then there’s the third group: chefs.

Chefs eat not for fuel, not just for pleasure — though there’s certainly an element of that — but because they must. Call it research, or oral fixation, or a profession that requires it. And if they get to eat something delicious — bonus!

If a chef sees something that is worth eating, he has to have a bite, at least. Doesn’t matter if it’s right after a filling meal or off someone else’s plate. Actually, most prefer it off someone else’s plate. And if it comes from one of the chef’s favored food groups — say, bacon or foie gras — then the chef may cross the room for a taste. Almost qualifies as a workout plan.

One of the bonuses of being a chef is eating at a friend’s restaurant or other restaurant where the chef is known. The chef usually gets special treatment, including tastes and other gracious offerings from their compadres in the kitchen. You’d think that — knowing this is a common occurrence — the chef would scale back what they ordered to accommodate the bonus calories. Perish the thought — that would mean shortchanging the restaurant on what the chef would normally spend, and look what they’d be passing up. So much good food, so few meals.

Most chefs snack constantly. It sounds like a pretty good way to eat — a nibble here, a nibble there, move around some, make entrees, burn up a few carbs, taste this, nibble that. Problem is, by day’s end the average chef has consumed thousands of nibbles and a ton of calories.

What I’m taking the long way around to say is that I’m a chef. And once you know that, you begin to understand that changing the way I used to eat because of my recent diabetes diagnosis — where no burger was secure, no French fry unmunched — to the way I now have to and do eat, borders on miraculous.

Passing up food goes against every instinct, all the years of chef training, the lightning-fast reflexes employed to spear the sole remaining meatball, the internal GPS system guiding me on the quest for the perfect slice or the best chili dog. “Sir, would you like some dessert?” Pass. “Look, honey, that drive-in says that they were voted best double bacon cheeseburger with fried onions, sauteed mushrooms and special sauce six years in a row. And their fries eight years!” Pass. Pass.

It’s just not the natural way of things for a chef. But neither is diabetes.

The new me — chef nouveau — has to give some thought to what I consume, something I’ve never done before. And you know what? It’s not so bad. Even enjoyable, in balance. If you don’t count the nervous twitch I’ve developed whenever around something particularly caloric and delicious.

As much as has been written about the first two or three bites of something being the most interesting and satisfying, the writers obviously never made it all the way to the last few bites of a hot fudge sundae.

But there’s something to be said for the joy and taste sensations that accompany self-control. I still eat bacon. Perhaps giving it up would be ceding too much to my Jewish heritage. Or perhaps my palate will only stand just so much deprivation.

I don’t much care — it’s delicious! But now I’ll only eat a slice or two, and only once in a while. It’s still just as delicious, and it’s become a treat rather than a staple.

Same with a lot of what I used to eat as a steady diet, and what helped me get to where I was writing a column about diabetes.

I find that not only am I enjoying more the foods that I love, but there’s a satisfaction in knowing I’m being virtuous and getting healthy. And acting a bit un-chef-like.

Any questions about Ken’s regimen or, well, anything? Email him at kgnyport@aol.com; you can also find him at facebook.com/chefkengordonor