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Pants-Shedding, Smack Talk and Weight Loss: Behind the Scenes at the Taste of Hope Gala

[Photos: Tim Ebner/]

It's hard to be an in-shape chef. Within arms reach, there are the carbs and fats, sugar and salt — and that's not even mentioning the weird eating and sleeping habits most chefs have. For anyone in the restaurant industry, a true dinner, if any, usually comes around midnight or 1 a.m., and it's generally followed by some late-night drinking.

"Let's face it, we're all fat," Kapnos' Mike Isabella said. The Top Chef contestant and DC restaurateur had no problem admitting that he has a weakness for Italian subs, especially the ones at his G Sandwich shop. But in the last three months, he's been able to shed the pounds by competing in a Biggest Loser style competition with 15 other DC chefs.

The Fit for Hope competition was actually pretty tough and involved some smack talking, Isabella said. Together, the group lost about 400 pounds with the help of workout coaches and nutritionists. The biggest "losers" came down to three finalists: Rogue 24's R.J. Cooper (42 pounds), Restaurant Eve's Todd Thrasher (almost 50 pounds), and Pizzeria Orso's Will Artley (more than 70 pounds). The final weigh-in coincided with the American Cancer Society's Taste of Hope gala dinner at DC's Carnegie Library last night. In addition to losing weight, the chefs raised $40,000 in funds for cancer research, while also serving up small bites from the city's expanding food scene. Eater DC was there; welcome to Hangover Observations.

1. How they did it: Everyone seemed to have their own secret for losing the weight. Bryan Voltaggio said taking care of three kids was exercise alone, but also said getting up early to workout helps. Cooper did Crossfit and said he's working toward getting his weight beneath 200 pounds for his next goal. Artley said he couldn't have done it without his soon-to-be-wife, Kimberly. She just so happens to be a food nutritionist and has turned him onto juicing. Restaurant Eve's chef Ryan Wheeler met with his trainer routinely. And Thrasher? Well, every pound counts apparently. He took off his pants at the final weigh-in, so the scale didn't pick-up on any extra weight.

2. The kitchen effect: Do the new habits transfer over to the kitchen? "You bet. It's all about serving a balanced menu," Artley said. At Pizzeria Orso he's offering a kale salad, which also happens to be his new favorite food. But it goes beyond healthy eating. At his restaurant he makes sure to cater to specific dietary habits, like vegetarian and vegan.

3. What they missed: "The hardest thing to give up was the bourbon," Cooper said. He went without drinking for much of the challenge. Chef Frederik de Pue from Azur and Table, like most others, said he couldn't resist chocolates and cheeses when placed in-front of him. The Source's Scott Drewno said he missed out on anything late-night Chinese to satisfy a craving. But, apparently it was worth avoiding because Drewno lost about 24 pounds in the 12 weeks.

4. The best fundraiser: That distinction goes to Brasserie Beck's chef Anthony Acinapura, who raised more than $5,000 for the American Cancer Society. He said the fundraising effort was personal. He has two family-members fighting cancer.

5. Range to get meatier: Bryan Voltaggio remained tight-lipped on the winner for Top Chef Masters, but he did reveal more on expansion plans for Range. The restaurant will soon have a curing room, which means plenty more cured meats and charcuterie plates to come.

5. What they ate: Healthy dishes were the theme for the night: Brasserie Beck served a grilled octopus salad with capers. Rogue 24 handed out gazpacho with sea urchin, avocado, scallops and mushrooms. And, Restaurant Eve took grape leaves and stuffed them with a parsnip puree.

6. But there were also a few splurges: Admittedly, it was also pretty difficult to avoid the Mexican hot chocolate truffles from Range and the Shake Shack frozen custard cups.

7. Mockingbird prescribes "doctors orders": One of the tastier cocktails of the night came from Derek Brown's Mockingbird Hill. The drink pays homage to a lesser known cocktail connected to Ernest Hemingway. It really was a cocktail drawing, said to have been found in Hemingway's doctor's files. The drink "doctors orders" is equal parts manzanilla sherry, scotch and cava, and garnished with a lemon rind. "It's a boozy fun drink that we think is healthy once in awhile," Brown said.

8. A Taco Bamba empire? Between opening two restaurants, it proved pretty difficult for chef Victor Albisu to lose all the weight that he wanted. The chef lost 10 pounds in the challenge. But the good news, people are going crazy for Taco Bamba, he said. While the focus is still on Del Campo, he said he would like to expand the Taco Bamba concept of "simple street food" to other locations.

9. More on the Restaurant Eve reshuffle: Changes are coming to the Restaurant Eve menu on Oct. 21, chef Ryan Wheeler said. That's when the bar/bistro/tasting room concept will end, and the restaurant will offer one a-la-carte menu and two tasting menus: a five course and seven course option with the last two options in the seven course coming out from the kitchen as surprises.
—Tim Ebner
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