Phillip Dell lost 92 pounds and ended up winning $10,000.
Dell, owner of Sin City Chefs, competed on the May 30 episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped,” which was subtitled “Cook Your Butt Off” and featured four contestants who had done just that. They shared their stories and competed in the preparation of items from a mystery basket.
Chefs have an extra challenge when it comes to maintaining a lean profile because tasting food is part of their job description. But it clearly can be done, as Dell and other local chefs have proven.
Dell said he’s still not sure how the show’s producers found out about him and his weight loss. He was working with a client during lunch when his mobile phone rang. When he listened to the voice mail, someone was inviting him to be on the show.
“All I know is that they did,” he said, “and I’m ecstatic.”
Because of that $10,000, no doubt. But also because he sees it as another way to inspire others to find a healthier way of life, which he already was doing in his business.
Dell said he’d been overweight most of his life.
“As a kid I was always husky,” he said. “I never wore regular jeans.”
Between his junior and senior years of high school, he lost some weight and was a little fitter. He managed to maintain that in college.
“But then I got out and that’s when things started to go bad,” he said.
A native of Traverse City, Mich., he was working in Lake Geneva, Wis.
“I drove past Burger King every day when I went home,” he said. “It was 2 in the morning. I’d supersize, eat that and then go to bed.”
Add to that at least a dozen cans of cola a day, free soft drinks at work and some depression-eating prompted by personal issues, and he ballooned to 220 to 230 pounds — on a 5-foot 2-inch frame, with a 44-inch waist.
Things changed after Dell moved to Las Vegas in 2005. After living here for about a month, he looked in the mirror one morning and took in the rolls hanging over his waist.
“That’s it, I’m done,” he remembers thinking.
“I went cold turkey,” he said. “A lot of people say they’re going to do this and going to do that, and they end up not doing all of it, and they fall off. I completely changed my diet, 100 percent.”
He cut out all those soft drinks and increased his water intake to about a gallon a day — sometimes two gallons a day now. He also eliminated simple carbohydrates, such as white flours and pasta, from his diet.
“I actually kind of remembered that I had a background in nutrition science and started using it,” he said. “Every time I craved something, I figured out a way to make it a healthier version without removing any flavor.”
Temptations definitely abounded.
“When I worked at the Wynn, I was an assistant pastry chef, with 150-quart bowls of cookie dough,” he said. “I’m a sucker for cookie dough. You want a temptation, that’s it.”
The key, he said, was determination: “You put it in your mind, ‘You know what, I’m going to get healthy and nothing’s going to stop me.’ ”
BODY SENDS A WARNING
Bryan Dillon, corporate executive chef for Station Casinos, lost 50 pounds in much the same way as Dell, but his motivation was different.
“I lost my dad at 52,” Dillon said. “I was 52 in January. I needed to beat that.” Dillon himself had undergone “a bunch of angioplasties” and had stents.
His daughter, Courtney Bliss, had graduated from college as a dietitian and started a food blog.
“What she did was take normal, common, everyday items and make them healthier,” he said.
Dillon, who’s 5 feet 10½ inches tall, weighed 296 pounds.
“I work basically over the resorts and the corporate offices and all the steakhouses, and I also take care of the ownership,” he said. “And so basically, my life revolves around tasting. I had gotten out of control. We’re always striving to find the best-quality product. We’d be tasting steaks three days a week.
“I thought I was getting exercise because I was walking the hotels constantly, but it wasn’t sustained. I wasn’t getting my cardio.”
Dillon started doing some real walking — four to five miles, at least five days a week. Since losing 50 pounds, he’s been wearing a 20-pound weight vest while walking.
And he changed his diet.
“When you’re a chef, you can eat anything in the world,” Dillon said. “If I wanted a steak, I’d go cook a steak and wind up eating three-quarters of it. When you’re talking about a 20-ounce bone-in New York strip, there’s only so much your body can take.”
Now, he said, he’ll have yogurt in the morning, with some granola made by his daughter, and dried fruit for snacks.
“I make space in my diet for tastings,” Dillon said, “but I’ve had to learn all over again what a tasting means: One little taste and push it away.
“It doesn’t mean I can’t eat what I want; it just means I have to eat sensibly,” with a higher percentage of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, arranged in four to five small meals a day, accompanied by as much as two gallons of water a day.
WILLPOWER VERSUS TEMPTATION
Kim Canteenwalla, chef/owner of Honey Salt, also knows about the temptation of tastings. Canteenwalla and his wife and business partner, Elizabeth Blau, also have a restaurant-consulting business, and he travels frequently. Travel alone is a dietary land mine — all that airport food, and off-schedule eating — but their business makes it worse.
“When I’m traveling, I’m opening other restaurants and I’m in other cities and I’m checking out their foods,” he said. “You really have to pace yourself. When you go into places, there are a lot of chefs that want you to taste things. You don’t want to offend them, but you have to draw that balance. I’m trying to find that balance.”
Canteenwalla, who’s 5 feet 11 inches tall, lost 25 to 27 pounds a few years ago.
“It becomes a bit of a struggle to really stay with it,” he said. “For a little while I slipped off it, and I’m back on it.”
He said he does best when he’s at home, where he can stick to a more regular schedule. He also swears by juicing and drinks a lot of liquids to kill hunger pangs.
“It’s really challenging,” Canteenwalla said. “It’s really willpower and mindset. I’m also taking the approach where, if I really, really want something, I’m going to take one or two bites and walk away from it. Maybe I’ll go back to it, but hopefully I’ll get distracted.”
REVENGE IS SWEET
As for Dell, after losing the first 50 pounds he started working out, eventually with trainers.
“That’s how Sin City Chefs was born,” he said. “I would take meal plans trainers were giving their clients and make them really awesome.”
He works as a private chef but also does classes, one on one and as team-building exercises, as much or as little as the client wants and needs.
“People are more intrigued now in how to cook properly,” he said. “The key for me is to help those in that situation, to make them better one bite at a time.”
His rewards have been many, and they include revenge sweeter than any cookie dough. Especially after he got into bodybuilding.
“Phillip’s going to be dead by the age of 30 or be bald,” Dell said he often heard in high school.
“I went back to Traverse City and walked on the beach for the first time without a shirt on,” he said. “All my classmates in high school were like, ‘Holy crap.’ ”
He decided he wanted to compete for Mr. Grand Traverse in 2007.
“I was way out of my league, but I didn’t care,” he said. Then in a competition before the big event, he came in third. He flew back to Traverse City and on his 30th birthday, stepped onstage with 5 percent body fat, and “more hair on my head than I had in high school.”
“It was,” Dell said, “kind of my nod to all of those haters.”
¼ cup oat flour or whole-wheat flour
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
¼ cup canola oil
3 pounds firm but ripe peaches, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract, or to taste
1½ tablespoons oat flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
For topping, combine the ingredients in a medium bowl and work together with a fork or with your fingertips until moistened.
For the filling, combine the peach slices, lemon juice, honey and spices in a large bowl. Add the flour and toss to blend.
Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer the apple mixture to the dish. Sprinkle the topping over the apples. Bake until the peaches are tender and the topping is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Notes: You can use any firm fruit in place of the peaches, such as apples, pears or plums. You may need to adjust the syrup, depending on the ripeness of your fruit.
Sugar-free sweeteners may be used, if desired. Adjust to suit your tastes.
For added fiber and added texture, leave the skin on the fruit.
— Recipe from Phillip Dell
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.