How celebrity chef and 'Top Chef' judge Richard Blais lost 60 pounds

How chef Richard Blais lost weight. (Photo: Courtesy Richard Blais)

Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully. 

Weight-Loss Win is authored by Andie Mitchell, who underwent a transformative, 135-pound weight loss of her own. Today’s guest column is written by Kenneth Gee. 

This weekend Richard Blais will be running his fifth New York City Marathon. The celebrity chef, Top Chef judge, and James Beard-nominated cookbook author stands 5’9” and weighs in at a fit and sinewy 170 pounds. But not that long ago, when he was an aspiring restaurateur, he found himself shutting down a failing restaurant and packing a lot of extra pounds, partly due to the hazards of the culinary lifestyle, which can involve a lot of rich foods and not much exercise. Here’s the story of how he dropped 60 pounds and keeps it off without sweating too much about what he eats.

The turning point

When I was a kid, I was active and athletic and played a bunch of sports. But I did not have the proper nutrition side of things. I’d do things I would never recommend now, like making sugary cereal with heavy cream or eating a couple of breakfast sandwiches — a couple of them — on the way to school. I think the term for what I was is “husky.” If you’ve ever seen The Flintstones, I sort of had the Barney Rubble body shape!

My first job was at McDonald’s, where I was the poissonnier — the “fish cook” in French. I cooked the Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, and the first batch I sent out, I forgot to put the top buns on them, so I was being avant-garde well before I knew food was my calling. One of the benefits was, if there were any Chicken McNuggets left over at the end of the night, you got to go home with a 20-piece Chicken McNuggets. So I started my food journey just to get some chicken nuggets. I like fast food. I mean, you can eat too much of anything you like.

When you become a chef, you get used to tasting and eating throughout your day, without getting outside or moving around a lot. You work late, then you plop yourself in front of the TV with a whole pizza, a couple glasses of wine. You do that two, three, four months in a row, and you can find yourself pretty out of shape. At culinary school, I mean, I worked at some classic French restaurants, and you’re adding some butter and cream. They talk about the freshman 15 when you go to college. When you go to culinary school, you’re talking freshman 25. You start developing some habits that, if you add them up, five years down the road, pair that with being inactive, and that can be a dangerous thing. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve come back from that now.

Blais with his daughters. (Photo: Courtesy Richard Blais)

The changes
A big part of making a change and getting fit was courting my wife. We trained together before my first 10K. I actually ended up proposing to her after our first race together. It was a weird time for me. I was closing a restaurant that had my name on the door. I had these two really important things happening in my life — a business failure basically, and then the future love of my life in front of me. I needed both of those emotional things to happen to kick-start my change of lifestyle. Hopefully, not everybody has to go through the downside of that. But we do sometimes need a failure to bring out the emotion to inspire us.

The after
Running and fitness became a part of my everyday routine, and that’s so important. (Now I have to run 20 or 30 miles a week just to feel right.) So I turned a routine of a pizza every night into a fitness obsession. Then I was blessed and lucky enough, or perhaps talented enough, to win a television show [Top Chef]. And coming off that victory, I had this moment where I thought, “Hey, I can do a lot of things that I didn’t think that I could do.”

Finally, I had the opportunity to pair up with a charity and run my first marathon. The training for that was crazy — getting out there and running your first 26.2-mile race. And everything went wrong for me. I wasn’t hydrated. I cramped up. I sort of limped to the finish line. But it was one of these moments in my life that inspired me to run more and push harder.

 

The maintenance
Being a creative chef, I get the opportunity to work with different types of foods, and I’ve definitely fallen in love with vegetables and grains. Turns out that’s on trend right now. I’ve been mindful of not using a lot of fat and using lots of vegetables and grains. But that being said, one of the reasons I run is so I can eat whatever I want. I will be dreaming of eating a big dry-aged steak as I get ready to run my fifth New York Marathon. Knowing that after running 26 miles and walking a few afterward, I can eat whatever I want. … I definitely run to eat.

My latest cookbook, So Good, is definitely a reflection of the foods I’ve been cooking over the past couple of years, but I would not say the goal of the book is to create incredibly healthy food and training food. It’s really the food I’m cooking at home for my family or at my restaurants and adapting for the home cook. I think it plays out that the food is healthy and delicious, but not intended to just be healthy.


The struggles

It’s almost impossible for me to carve out a traditional training schedule, especially for a marathon, where it would be great to say I have to run 10 miles today. But I travel so much, and I have so many pans and pots moving, literally sometimes, that it’s just about running whenever I can. I’ll throw on some sneakers and run five miles here, seven miles, two miles. Sometimes I’ll run two or three times a day, three or four miles a run, so I can build up those muscles. But to me, that has become fun.

A lot of us struggle with finding the time for fitness. The fact is, we spend so much time on our phones and looking at social media apps. All that stuff is wonderful, and I’m a big tech guy. But if you tell yourself you don’t have 20 minutes to run during the day, maybe you’re making an excuse.

Advice
For everyone who is trying to get on the fitness train and make a change in their life and live a little healthier, pardon the pun, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It takes a little bit of time. The main thing that you need is some positive thinking, and you have to trust that if you do it for a couple of weeks and you get out there for 10 minutes a day, then 15 minutes, then 30, and you make the effort, it will eventually pay off. Then relax, know that you’re going to get that reward, whether it’s a little bit of weight loss or a healthier lifestyle that you’re trying to achieve.

Also, I think if you’re running, even for people who are running their first 5K, when you hook up with a great organization and you know that you’re running on behalf of other people, it makes it a bit easier and certainly inspires you.

Each marathon I’ve run I’ve had the good fortune to pair up with an amazing organization. This year I’m running for Room to Read, which promotes literacy and primary education, specifically girls’ education — I have two young girls in elementary school — and Room to Read is helping solve a global problem. More than 750 million people are illiterate, and over a third of them are young girls, so they provide books and libraries and mentorship to get people reading. I’m running not just for my own time goal or my own reward. I have millions of kids running with me, and I feel responsible, in a way. When I want to stop at mile 23, thinking about the good I can do by raising awareness keeps me going.

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