It's not unusual for chef Richard Blais to show up to a meeting wiping a little sweat off his brow.
These days, the "Top Chef: All Stars" winner likes to walk or run wherever he's going. In addition to gaining a true love for exercise, Blais has changed a lot of his old habits over the years, especially those pertaining to food. In 2003, Blais weighed 230 pounds. Today, 60 pounds lighter, he's preparing to run his sixth New York City Marathon.
From swapping ingredients instead forgoing his favorite foods, to maximizing the flavor-imbibing potential of a grill, here are a few hacks that help Blais maintain his weight and keep his whole family satisfied.
Swap ingredients, not entire recipes
Blais, who is a chef ambassador for Morton Salt, isn't shy about his love for the versatile flavoring agent, and he uses it in pretty much every savory dish he creates. Sugar, however, is a different story.
Lately, he's been avoiding it completely as part of a six-week challenge (maybe Hoda Kotb and J.Lo will join him again!). But that doesn't mean he's stopped using recipes that call for something sweet. Instead, he's been swapping dried dates and raisins for white sugar.
“I look at swaps more as what ingredients can be swapped for other ingredients," said Blais. "For example, for a salsa that calls for sugar, I'll char a tomato, pepper and onion on the grill and throw it in the blender with raisins and dates." While dried fruit (with no sugar added) should still be used sparingly, replacing sugar with dried fruit may provide added vitamins and fiber to a recipe.
Go green at least once a week
"My wife is a yoga teacher, so I always joke she’s one full moon away from being vegan," Blais said with a laugh.
One day a week, at minimum, he'll ditch animal protein and make veggies (or a vegan protein) the star of the show. He thinks many people would benefit from taking on this habit, too. Blais even tried going vegan for a month, but these days he's a true omnivore.
Instead of steak or chicken, Blais loves quinoa and says tofu is something he "doesn't mind" because it easily soaks up the flavor of a variety of sauces or marinades.
Get grilling and don't stop
One way to make veggies more appealing to the most carnivorous eater is actually pretty easy. Blais recommends grilling veggies for several reasons. "It kind of tricks your mind because you think, 'I eat hamburgers off the grill.'" The flavor from the char helps, too. His favorite vegetables to grill are eggplants and carrots because they both have a nice meatiness to them and can handle a variety of different seasonings.
"Nice, fat eggplant steaks grilled over some charcoal is a great meaty substitute," said Blais, who also recommends grilling blanched carrots.
Stock up on snacks and low-sugar sauces
Blais said he used to hate when people would advise him to pack nuts, raisins or a whole piece of fruit as a snack. "As a chef, that used to drive me crazy," he recalls. "But now, it's actually the food I crave."
He admits stocking up on healthy snacks sounds cliché, but he also knows it really works to help stave off cravings and prevent you from reaching for something less nutritious. Today, whenever the chef heads out, he always packs some type of dried fruit, walnuts, a banana and — something that surprises people — butter. "I know it's not something that most people have heard of but good, soft butter, kosher salt and a banana is one of my go-to snacks." The butter provides fat, which keeps him full longer.
When it comes to go-to seasonings, Blais had two easy answers.
“Hot sauce is a great store bought ingredient because there isn't sugar in it," he said. "Yellow mustard is also a favorite condiment of mine that’s compliant with the way I’ve been eating and living lately."
Blais uses both a lot in his recipes. But, the chef cautions, if you have young kids in the house, he recommends going easy on the spice.