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Food Network slims down

A chef with her own success story launches Cooking Thin.

By PAMELA DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 2001


A chef with her own success story launches Cooking Thin.

For the Food Network, whose most popular chef, Emeril Lagasse, has adopted "Pork fat rules" as his mantra, a new show about cooking lighter and getting leaner may signal the beginning of a new era at the cable channel.

Cooking Thin, which premieres Saturday, follows the stories of folks who face food challenges. Host Kathleen Daelemans, a chef who's conquered her own weight problem, shares tips on setting goals, removing temptations, planning meals and rewarding healthy eating habits, among other topics.

Until now, the Food Network didn't much concern itself with what happened to viewers after cooking and eating the food featured on its various programs. All the while the bellies of some of the channel's famous chefs -- Lagasse, Mario Batali and others -- appeared to grow a bit larger.

Tyler Florence, host of the Food Network's Food 911, says he has to put a lot of effort into keeping his weight down. He has a soft spot for ice cream and french fries. Florence, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, says his weight fluctuates by 10 pounds.

"If it's going to be a busy week and I won't have time to go to the gym, I'll seriously watch what I eat. If I can go to the gym I'll have some pasta every now and then. It's all about portion control."

Alton Brown, the host and writer of Good Eats on the Food Network, is the producer of the half-hour Cooking Thin. But Brown isn't in front of the camera on this show. Daelemans, 38, is the one who went from a size 22 to a size 8 and wants to help others do the same.

She accomplished her feat by eating the very spa cuisine she created for Cafe Kula at the Grand Wailea Resort in Hawaii where she worked for four years.

On the phone from Berkeley, Calif., where Daelemans (pronounced dale-mans) spends a few months each year polishing her culinary skills, she explains how she battled weight all her life. She doesn't blame her career choice for packing on the pounds.

"It was emotional baggage, stress, instant gratification, fast food nation America -- the same things that cause all of us to get overweight," she says. "I tried every diet on the planet. There was a time when I was very much trying to lose weight, but there was also a time when I just threw my hands in the air and said, "I don't care. I'm fat and that's it.' "

She describes the job offer to create spa food at Cafe Kula as her "wake-up call."

"I was like, huh? Spa food? I'm fat. I wouldn't eat that. I never heard of spa food."

With a lot of pointers from chef friends, Daelemans met local farmers, learned about regional fruits and vegetables and started working with grilled foods, legumes and salsas. She seared fish and pork tenderloin, and worked with the resort's nutritionist.

"I don't really know what "spa cuisine' is still to this day. All I focus on is clean food: smart use of high quality ingredients," she says.

Daelemans no longer sautes everything in butter or olive oil, but hasn't given up those ingredients totally.

"We have to have butter, olive oil and cake. What would life be without any of that? Those are musts," she says. "I definitely have all of it, but in moderation. Do I have butter on my bread every time I have bread? No. But when I'm in Berkeley and there's organic butter handed to you at a restaurant in a little dish, do you think I put organic butter on my Acme Bakery bread? You're darn tootin'."

Daelemans, who before Cafe Kula spent four years at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe and three years at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, has also put her practical advice into a book, Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen: 200 Easy Recipes for Healthy Weight Loss, due out in April.

The first episode of the TV series deals with a recently married couple, just out of college, who need help dropping their snacking and fast food habits. Daelemans' solution is to teach the couple how to make low-calorie versions of their favorite fast foods and start eating at home more often.

Her advice, Daelemans says, is everything your mother told you but you didn't listen to.

"These are all common sense tips. They're realistic, grab-and-go solutions to your health and fitness goals. It's stuff you can deal with and stuff you know. My niche is I'm like a crossover chef because I have this culinary background and can work at a restaurant, but I can also walk into somebody's home and show them how to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes. It's like I steal from the rich -- the culinary elite -- and give to the poor -- the rest of us."

What surprised her the most while visiting families for the taping of Cooking Thin were the unusual things folks have in their kitchens, such as power tools.

"Automate your kitchen like you automate your bathroom, and you can get dinner on the table in less time then it takes you take a shower," Daelemans says. "In the bathroom you're taking a shower, shampooing, conditioning, drying, brushing, flossing, putting on makeup, blow drying, combing, teasing, whipping and whirling. Look at all that. If those were all culinary tasks, you'd have Thanksgiving dinner on the table seven nights a week."

Daelemans wants to make sure her new show is fun to watch but says there's some good information in it, too.

"I know for the Food Network, it's about entertaining, but for me, it's about teaching," she says. "I spent my life miserable and totally sad and depressed when I was overweight. It's a very painful place to be, and nobody has to live there.

"There's an easy way out. Slow and steady wins the race. You don't have to be on a radical diet where you have to cut out carbs or sugar or fat. You just have to moderate. You have to eat a little bit less and move a little bit more. Moving is getting the mail and continuing your way around the block. The key is making little changes that you can repeat over time."

One of the first changes you can make, according to Daelemans, is to cook more often.

"Cooking is important because you control the calories you're consuming. It needs to be part of your life, but you don't have to cook seven meals a week," she says. "How hard is it to make a double or triple batch and freeze it? It's not that hard."

Like all of us, Daelemans has her own food challenges. For her it's ice cream. When she's craving it, she takes the time to portion it out, put it in a bowl, sit down and be present for the entire experience start to finish.

"When you go out in front of the world and say "I've lost weight,' that's a lot of pressure," she says. "Since taping the show, I've probably gained five pounds. I yo-yo, but it's 5 pounds, not 50 or 75 like it used to be."

Other newcomers

Other new Food Network series:

Cooking School Stories, premieres at 9 p.m. Oct. 1: A documentary style reality series that follows six people from diverse backgrounds as they complete their studies at one of America's leading culinary schools, Johnson & Wales University.

Sara's Secrets, premieres at 11 a.m. Nov. 17: Sara Moulton, host of Food Network's Cooking Live and executive chef of Gourmet magazine, gives viewers tips on how to create menus for any kind of group gathering.

30-Minute Meals, premieres at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 17: The show is based on the cookbook of the same name by Rachael Ray. Using only ingredients found in any well-stocked grocery store, Ray brings her easy recipes to completion in half an hour or less.

Keith Famie's Adventures, premieres in January with a date to be announced. (A special Keith Famie's African Adventure airs at 10 p.m. Nov. 12): Famie, the chef contestant on CBS' Survivor: The Australian Outback who had trouble cooking rice, now has his own show where he travels the world in search of the best food and most exotic locations.

At a glance

The Food Network kicks off its fall season at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with Cooking Thin.

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