Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Causes of Obesity in the US

Posted in food and dining, Health, obesity by commorancy on April 10, 2020

buffetThere have been many people espousing different ideas around the obesity problem within the US. One I’ve recently come across is Dr. V, otherwise known as Duc C Vuong. He has a YouTube channel and attempts to impart the reason for obesity. I have other thoughts. Let’s explore.

Medical Doctor Credentials

One of the problems I have with MDs espousing their opinions, particularly on platforms like YouTube is that far too many viewers believe this advice wholeheartedly simply because this person has a degree. They don’t rationally think for themselves and use their own critical thinking skills to understand which parts of his extolling are valid and which parts are fallacy. Opinions are always opinions no matter from whom they originate.

When it comes to obesity, there are many thought rationales. One just needs to peruse the virtual book shelves at Amazon to see how many weight loss books there are, each with differing opinions on the topic. Let me dissect his special brand of thought and then talk about what I believe to be the actual reason for obesity.

In all of this, let’s keep in mind one tenet: KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a phrase that means don’t go looking for complex answers when there’s a much simpler explanation staring you in the face.

Dr. V’s explanations are too long winded, complex and give too much credit to psychological pressures. Psychological pressures do play a part in the role of obesity, but not so substantially that you can’t get around it.

Psychology and Weight Loss

Dr. V explains that “Circle of Influence” is a big factor in obesity. What does he mean by “Circle of Influence”. These friendships are all psychological. The circle encompasses whom you choose to befriend and hang around with socially. These people can influence your social interactions and, more specifically, your eating behaviors.

This is true, but to a point. Unfortunately, Dr. V tends to give way too much credit to this aspect of peer pressure than is due. You don’t just bumble your way through life being towed along by your friends. Everyone wants to be known as a unique individual with individual likes and tastes. Yes, we are influenced by what our friends like, dislike and sometimes eat. However, we do also have our own tastes, including taste in food. Just because a friend likes sushi doesn’t mean I must also like it.

If peer pressure were the complete answer to obesity, then cutting off your friends should cause weight loss. Does it? No. Your eating habits are your own and you are responsible for how you eat. You may be influenced in some small way by what your friends are eating or the peer pressure they apply to you, but even when you are alone you’re still going to eat at your favorite restaurants in the same quantities. Is that psychological pressure? No, that’s personal habit.

In other words, blaming your obesity on your “circle of influence” is like blaming your friends for all of your problems. You can’t do this. Everyone must take responsibility for their own actions, including what they put in their mouths. No one forces you to shove food in your mouth. You do that all on your own. You can make smart choices or you can make not-so-smart choices.

Restaurant Influence on Obesity

With that said, there is one level of influence that does matter and is much larger than “circle of influence”… and it definitely matters a great deal. This influence is a restaurant menu. When you sit down to eat at a restaurant, we tend to assume the plates are mostly “set in stone”. What I mean by that is that the entrée comes to you as-is. A big part of this issue is that you have to buy the entrée sight-unseen. This means that you won’t really know how much food that plate holds is until the plate arrives from the kitchen.

This also means that it’s difficult to know how much food you will be consuming until you see the plate. Additionally, the pressure to send perfectly good plates of food back to the kitchen is also almost never considered. Most people won’t do this because they realize it will probably be thrown away and no one wants to see that happen to perfectly good food. Anyway, who would send a plate back to the kitchen because the portion size is “too big”? No one.

This is a ultimately a psychological pressure that goes back to our parents. Parents chide us for not eating all of the food on our plates. We continue to live with this stigma into adulthood. It stays with us every time we sit down to eat a meal. Restaurants prey on that. They give us excessively large plates of food knowing that patrons will typically eat every bite. This leads to obesity.

On the flip side, though, restaurants also do this because of cost to enjoyment ratio. Restaurants want to get maximum bank out of every plate served. Offering up larger portion sizes equates to a happier customer and larger per plate fees. Restaurants have no desire to decrease portion sizes to be inline with the recommended daily intake. Instead, they wish to line their banks with lots of greenbacks. To do that, they have to provide a good “bang for the buck”, so to speak. That’s exactly what restaurants do, but at the cost of serving way too much food and contributing to obesity.

This means that restaurant goers need to wise up to this ploy. When you eat at a restaurant, it’s important to understand that the restaurant is planning to serve you way too much food. Way, way too much food. This is something everyone needs to understand. It doesn’t matter if it’s McDonald’s, Chili’s or Olive Garden. All restaurants do it (except one type which I’ll talk about in a moment). McDonald’s (and other fast food) does it through its “meal deals”. Chili’s and Olive Garden play this game through oversized sized plates and sometimes all-you-can-eat breadsticks or salad.

In recent years, some states have forced restaurants to fork over the estimated calorie content of its meals, sides and drinks. This has helped some, but some restaurants have realized the need to pull this information off of the main menu and instead offer a separate calorie menu that you must ask to see. They don’t leave this calorie version on the table. Though some restaurants do have it on the menu (particularly restaurants that have a “health conscious” bent and some fast food places), many choose not to do this and instead begrudgingly offer up a separate menu… a menu that, unfortunately, can be exceedingly difficult to read with extremely small text. Worse, in these separate menu restaurants, if you ask for one, you may be greeted with “Sorry, I can’t find one”… leaving you high and dry to know how much food you’re actually eating.

Five Star Restaurants

The exception to the above for portion sizes can be five star rated restaurants. Instead, of serving you excessive sized meals, they tend to serve much smaller portion sizes. This occurs for a number reasons. The first reason is cost. Most five star restaurants purchase their foods fresh almost every day. The second reason keeps their quality high. What at you consume at a five star restaurant is almost assuredly the highest quality ingredients possible. These ingredients are usually hand selected by the chef. Though, sometimes they are delivered from higher quality grocers. The third reason is variety. You can find more exotic type meats on the menu, such as pheasant, quail and even Japanese Wagyu.

When you order a meal at a five star restaurant, you’ll receieve a smaller portion size more inline with the calorie levels you might find on the government’s daily intake requirements. This isn’t always true, however. Many five star restaurants utilize heavy cream, wine and other ingredients to flavor the meal. This can add hidden calories. As for presentation, you can usually find your five star meal stacked as layers in the center of an excessively large plate or bowl. Potatoes on bottom, then veggies and then protein on top with some kind of fresh garnish. It’s neatly stacked on the plate to make it presentable and pretty. Some chefs plate their meals with other layouts, but this is a common chef presentation. It looks good and it keeps the rest of the plate neat and tidy.

That’s not to say that all five star restaurant portions are small, but many are. The unfortunate problem with these restaurants is that you’re likely to pay at least $100 per plate or more for your meal. While in some cases these expensive meals may offer a more healthy food choice, it’s way too pricey to eat every day for most people. It’s also not a feasible meal choice option. Even here, you have to be careful because hidden calories can still have more calories than you might expect.

Bars and Drinks

Here’s a second area where there is zero nutritional oversight by the government. Alcoholic beverage creators are not under ANY obligation to add nutrition labeling. In this day and age where the “Nutrition Facts” label is extremely important in understanding what we are eating, it is incredibly disheartening to find that wine, beer and spirit manufacturers STILL aren’t required to place a “Nutrition Facts” panel onto their products.

How is it that the alcohol industry has remained so unregulated for nutrition when it is one of the biggest sources of unlabeled calories? Let’s explore to better understand these unlabeled calories.

Red Wine

A standard bottle of Red Wine contains 750ml or a little over 25oz. You can get five standard glasses of wine from a 750ml bottle of wine. We’re talking a standard sized pour here, which is approximately 5 ounces. A 5 ounce glass of red wine has between 120 and 130 calories per glass. If you consume 2 glasses, you’ve consumed 240-260 extra calories on top of anything else you’ve consumed.

White Wine

White wines fare a little better at around 115 calories per 5 ounces.

Beer

A 12 ounce beer can contains 154 calories. A pint glass of draft ale (the standard size served in bars) is 16oz (473ml) and contains 196 calories. Drinking two, three or four of these adds up fast.

Liquor

A shot of alcohol, about 1.5oz (44ml), ranges between 96 and 115 calories depending on the specific hard spirit. This category doesn’t include specialty liqueurs like Bailey’s Irish Creme, any flavor of Schnapps, Kalúha, Midori or any other sweetened alcoholic liqueurs. That’s next.

Liqueur

A shot of Bailey’s Irish Creme (44ml) contains around 147 calories approaching the number of calories in a 12oz (355ml) can of beer. A shot of Midori, however, contains only 80 calories (less than a shot of many liquors). The range for liqueur is somewhere between 80 and well over 147 calories per shot! These sweet alcoholic beverages can really land on the waistline fast.

Whiskey (or Whisky depending on your part of the world)

One shot of whiskey (86 proof) contains around 105 calories. From livestrong.com:

If your whiskey or vodka is 40 percent alcohol, or labeled as 80 proof, you’ll get less than 100 calories from the 14 grams of alcohol in a 1.5-ounce shot. Having the same amount of 45 percent whiskey or vodka, which is known as 90 proof, will give you 110 calories from the nearly 16 grams of alcohol. A 50 percent whiskey or vodka liquor, or 100 proof, has closer to 125 calories from nearly 18 grams of alcohol, in that same 1.5-ounce shot.

As the proof increases, so too do the calories. If you’re unsure of the proof of what you’re drinking at a bar, ask the bartender to allow you read the bottle or ask them for the proof.

Alcohol’s Double Whammy

Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages are also a double-whammy food. If you consume fat along side your wine, that fat (and some of the alcohol) will be taken up much easier (and faster) into adipose tissue due to the presence of the alcohol itself. From vice.com:

First, less than five percent of the alcohol you drink is converted into fat. However, that doesn’t mean it has no effect on weight gain. Rather, alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. Just two drinks of vodka and diet lemonade has been shown to cut whole body lipid oxidation—a measure of how much fat your body is burning—by more than 70 percent.

This means that the consumption of alcohol while on a diet can not only lead to halting your fat loss progress, it can actually lead to a net gain in fat with regular binging. This goes with the consumption of any alcohol, not just wine.

Alcohol changes the metabolism due to the alcohol itself and how alcohol is metabolized within the body. You’ll want to carefully consider ingesting alcohol with your meals (or even in general) if you’re concerned about controlling your weight. Overindulgence with alcohol can halt weight loss and actually put on pounds.

Restaurants and Bars

These two institutions in every day life are primarily what’s leading to obesity within America. Eating out and heading to bars are definitely everyday conveniences. One nourishes us (sometimes too much) and the other lets us blot out our everyday pains with the warm and fuzzy of alcohol, making us happy (and loopy).

Both together are what’s leading America to obesity. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science to understand this American dilemma. No one wants to blame restaurants or bars for this, but that’s exactly what we must do. They are leading American’s down the primrose path to obesity.

Psychology of Obesity

Let’s swing back around to psychology and peer pressure. It’s easy to succumb to your friend’s pressures to knock back Jello shots or chug some beer. However, you can say, “No”. If these people are truly your friends, they’ll let it slide. If they won’t, then maybe it’s time to consider new friends.

You don’t have to listen to your friends. You don’t have to chug beer, do shots or do anything you don’t want to do. Eating at restaurants isn’t always necessary and even when you do you can still make smart choices. When at the drive-thru, you don’t need to buy meal deals. If you’re at Olive Garden, ask them not to bring bread or even their bottomless salad. When you order your meal, buy from a menu that lists calories. Choose portion sizes that make sense for what you need to eat to live… keeping firmly in mind the 2000-2200 calorie recommended daily intake.

Home Cooking

Better, create and eat your meals at home. Instead of having to navigate those not-so-great menu choices and attempt to request custom meals from restaurants, eat at home. You can then make choices that fit with your body’s needs. You don’t need to make meals the size of Olive Garden. You can half (or less) the portion size and make smaller meals. This saves on your home food costs and it also means you’re eating healthier, smaller meals.

On the flip side, if you’re consuming a whole chicken in one meal, that’s way too much food. A whole cooked chicken contains between 1190 and 1400 calories for an entire single chicken. If you add onto that bread, mac and cheese, green beans and mashed potatoes, you can easily exceed 2000 calories in a single meal! That doesn’t even take into account the calories in a desert or drinks.

That’s not to say that rotisserie chicken is an unhealthy food, but it IS when eaten to excess. The key to health and maintaining a healthy body weight is eating in moderation… or, more specifically, within the US Government’s daily intake guidelines of around 2000 calories per day.

Isn’t Chinese Food Healthier?

Unfortunately, no. Many Americanized Chinese foods are breaded and fried, making them even less healthy food choices than rotisserie chicken. Breading and frying adds unnecessary calories that you should avoid. However, it is fine to indulge occasionally with these kinds of foods as a treat. Just don’t make them your everyday staple meals.

With Chinese food cooked using mostly veggies and some protein, you’ll need to determine the health of this food for yourself. If it appears to be mostly veggies with limited fat and a reasonable serving of protein, it might be an okay choice. If you want to wok cook at home yourself, you can choose your own oils, veggies and proteins in whatever quantities you are comfortable.

However, even Chinese restaurants fall into the trap of overly large portion sizes when serving to the table. Many Chinese food places even have buffets. Let’s jump right into this one…

Buffets

Chinese restaurants aren’t the only places that choose to offer large food buffet bars. You can find these in many different styles of food. For your weight and your health, you’ll want to completely avoid buffet restaurants. Not only are they not a great deal, they will most definitely inflate your waistline and they can also make you sick.

Buffet restaurants encourage overeating in all of the wrong ways. For consumers to feel that they’ve gotten their money’s worth for a $22 per person fee, you’re going to have to eat what you feel is $22 worth of food. That’s the wrong motivation for eating. You eat to satisfy hunger, not to satisfy your wallet or your guilt for spending.

Buyers remorse is heavy at buffet restaurants. Avoid this guilt entirely. If you must eat out, eat at a restaurant that hands you a menu and makes your food fresh in a kitchen.

There are other more serious health reasons for avoiding buffets to which I discuss in this past Randocity article. Suffice it to say that during winter months, avoiding buffet restaurants is your smartest and healthiest choice. Far too many people touch the serving spoons used to dish up the foods. Unless you plan to wash your hands immediately after plating your food, you’re simply asking to contract the Flu or a Cold virus or even COVID-19.

Restaurant Cleanliness

Ignoring the sanitary issues with buffets mentioned above, it’s way too easy when eating out to contract seasonal viruses even by just sitting at a restaurant table and ordering from a menu. After all, many restaurants barely even clean tables between patrons. When they do wipe down a table, they use a towel that has likely not been sanitized between uses. Think about this for a moment. Worse, when they do choose to wipe down a table, it’s just enough to get the crumbs and sticky off of it. That cloth simply moves the viruses around that were already there (or on the towel). They rarely, if ever, wipe down the seating or other surfaces around the table. Menus fare even worse. Menus are almost never sanitized.

Worse, restaurants with bars have different cleaning routines when it comes to bar glasses. While restaurants do have commercial dishwashers in the kitchen, they take way too long to run a cycle. When bars become low on glassware, the bartenders use a three water bath wash on glasses (soapy water, bleach water, rinse water). The theory is that germs can’t live through this. However, this relies on proper ratios of soap to water and bleach to water. Many restaurants don’t adhere to proper ratios in their zeal to get glasses washed quickly.

This means that your glassware can be contaminated with colds or viruses from a previous use when washed by a bartender. Why is this a problem if you’re not ordering from a bar? Because restaurants which have a bar usually have waitstaff order all drinks from the bartender for speed. This means that even though you didn’t order anything from the bar, you are likely being served in glassware cleaned by the bartender rather than from glassware washed by the dishwasher in the kitchen. This is particularly true of a restaurant during peak hours. If you’ve ever gotten a glass with lipstick on it, this is why. Nasty, right?

While getting sick at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily contribute to obesity directly, it calls out why restaurants aren’t the healthiest places to eat… even above their overly large portion sizes.

Psychology Revisited

Choosing to make your own food at home is really the only choice to reduce obesity. Of course, you also have to make the smart choice. You need to also understand the US Government’s daily recommended guidelines. From the health.gov’s What it is and What it is not information about the Dietary Guidelines:

The main purpose of the Dietary Guidelines is to inform the development of Federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs. The primary audiences are policymakers, as well as nutrition and health professionals, not the general public.

The difficulty with this “not the general public” statement is that while the USDA and other government institutions try to enforce these guidelines on businesses by setting up such mechanisms as the Nutrition Facts panel on most food products, it has failed to impress the value of these guidelines on actual American consumers. Policymakers don’t care if their constituents become obese. They’re not going to even make obesity a talking point. That leaves only nutrition and health professionals covered. These people are typically only consulted on an ‘as needed’ basis and usually for pay. That leaves the American people in a substantial vacuum for general nutrition advice. Indeed, without this information, there is no advice at all.

Yet, if you read the guidelines, they do offer solid, constructive advice, but they have chosen not to target the general public with this information? How insane is this? Because of this, restaurants, bars and even grocery providers can run amok providing little, if any actual food guidance. It is this policy that leads all other industries by the hand. Yet, this leading hand doesn’t actually lead. It just throws the information out there without anything or anyone on the other side listening.

You can’t teach people how to eat when this information isn’t targeted towards the correct audience.

Schools

This situation get worse before it gets better. Schools simply don’t teach children proper food and nutrition choices. Some schools have limited student access to poorer food choices such as candy bars, soda, chips and deserts. That’s more about preventing those food choices than explaining how these foods can be used in a proper diet. It’s easier to withhold the foods rather than explain proper food choices.

Worse, many public schools don’t even offer nutrition programs as part of the curriculum. Sure, they offer home economics, but these classes don’t impart nutrition. They impart the knowledge of how to operate a home, including cooking.

Schools, in fact, also play a large part in America’s obesity. This is partly because of the lack of curriculum, but also because of bad cafeteria food choices during lunch. School lunches can be some of the worst teachers of food choices. Instead of teaching children the proper way to consume food and teach a child the proper relationship with food, they teach children to eat their poorly conceived cafeteria food choices in 15 minutes or less, by feeding them poor quality nutrition. Pizza and Salisbury Steak aren’t great nutritional choices.

If schools aren’t there to teach a children a proper relationship with food, then who is? Clearly, the parents won’t do this at home because they naturally assume the school is doing this. Yet, schools don’t do this either. So, in effect, no one teaches children the value of nutrition and proper food choices.

Even when attending college, this situation doesn’t improve. I don’t know of many universities that require nutrition classes as part of a generalized degree program. Certain health degrees (kinesiology) may require such nutrition classes as part of that degree, but degrees outside of health programs almost never require this. This further contributes to obesity.

Compounded Information Creates Obesity

All of the above compounds to create a situation where people become obese without understanding why. We’re not taught by our parents or by any schools about how to handle our diets. We’re left to fend for ourselves. This firmly allows psychological peer pressure to take hold and influence bad food choices, but more than that, restaurants and bars are also to blame. People are led astray by restaurants because of their large portion sizes. Many of us begin to believe that the portion sizes served by restaurants are actually the correct food sizes. Instead, we are being taught improperly.

Still, we must all assume the consequences of our own decisions. Only we can feed ourselves. Only we can stop the insanity, as Susan Powter once said. While her delivery of this nutrition information was way over the top, her message was no less valid. We must choose to change ourselves. We must choose to change our relationship with food. We must choose to say, “No” when an 1800 calorie plate is dropped in front of us. We must read food packages with a critical eye. We must understand when manufacturers are trying to pull the wool over our eyes with their silly portion sizes on “Nutrition Facts”.

This doesn’t mean you can’t eat a candy bar, eat a piece of cake or drink a beer occasionally. But, these should be only occasional treats eaten no more often than once a week. Less, if possible.

Food Lifestyle Changes

More than this, we must learn how to change our relationship with food. We must eat to satisfy, not until stuffed. There is a difference. We’re not turkeys being prepped for Thanksgiving meals. We’re people who need nutrition to sustain our energy levels.

To that end, to lose the weight and gain a healthy waistline, this must start in the kitchen, not in the gym. You can’t lose weight by running on a treadmill if you eat more calories than you burn from running. Exercise improves the body’s circulatory system, but it cannot lose weight unless you have a calorie deficit in the body.

This only occurs when you have the proper intake of food. In fact, you can restrict your food intake and still lose weight without entering a gym. The body still burns calories by sitting in a chair typing on a computer. However, the body burns less calories than when running on a treadmill.

Here’s a chron.com article that illustrates how exercise can fail weight loss efforts:

In one hour a 160-pound person can burn 204 calories walking at 2 mph and 314 calories with walking at 3.5 mph. … A 160-pound person can burn 606 calories by running at a 5 mph pace or 861 calories by running at an 8 mph pace for one hour.

Let’s examine the above closely. While this information describes a 160 pound person example, this weight isn’t the norm in today’s world. Even thought this article chooses to ignore the obesity issue and further illustrates its point with an impossibly low weight for most people, this information is no less important to understand. An hour of jogging at 5 mph burns ONLY 606 calories. That’s approximately HALF of the amount of calories in Chili’s Molten Chocolate Cake desert which has a whopping 1160 calories. Even if you increase the exertion to an 8 mph pace, at the increased 861 calories burned, you still burn way less than Chili’s chocolate cake desert!

If you visit Chili’s and eat a meal including that cake desert, you’re still taking in more calories than you’ve burned in exercise. This example is exactly why you can’t rely on cardio exercises to make up for those extra calories you consumed at a restaurant. You would have to double or even triple the amount of gym effort to come close to burning enough calories to justify eating that desert. This is why so many people become disenchanted with gyms and why gym workouts don’t seem to work. It’s because people assume exercise burns way more calories per hour than it actually does. This is why the next section is more important… and it also shows you how you can skip this gym fallacy.

Weight Loss Begins in the Kitchen

Randocity has already written an extensive article on this very topic. I urge you to read this article if you’re interested in this one. What I will say here, in short, is that your relationship to food begins in the kitchen, not in the gym. You can’t lose weight at the gym unless you’ve gotten your food intake under control.

Even fitness centers themselves do not impress the importance of this when looking to sign up new members. They want to teach you the importance of supplements, pills and their equipment… basically, everything that they sell in their store. They want you to buy their junk, not to learn how to manage your weight. Even personal trainers are not versed in this. They will teach you how to do cardio, run you through quick condensed workouts and utilize other techniques, but they will not at all examine your food intake. In fact, none of them really want to talk about this when at the gym. You are firmly left to your own food devices.

Not once when I had a personal trainer did they ask me to supply them with what I was eating regularly. It’s more about making you buy new supplements and gear, but they offer nothing to ensure you’re meeting your weight goals through proper food choices.

The point here is that you can’t rely on fitness businesses that rely on taking your money. You must, instead, rely on yourself and your own accumulated knowledge. You must be curious to learn how the body works, how it burns food and how it gains weight. Once you understand these body functions can you make the proper association with food, understand food choices and buy and consume the proper amounts of food to lose weight and/or maintain your current weight.

Until you make the choice to invest time into understanding your health, you can’t make this choice. No one is going to do this for you. No, not even the government (see above). The government seeks to regulate business and income, not make sure its citizens are healthy. That’s crystal clear. You must help you to succeed. You must choose not to put that fried chicken in your mouth. You must choose to eat foods in the proper amounts. What you choose to eat daily is really up to you as long as you keep the caloric intake at the proper level. You don’t want to eat 2000 calories of nothing but Oreo cookies. This is where you need to be more smart about consuming foods in moderation.

Bariatric Surgery

No, you don’t need a lap band. You don’t need to have your intestines shortened. You don’t need your stomach stapled. You can lose weight by eating properly. The only thing that bariatric surgery does is FORCE you to eat less. The entire point to these procedures is to force you to reduce the amounts of food to be consumed and processed at a single meal. This is exactly the same as eating less. You don’t need a procedure to force you to eat less. You can do this on your own.

You just need to make up your mind towards this goal. In fact, making the choice without surgery means you can maintain it. Surgery means that you will eventually slip back to your old ways. These surgical techniques are temporary until you stretch out the stomach or intestines and which allows you to go back to eating large quantities again. Your body will work around the procedure eventually making it impossible to remain being forced to eat less forever.

If you make the concerted choice to stop eating as much and begin making healthier food choices on your own, you can keep the weight off on a permanent basis. Surgery is a temporary fix unless you also make the choice to also eat less even when that surgery’s temporary nature wears off (and it will). Many people don’t understand the temporary aspect of bariatric surgery.

Overall

In life, we have choices. That’s really all we have in life. The ability to make choices for ourselves. That’s the freedom we own. We can buy and wear the clothes we want. We can eat the foods we want. We can drive the car we like. These are some of the choices that we get in life.

Food choices only seem complicated because everyone makes it appear hard. It’s not hard at all once you have the goal number in your head. That goal number is 2000-2200 calories. Stick to that number and you can maintain your weight. Below this number and you can lose weight. It’s actually one of the simplest things to understand about the body.

Sure, you can blame your friends, you can blame restaurants and you can even blame the government for your weight. And yes, they do play a part in it. However, it is you and your food choices that matter. You can choose to lose the weight. You can choose to do the right thing for your body. It all starts in the kitchen… not in the gym. The gym makes you the body more fit, the kitchen helps you lose weight.

COVID-19 and Stay-At-Home

Now that we’re all stuck at home eating food we must make ourselves, this is the perfect opportunity to jump into making smart choices for yourself (and maybe even your family). It’s time to rethink your food choices and food lifestyle. If anything, this time teaches us that restaurant food isn’t truly necessary. We can eat at home from foods we make ourselves and we can consume the proper amount of food that can help us lose excess weight.

Now it’s up to you!

Good Luck!

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Recipe: Spicy Fusion Tuna Salad

Posted in food and dining by commorancy on October 1, 2013

In an effort to find lower calorie alternatives, I’m always trying things in the kitchen. Well, here’s another recipe I’ve come up with that I personally think is quite tasty. If you like somewhat sweet and hot salads, this one will fill that void for you.

Spicy Fusion Tuna Salad

  • 1 can drained very low sodium tuna
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup chopped Japanese cucumber (regular cucumber will work too)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup diced pickled Japanese radish
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoons Tuong ot toi (chili garlic hot sauce)
  • 10 drops stevia liquid (or one dry packet)
  • 10 drops Sweet n Low liquid (or one dry packet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black sesame seeds

Drain the tuna, place into bowl and flake with fork until it’s more or less shredded. Add all of the ingredients except sesame seeds and sweetener into a bowl and mix. You may want to add more mustard if you prefer your salad with thicker dressing. Add less if you prefer it more dry. I prefer it slightly less wet. You can add more or less hot sauce to taste. You can also add a pinch of salt and pepper if you prefer.  Once mixed, add sweetener and mix in.

Once the salad is fully mixed, place atop rice crackers, saltines, toast or eat it just as it is.  Top with black sesame seeds. This will make enough salad for one person as a meal or split it between two people with other side dishes.

Enjoy!

Healthy Desserts and Restaurants

Posted in dining healthy, food and dining, Health, health and beauty by commorancy on August 9, 2010

I’m not getting this about restaurants. Is it that restaurants are getting more and more lazy or is it that they just don’t want to serve healthy desserts (or, in general, healthy food)? Yes, they don’t really even serve healthy meals, but that’s another topic. I know I’m not the only one, but consuming a decadent chocolate molten cake with a huge scoop of ice cream is the last thing I want after a heavy meal. That goes for key lime pie, tiramisu, cheesecake or baked apple crisp with ice cream. For me, the meal was enough to cover what I needed. Yes, I want something a little bit sweet after the meal, like a piece of fruit, a fruit cup or even a small cup of cinnamon apples. But, I don’t need a second 1000+ calorie meal.

Why do they always come with ice cream?

A scoop of ice cream has between 144 and 260 calories just for one scoop. As a whole dessert, for example, Chili’s chocolate molten cake is 1070 calories (according to their nutritional chart). Probably 200+ of that is just the ice cream. 1070 calories is a meal! In fact, it’s more than a meal. But, the added ice cream isn’t necessary. Granted, if you’re planning on splitting the dessert 4 ways, then that’s 250 calories per portion. That’s still a bit high compared to a piece of fruit, but it’s at least manageable. But, eating an entire molten cake yourself is just plain overindulgence.

Consider, though, that ice cream is made from a food designed for infants, not adults. The milk makes that dessert all the worse for your health. Ask your server to skip the ice cream and lose that extra 144-260 calories (and associated unnecessary hormones). Save those calories up for a later meal.

But, it’s so hard to tell the calories in a dessert.

No, it isn’t. Most premade baked desserts are made from processed white flour. White flour creates the most calorie dense baked goods known. So any baked good is at least twice the calories you think that it is. For example, you might tend to think a single fudge brownie is less than 100 calories. Wrong. The average 2″ fudge brownie is 243 calories. One small piece of cake with frosting is about the same as that fudge brownie.

If you still find it hard to determine the calories and you have any brand of smartphone, then visit Google and look up the calories for what you’re about to eat.

Restaurants and Food

The trouble with restaurants is that they know people want unhealthy food. Well, not that people want it unhealthy, they just don’t want it healthy. Granted, places like TGI Fridays and Chili’s don’t exactly serve unhealthy food, they just server you too much of it. So, when it comes to the dessert course, you end up way overeating. You’ve probably overeaten just with the meal alone. Then adding a 1000+ calorie dessert doesn’t do well to keep the weight off and the waistline trim.

Overindulgence

Since the 70s, I believe portion sizes have dramatically increased in restaurants. This is true in many cases because Chili’s and TGI Friday’s didn’t exist in the 70s in the way they do today. Their food items have gotten bigger and more dense over the years. Some of it is from the ingredients changing, but others are simple recipe changes.

Let’s make a change

The next time you go into a restaurant and want something sweet after the meal, ask if they offer fruit. It doesn’t matter if they say no, just ask anyway. The more people who ask, the more that will spur restaurants to change their desserts to be more health and calorie conscious.

The next thing you need to consider is eating off of the Kid’s menu. Most kid’s meals are anywhere from 100-350 calories per meal. That’s a far cry from the 800-1600 (average) for an ‘adult’ meal. Although, a half-rack of Chili’s original ribs is 480 calories without sides. Add in broccoli for 50-70 calories and the meal is around 520 calories. That’s actually a reasonable sized meal if you want to also add a dessert.

In this case, if you add a fruit cup, that’s about 100-150 calories. Adding the fruit raises the meal to 620-670 calories which is very reasonable for a single meal. Remember, you will eat 3 meals per day (plus snacks). You don’t need to eat a 2000 calorie meal (1000 main course and 1000 dessert). Consider that an average sized man probably only needs 2000 calories a day with minimal exercise (mostly sedentary). For a man who works out at the gym, runs or does any strenuous exercise, then he will need to eat more than 2000.

So, the more people who ask for healthier dessert alternatives, the better our waistlines will look. But, that also means you need to understand the portion sizes of the meals from restaurants and work around those.

California nutrition guides for restaurants

Now that California has required restaurants to place nutrition guides right on the table, it’s easier than ever to see how much you will be eating in advance. Knowing how a meal is prepared, you can also reduce the calories you consume by requesting higher calorie items be substituted with lower calorie items. For example, instead of fries or a baked potato, ask for broccoli, spinach or a house salad. Although, with a salad you have to be careful. Salad dressings are some of the highest calorie items. So, ask for light and use half as much as you need.

Going back to desserts, these are also listed in the nutrition guide. So, you should plan your meal ahead of time. Look for your entree and determine how many calories it is. Then, look for the dessert and do the same. Add them together and see how many calories both together are. If both together total more than 700, you’re eating too much. Of course, if you’re dining with someone else, consider splitting the dessert in half which halves the calories each person eats for dessert.

Overall, you can eat fewer calories at restaurants by asking for lesser calorie items to replace high calorie items. Like, ask for oil and vinegar for dressing. You can then use very little oil and more vinegar. Ask for colored vegetables (broccoli, carrots, greens, tomatoes) over starchy vegetables (potato, sweet potato, corn, corn chips). When grains are served (rice, couscous, etc), ask for less. You can still eat some, just eat less than what they want to give you. Or, leave more on the plate. If you leave this stuff on the plate, then this may also send a message to the kitchen that they are serving too much food. The more they throw away, the more it’s wasteful for them.

Finally, ask for smaller portions. If you know you can’t eat a full sized portion (or it’s simply too many calories), ask for less food. Alternatively, eat from the kid’s menu which offers smaller portions anyway. Also, don’t forget alcocholic beverages, wine, liquor and even sugary soda, coffee and tea. These drinks add significantly to your calorie consumption. So, don’t forget about them.

We can make restaurants change their menus if enough people ask for change. So, ask to talk to the manager and express your concerns. Also, go online and use the ‘ask a question’ or ‘send an email’ link on restaurant web sites. Give feedback on the things you want to see. The more people who ask, the more likely they are to make the change.

Personal dessert favorite

My own personal dessert favorite is frozen fruit. Why? It may sound strange, but it’s the perfect dessert at the end of a meal. It’s low in calories and it’s cold like ice cream (without the cream). So, you get all the benefits of an icy dessert combined with fruit flavors. I sprinkle a bit of stevia on top to sweeten them up a little. Too bad you can’t get this at a restaurant, but it makes a perfect low calorie end to a meal.

The reality behind Reality TV: Hell’s Kitchen Edition

Posted in food and dining, reality tv, TV Shows by commorancy on October 15, 2009

[Updated: June 15, 2019 — Michael Wray has a GoFundMe under Where are they Now?]
[Previous update: August 2, 2018 — Jessica Vogel, Season 12 contestant dead at age 34.]
[Previous update: February 10, 2018 — Seasons 14 thru 17 and Where are they now?]

Hell’s Kitchen

For those of you who like Reality TV shows like Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, realize there is even more reality than what you see on the tube. For example, in the first two seasons of Hell’s Kitchen, the winners didn’t actually win what the show promised during the seasons. The first season winner, Michael Wray, was to win his own restaurant, but the show didn’t deliver on that award. Instead, he was awarded kitchen equipment and a trip to the UK to study under Ramsay. He first accepted and then later declined the trip. The second season winner, Heather West, was promised a newly built restaurant in Las Vegas in which she would have an investment stake and help design it.  This prize also never materialized. Instead, she signed a one year contract to be Senior Chef at Terra Rossa (an existing restaurant) in Las Vegas. After her contract terminated, she left and became Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen during Season 6.  Still, not the prize she had won.

It wasn’t until the third season that Hell’s Kitchen actually awarded the prize to Rock Harper that it had announced all season. He became Head Chef of Green Valley Ranch’s Terra Verde. Of course, the question remains, was it just a limited stint for Rock like it was for Heather?  Only time will tell. Fast Forward… The award for Season 6 was to be ‘Head Chef’ at the Araxi in British Columbia. Unfortunately, the restaurant began to get cold feet at the start of Season 6 after seeing the contestants. So, Ramsay apparently had to talk with the owner to quell any fears that there would be a competent winner. Unfortunately, Araxi had already made up its mind. The winner of Season 6 (Dave) will simply become an ’employee’ and not ‘Head Chef’. So, once again, Hell’s Kitchen has not delivered on its announced award.

I also have to wonder about those other award winners (see updates below). Did they only somewhat win or slightly win? At least Hell’s Kitchen should award cash and tangible prizes. As long as the sponsorship remains, the prizes will be there. Top Chef got that one right at least.

Winners List Seasons 1 through 4

Season 1 winner
Michael Wray
Prize: Tatou in Los Angeles
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Study under Ramsay in London + Kitchen Equipment

Season 2 winner
Heather West
Prize: Her own custom designed restaurant in Las Vegas.
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Terra Rossa at Red Rock Resort Spa and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada

Season 3 winner
Rahman “Rock” Harper
Prize: Terra Verde at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, Nevada
Status: Prize Awarded

Season 4 winner
Christina Machamer
Prize: London West Hollywood in Los Angeles (Chef Ramsay owned) + $250k yearly salary
Status: Prize Awarded

Kitchen Nightmares

Kitchen Nightmares, on the other hand, is its own nightmare.  Of course, it doesn’t help that Ramsay attempts to save restaurants on the brink of collapse.  Needless to say, in the first 2 US seasons of this show and of the 13 he’s tried saving in New York, only 5 are still in business. Sebastian’s in LA has also closed. Most of the failed restaurant owners blame Ramsay and Ramsay blames the owners for not following his advice. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle combined with the economy. The downturn has taken its toll on lots of places, including restaurants. Fine dining is quite expensive. People are cutting back and eating more frugally. It doesn’t help that most of these ailing turned failing restaurants really had no regulars anyway. So, giving it a coat of paint and a new menu is probably not enough. Their reputation was already tarnished.

Of course, Kitchen Nightmares also pays to have people dine at the restaurant so that it appears as though it might succeed. The reality, of course, is far different. This is all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. After the cameras stop rolling and the production is no longer paying diners, the restaurant goes back to its old dismal self (bad sales and all). Basically, polishing poop doesn’t make it better. Kitchen Nightmares is now moving into its fifth season and counting.

Update for Kitchen Nightmares – 2010 Edition

Joseph Cerniglia found dead in Hudson River. According to witnesses, they saw someone jump from a bridge. Joseph was the owner of Campania restaurant that was featured on Kitchen Nightmares. At the time when Ramsay stepped in, Joseph’s restaurant was in debt by more than $80,000 to his suppliers. Ramsay tried to get Campania back on track, but we know how this works. After the cameras stop rolling and the paid diners stop, as stated above, the restaurant goes back to is old dismal money-losing self and falls back into the death spiral. Whether or not KN is responsible, in any way, for his apparent suicide has yet to be determined, but this is definitely a shocker.

Campania Episode on Hulu [Defunct Link: Here for historical purposes only]

Warning: Contains explicit language

Update for Kitchen Nightmares — June 2014

As of June 2014, Daily Mail UK reports that the Kitchen Nightmares series has officially ended. I’d say, it’s really about time. During its run, KN has tried to help many restaurants survive, recover and prosper. KN was primarily smoke and mirrors, TV cameras and paid diners. The truth is, more than 60% (and counting) of the restaurants Kitchen Nightmares has tried to save have folded. That’s not a particularly spectacular track record and just points to the fact that not all is a perfect shade of deep fried golden brown in Gordon Ramsay’s world.

Makes You Wonder

I have to wonder just how many more reality game or fix-it shows really work after the dust settles and the cameras are gone. With shows like Trading Spaces and Bridezilla, is it only about the cameras and drama? Does the ‘reality’ really mean anything. After the cameras stop, it’s really not that exciting. In fact, when the cameras are rolling, it’s not that exciting. That’s why they hire excellent editors to take random shots and intercut them together. For that reason alone, that’s how Tek, who was eliminated much earlier in Hell’s Kitchen, can reappear in an episode where she shouldn’t have been.

Smoke and Mirrors

Remember, Hollywood is all about appearances. Appearance is the only thing that matters. As long as its glitzy and offers some drama, Hollywood assumes people will watch. To some degree, I guess that thinking is valid. But, once you realize that it’s only smoke and mirrors, then it becomes just fluff. For me, that’s not really enough to keep watching.

Hell’s Kitchen Updates

Season 5

Winner: Danny Veltri
Prize: Head Chef at Borgata’s Fornalletto in Atlantic City
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Sous Chef position

Danny Veltri was to have won the head chef position at the Borgata’s Fornelletto restaurant in Atlantic City and, unfortunately, ended up as sous chef at the restaurant under head chef Stephen Kalt. Danny didn’t immediately appear disappointed in the change according to this NY Daily News story and wanted to learn from Kalt. Apparently, Danny stayed for only several months and then, after frustration set in, departed back to Florida to work at Flip Flops, his own and previously operating restaurant. So, once again, HK didn’t deliver its announced prize fully as described.

Season 6

Winner: Dave Levey
Prize: Araxi in Whistler BC for the Olympics
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Line Cook

Dave Levey didn’t stay long at the Araxi in Whistler, BC. After not receiving the head chef position that he was promised, he apparently only stayed just long enough to help with the 2010 Olympics. After that, Dave packed up and has returned to his native New Jersey to work at the Il Giardino restaurant where he had been previously employed prior to HK.

[Update 2013] Dave has since left Il Giardino and has moved to The Publick House as Executive Chef which is located in Chester, New Jersey or visit their direct web page at The Publick House Tavern and Inn. Apparently, both Il Giardino and The Publick House Tavern and Inn are owned by the Lubrano family according to this 2009 nj.com article. Apparently, this family also owns a third restaurant named Provesi in Morristown. Effectively, Dave is still working for the same restaurant family.

Season 7

Winner: Holli Ugalde
Prize: Savoy Grill in London
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Undisclosed sum of money

[Updated: 11/30/2013] Reader Morten writes in saying that, according to this Daily Mail UK article, Holli was not awarded the Savoy Grill position and apparently she’s ‘fuming’ and feeling ‘betrayed’ by Ramsay. Not sure what’s going on between these two, but whatever it is doesn’t seem appetizing.

The finals came down to Holli and Jay. Drum roll please… Holli Ugalde wins. This time the prize is likely something that can actually be awarded as this is a restaurant owned by Ramsay himself. Hell’s Kitchen always seemed to get in trouble when awarding jobs to contestants where Ramsay had no ownership stake in the restaurant. This season, the prize is a head chef position at Ramsay’s newly opened (reoponed?) Savoy Grill restaurant in London. Because Ramsay will own and operate this restaurant, HK will likely be able to actually award the prize fully.

Of course, that depends on the Savoy’s successful reopening launch to work. We’ll have to see, though, if that promise holds true for Holli. Of course, Ramsay may end up hiring both Holli and Jay should the Australian trip turn out better than expected. I’m quite sure Ramsay considered this in his decision when not only picking the winner, but also when he picked the two finalists this season. Pulling Holli and Jay together through an Australian trip may mean Ramsay will get 2 chefs for the price of one if the relationship holds and they both move to London together. It’s a long shot for Ramsay, but if it works, it will work out great. If it doesn’t work out, he still gets Holli.

But wait, there is now speculation that Holli is a lesbian. I’m not specifically seeing it in the photos from this web site. But, you can visit and be the judge. Is she or isn’t she? If so, then the Jay and Holli romance thing was all a sham as Ramsay (and HK) would likely have known this fact. You might also want check out Holli’s MySpace page which may have more details about this.

Oh, and if you didn’t watch the final episode closely, you might want to watch it again. Dave Levey makes a cameo complete with chef’s outfit, knit cap and arm cast. Although, if his arm hasn’t healed in 12 months, he needs to see a specialist.

Season 8

Winner: Nona Sivley
Prize: Head Chef at L.A. Market
Status: Awarded

Season 8 has now been over for quite some time, but I’ve been lax on updating this article.  The winner is… drum ro.. nevermind, this season is not worth getting excited over.  Between Russell and Nona, Nona wins, for whatever that’s worth. This season was an unmitigated disaster. The professionalism of this show dropped tremendously. The drama went way up and the fighting was at a boiling point nearly every episode. Yet, there was little actually boiling in the kitchen, other than Ramsay. Anyway, I guess Nona gets the position at L.A. Market, even though there’s was no clear executive chef material in any of the contestants. Good luck Nona, you’re gonna need it. With that said, between Jillian, Russell and Nona, Jillian was the most consistent cook of the bunch. Russell had a big mouth and liked to run it, but when it came down to meals, he just couldn’t cut it (or, in this case, cook it). We’ll see if Nona hangs around long at L.A. Market.  My guess is that, like past HK winners, she’ll do a couple months there as a token prize and then be off back home. Note that Nona apparently started work at the L.A. Market on January 1, 2011 January 25th, 2011.  So, Nona should now be working there as of this [latest] update.

Season 9

Winner: Paul Niedermann
Prize: Head Chef at BLT Steak in Manhattan
Status: Awarded

Season 9 has now concluded. The winner turns out to be Paul Niedermann who began his career flame broiling burgers at Burger King.  He has won the spot as Head Chef at the BLT Steak located in Manhattan. According to this ‘About Us‘ web page for BLT Steak, it does actually appear that Paul Niedermann did get the gig at BLT Steak. Mind you, this particular restaurant doesn’t appear to be any kind of super upscale establishment, but it at least appears to offer reasonable quality food.  Definitely a step up from Burger King, but perhaps not by that much. Yelp gives NY BLT Steak 3.5 stars.

Yelp consensus for BLT Steak NY — overpriced for the quality.

A quote from the BLT Steak’s About Us page:

Paul Niedermann

Head Chef, BLT Steak New York

As the Season 9 winner of Fox’s hit reality show, Hell’s Kitchen, Paul Niedermann recently traded Florida sunshine for the glittering lights of New York City. As Head Chef of BLT Steak New York, Paul brings Italian and Mediterranean influences to the kitchen, his culinary palette pairing light fresh food together with citrus and other influences from his time spent in southern Florida. He also brings, of course, a killer competitive edge.

Watch Paul talk about his experience in New York City and working at BLT Steak. [Below]

With that said, the runners up were Will Lustberg and Elise Wims. While I would like to discuss this specific show’s qualities, it has gone way too far down in recent years to really get excited by it anymore. So, for sheer informational purposes, here is the winner information.

Season 10

Winner: Christina Wilson
Prize: Head Chef at Paris, Las Vegas
Status: Awarded

Season 10 is now over and the winner is …. Christina Wilson. She takes her place among the other Hell’s Kitchen winners. The runner up, Justin Antiorio.  You can find out more details about this season at this Los Angeles Times article. Basically, it as a play between palette and passion.  I’m guessing that Ramsay is more a fan of passion than palette, but that’s a bit unusual considering that taste in food is everything. Passion is great, but if you can’t make creative foods that taste great, then you’re not likely to do that well as a successful chef. I guess Ramsay will have to deal with that now since Christina Wilson wins her spot at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Las Vegas Paris hotel.

Yelp’s rating for Gordon Ramsay Steak Las Vegas is a solid 4 stars. A large number of the most recent reviews (as of 9/25/2012) are 5 stars with many people saying the steak is outstanding. Of course, in the restaurant biz, quality can change on a dime. That’s why there are sites like Yelp. So, there you have it. If you like steak, this is probably a great place to try. Albeit, it’s a bit pricey with the average price per guest around $85.

Season 11

Winner: Ja’Nel Witt
Prize: Head Chef position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas
Status: Not Awarded — failed required drug test

I’d been lax in updating this page, but there’s been some actual real-life drama involving the winner of HK season 11. So, the winner is Ja’Nel Witt. I won’t really get into how she won HK (it doesn’t really matter at this point). Instead, let’s get into the real-life drama. Keep in mind that I’ve been waiting for a story like this to break for 10 seasons.

According to TMZ, Ms. Witt failed her drug test that Caesars Palace required her to take upon assuming her winning position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas. After going through all of that hassle for an entire season (granted, it’s really just a couple of weeks time in real-life when they film the whole season), she was allegedly stupid enough to run some rails. Now she’s being run out of town on a rail. Yes, some things don’t stay in Vegas and it appears Ms. Witt won’t be one of those things. Yes, this also means Ms. Witt won’t be assuming the role at Ramsay’s restaurant.

Although, Ms. Witt won against Mary Poehnelt (the runner up). I’m hoping that Mary Poehnelt will end up taking the position and getting the money as it doesn’t bode well to give that to someone suspected of being a drug addict. Not the right role model to be endorsing here. Although, again according to TMZ, Gordon Ramsay still believes in Ja’Nel and he says his ‘door is always open’ once she ‘sorts out her personal issues’.

Maybe Gordon Ramsay has learned his own life lesson: even though it’s consumable, it’s not always about food. You’ve got to know that as cranky as Ramsay gets at raw scallops or an underdone Wellington, he’s got to be fuming over this. I think it’s time for HK to start doing drug tests all throughout the seasons to make sure the contestants aren’t coking while cooking.

Season 12 (Spring 2014)

Winner: Scott Commings
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The prize was carried over from the previous season from Ja’Nel Witt’s drug test failure and awarded this season. Not sure why the show didn’t award it to the Season 11 runner up. Isn’t that why there’s a runner up?
Status: Awarded
Runner Up: Jason Zepaltas

Season 13 (Fall 2014)

WinnerLa Tasha McCutchen
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Atlantic City (thanks go to reader Kenny)
Status: Awarded. She served her time, but has since left to go back to 3030 Ocean (a previous restaurant) several times. She wants to become a private chef.
Runner UpBryant Gallaher

Season 14 (Spring 2015)

Winner: Meghan Gill
Prize: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City
Status: Apparently awarded, but she waited over a year to start in 2015 and appears to no longer be there. According to the restaurant’s web site, the current chef is “Georgeann Leaming”.
Runner Up: Torrece Gregoire

Season 15 (Spring 2016)

Winner: Ariel Malone
Prize: BLT Steak at Bally’s Las Vegas
Status: Awarded, but she’s no longer there.
Runner Up: Kristin Barone

Season 16 (Winter 2017)

Winner: Kimberly-Ann Ryan
Prize: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at The Venetian Las Vegas
Status: Apparently awarded, but the chef listed for this restaurant is currently “John Kunkel”. Not sure what’s going on here.
Runner Up: Heather Williams

Season 17 (Early 2018)

Winner: Michelle Tribble
Prize: Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant at Caesars Palace
Status: Not Yet Known
Runner Up: Benjamin Knack

Commentary

Chalk this next commentary all up to TV smoke and mirrors. These winner “head chef” jobs seem just a tad strange. They claim to win a head chef position, but I rarely ever see the name of the winner listed on the web page for the restaurant. Then, inexplicably after a few months, the winner has already left the restaurant. It almost seems like the restaurant is embarrassed to state that they have a Hell’s Kitchen winner in the kitchen. It seems to me that the restaurants would want that publicity instead of shying away from it. It’s so odd.

As a chef, why would you put yourself through the grueling rundown of Ramsay’s tirades and not know if you’re actually going to win even if that door opens? This show has lost its steam. My guess is that all that steam is evaporating from Ramsay’s expletives rather than from the pots. Personally for me, this show has worn out its welcome. But, apparently, Fox keeps ordering more seasons… And, 2 HK seasons in one calendar year in 2014? What was that all about? At least they stopped that silly business during the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with Michelle Tribble since her win was only just aired on February 2nd, 2018.


Where Are They Now?

Update for Previous Winners

Welcome to the “Where are they today?” section. I will attempt keep this information up to date as I locate information on each of the previous winners and other important contestant news. If you see a news article updating an HK’s winners whereabouts, please leave a comment below. Stay Tuned and Enjoy.

Michael Wray (Season 1 winner)

We know that Michael didn’t win the prize that he was promised. Instead, he was invited to study with Ramsay in the UK. He opted out because he stated it would be hard on his family at the time. Since then, he has been head chef in two Los Angeles restaurants (Tatou and the Standard), but ultimately didn’t stay. He left the Standard after stating that it was a good job, but the duties kept him out of the kitchen more than he liked. After leaving those restaurants, he moved to Arizona to be close to his family and, later, in hopes of opening his own restaurant named the HK1. In 2009, after failing to secure the funding for his restaurant venture then to be named HK1, he has apparently joined the staff of an Arizona College to teach cooking. However, scouring colleges and cooking schools in Tuscon and Sierra Vista Arizona areas, I’ve been unable to turn up which school, if any, where he is teaching. If you’re a reader in Arizona and know where he’s working, please comment. After this, I have not been able to locate information on what he’s doing.

Heather West (Season 2 winner)

Heather was to win her own restaurant in Vegas. She didn’t get this prize. Instead, she became Senior Chef at Terra Rossa at Red Rock Casino Resort Spa for one year. In 2009, she moved to Long Beach, New York where she became head chef of the Monterey Restaurant until September of 2010. From here, she’s moved around to various Executive Chef roles including at Jellyfish, Ciao Baby and R2 Events Corporation as a Corporate Executive Chef. She is now at Schafer’s in Port Jefferson, New York as Executive Chef where she’s been for 7 months.

Rock Harper (Season 3 winner)

Rock Harper is located in Virginia. He has a Twitter account and a blog site called Rock Solid Creative Food Group. He also apparently hosts a podcast called the Chef Rock Xperiment.

Christina Machamer (Season 4 winner)

Christina is located in or near Napa, California. Christina has a web site named ChefCMac.com. On this site she writes:

Today, I keep one foot firmly plated in the wine industry, consulting for Caldwell Vineyard and Eleven Eleven Winery, while working as a private chef for clients renting exclusive estates while visiting Napa Valley…. Click through to read more…

Danny Veltri (Season 5 winner)

Danny Veltri’s location is currently unknown, but he may still live in or near New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In 2012, he was arrested for a DUI. He started his own catering service named Back from Hell catering sometime around 2012. It is unknown if he still operates this service. He was also chef for Gnarly Surf Bar & Grill in Smyrna Beach, which he also helped open. While Gnarly Surf Bar and Grill still appears to be in business according to Yelp, it is unknown if Danny is still involved in it.

Dave Levy (Season 6 Winner)

Where’s Dave as of 2014? He was briefly in jail, but was released on bail pending a hearing, reports nj.com. According to the article, he was a back seat passenger during a routine traffic stop sometime in August that led to discovery of narcotics in the vehicle. Dave was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance. Also, according to this same nj.com article, he was heading back to his restaurant job at Il Giardino ’86 (?.. eh, don’t think so.. see below). Of the bags that were consented to be searched, the officer found the bags to contain illicit prescription drugs (i.e., not prescribed to person in possession of them), a white powder substance suspected as a controlled substance, money and a ledger book which may have documented narcotic sales among other things. These bags were apparently not owned by Dave.

Purported by to this same nj.com article, Dave was apparently on his way back to Il Giardino ’86. I don’t know how that’s possible since Dave had moved to The Publick House quite a while back. Also according to this article and confirmed by Yelp, the Lubrano’s Il Giardino ’86 restaurant has now been 86ed (er.. closed). Its liquor license has been transferred to H2Ocean (not owned or operated by the Lubranos) now operating at the same location. Dave was likely on his way back to his executive chef position at The Publick House Inn and Tavern which is where he was as of 2013 and it is assumed it is where he still works unless this drug charge gets in the way.

Holli Ugalde (Season 7 winner)

I haven’t been able to locate Holli’s exact whereabouts, but I believe she may be near Redlands, California based on her Twitter account. However, her Twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2016. She also had a web which was located at and is now only available through the Internet Archive as www.chefholli.com. The http://www.chefholli.com site is no longer working and must have disappeared sometime in 2017.

Nona Johnson (Season 8 winner)

Nona went by her maiden name of Sivley when on Hell’s Kitchen Season 8. She has lost weight, gotten married and is known as Nona Johnson. She has a Twitter and a Facebook account. She has been operating the Sizzling Peach catering service for at least 4 years. She and her catering service are located in Norcross, Georgia. Here is Sizzling Peach’s Facebook page.

Paul Niedermann (Season 9 winner)

Paul Niedermann has left BLT Steak New York and is now located in Delray, Florida. Here’s a Delray Newspaper article talking to Paul from late 2017.

Christina Wilson (Season 10 Winner)

Where’s Christina now? In 2016, Christina moved to overseeing several of Ramsay’s restaurants both in Vegas and Atlantic city, she’s done a stint as Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen and she’s writing menus for Ramsay’s hotel rehab show, “Hotel Hell”. Since it’s now 2018, I’m not entirely sure what Ramsay has Christina doing. Apparently, she’s one of the rare HK winners. Apparently, she’s been able to milk the most out of her win on Hell’s Kitchen (and out of Ramsay) where most other winners have gone their separate ways in short order.

Ja’Nel Witt (Season 11 Winner)

After not being able to claim her prize due to a drug test failure, Ja’Nel has created her own web site and describes how she got started. She’s currently located in Houston, Texas. The site says:

Chef Ja’Nel found her passion for food helping her mom in the kitchen as a little girl. After college she realized she could take that passion and turn it into a career. She initially earned her Bachelors of Science in Health and Human Performance, but then quickly followed her heart into the kitchen and has not looked back since. Click through to read more

Scott Commings (Season 12 Winner)

As of 2018, Scott is located in Las Vegas. As of July 2017, he was located at The Las Vegas Room at the Downtown Grand. The Las Vegas Room is private rental dining room. It is presumed he is still operating this private dining restaurant. The Downtown Grand web site states:

This venue is available for private events and whether your preference is a romantic, 2 hour cocktail reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres or a formal sit down dinner, you’ll find a swanky, sophisticated scene in the Las Vegas Room. The Las Vegas Room is 1,700 square feet with a guest capacity of up to 100.

Scott is also working with The Freedom Beat, also located in the Las Vegas Downtown Grand. On Feb 13th, 2018, he’s offering up a pre fixe menu with The Culinary Road trip, a monthly dinner he hosts. Cost is $38 or $48.

Jessica Vogel (Season 12 Contestant)

Jessica Vogel competed along side Scott Commings in Season 12 of Hell’s Kitchen. She was eliminated from the show on episode 10 of season 12. On August 1, 2018, it was reported by USA Today that Jessica Vogel had died on July 30th, 2018 of heart complications after being treated for colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. She was 34.

Here’s an interview with Jessica Vogel during her time on Hell’s Kitchen:

new Michael Wray (Season 1 Winner Update)

Michael Wray had been living under a bridge in Los Angeles, CA. He has started a GoFundMe campaign to attempt to purchase a food truck so he can get back into the Chef business. Here’s an excerpt from what his campaign page has to say [sic]:

… The chance I earned from Hell’s Kitchen to begin my dream of being my own boss and using my new platform to bring my food to the world was wasted through drug abuse and addiction. Divorce, and most, loosing my lil new born Trixie GoGo broke my heart and spirit. Sending me into a tail spin of addiction that 5years after my win. I was living under the Burbank Blvd. underpass off the 5freeway in Los Angeles.

… I have spent the last 6 years without relapsing and earning my right to be an amazing chef again. Help me to get my food truck. I want to go and cook for you. Road trip of culinary delight. I want to show everyone I deserve the be a Hell’s Kitchen winner.

You can mosey on over to his GoFundMe campaign page by clicking this link. Thanks go to Tina for this tip.

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