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Published: Saturday, 11/28/2009

Former chef changes his ways, shrinks his waist

After the standard hello, how have you been, and the weather update, the next step in conversation is often "What have you been doing?"

When it comes to seeing Todd Biggs for the first time in several years the answer was obvious. Todd has been dieting, big time. I always like to hear how such dedicated folks lost the weight, even though I don't run home, clean the cupboards of favorite foods, and begin anew with low-fat, low-sugar, or low-salt items. This time I may follow some of Todd's tips, especially now that Thanksgiving dinner is under the belt, literally.

Changing careers from chef to day trader was a major challenge for Todd, but losing 82 pounds was an even greater accomplishment.

Discussing his new lifestyle is show and tell with Todd, who spent most of his adult life in Toledo restaurant kitchens and for 11 years was co-owner of the Restaurant in Sylvania. It is debatable whether the average person who is hopeful of losing weight would be willing to make the same drastic cooking and eating changes. As a chef, he also has heads-up on the average person in recipe development. Since our chat I have a new attitude about overripe bananas and may never eat salty potato chips again.

Todd divides his time between Toledo and Lake Norman in North Carolina and spends more hours in front of the computer as a day trader on the Chicago stock market than he does at a stove. By following his original weight-loss formulas he says he can prepare meals in advance for a week in two hours, including breakfast burritos.

The 82-pound loss and a reduction of a 44-inch waist to 32 was the result of a yearlong rigid diet program, supported by workouts. Gym visits are two-hour sessions four times a week, with one hour each on a treadmill and lifting weights.

Todd looks at foods differently in the new eating plan. For example, he sees overripe bananas as sugar. "When bananas are 19 cents a pound I buy a big bag and freeze them." Thawed and pureed they serve as a sugar substitute in baking projects. One mashed banana is about three tablespoons of sugar.

Powdered protein, or whey, is a mainstay in the cupboard. "I want the whey to be everywhere in my life," he said, adding that he tosses it into many foods. Vanilla whey is used as a protein supplement in cookies and unflavored whey goes into soups, sauces, and stews.

Some healthful specialties are made in quantity. The protein bars that he sells for $1 each are made of dried fruits, including raisins, cranberries, and dates, bound with egg whites and unsweetened cocoa powder. A batch of 20 burritos is made with boned chicken from a whole roasted bird, a quart of scrambled Egg Beaters in olive oil, a large bag of cooked broccoli, and cheese. The mixture is spooned onto flour tortillas, wrapped in waxed paper, and frozen. "Each burrito costs about 63 cents and cooks in three minutes in a microwave," he said.

Todd admits that since he has lost weight he has felt better and his skin has a glow, but dieting can get boring. One solution is to have on hand several vinegars to enhance mundane flavors. You can buy many flavored vinegars, or you can make them, Todd advised. He begins with a gallon of cheap white vinegar and adds the flavors.

One example is to put lots of fresh herbs, a cinnamon stick, and two garlic cloves in the bottom of an empty ketchup bottle. Pour in two cups of warm vinegar and let it ferment before using.

Markouk is Middle Eastern paper-thin bread that was new to me, but now it is a staple in my kitchen. It is sold at the Toledo Market on Dorr Street with six sheets to a package. The bread takes well to seasonings. Smart Balance, a suggested healthful spread; olive oil, goat cheese, and garlic take well to the thin sheets. Placed on a cookie sheet, it bakes brown and crisp in a 350-degree oven in about five minutes and can be broken up into make-believe potato chips.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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