Before becoming a celebrity chef, TV personality, triathlete, and IRONMAN competitor, Rocco DiSpirito was your average restaurant chef (though slightly more talented than many). He lived life under intense physical and emotional stress; he constantly tasted and sampled decadent, calorie-dense foods; he slept little; rarely, if ever, did he hit the gym. Then, a decade ago, he found himself sitting at his doctor’s office, 30 pounds overweight, with 20 percent body fat and elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. When his doctor jokingly told him to draw up his will, he decided to make a change. It stuck. With several diet books under his belt, DiSpirito, in newly released title Cook Your Butt Off!: Lose Up to a Pound a Day With Fat-Burning Foods and Gluten-Free Recipes, makes the biggest promises of all; it’s about using the cooking process itself to burn calories while preparing low-calorie meals, at home.
It sounds sort of gimmicky, but the theory does make sense. Cooking is obviously a far cry from running or Crossfit; however, it is a physical activity. Through the adoption of electric tools, much of the energy expenditure has been reduced, even nearly eliminated. So DiSpirito encourages readers to put a little more elbow grease into the process. “In this book I go backwards a little bit, not too much,” he says. “I don’t want you cooking for hours — it’s still simple, but I go backwards when it comes to technology and I use low-tech equipment like a box grater, food mill, a knife. So everything is hand-chopped, hand-grated, and you can burn up to 400 calories an hour cooking.”
To track the calories going out, DiSpirito wore a Fitbit to monitor his heart rate, active calorie burn, and resting calorie burn. (He is the celebrity spokesperson for the device.) When working out the instructions for the book, one of his recipe testers also donned one; the figures given for each dish are an average of the two.
The exercise aspect, however, is just one part of the book’s premise. Additionally, DiSpirito designed all the recipes to be gluten-free and low-calorie. According to the figures in the book, there are some instructions that end up in more calories burned off than taken in. For example, the pumpkin pie smoothie contains 59 calories, yet through the mixing process (DiSpirito suggests shaking all the ingredients in a cocktail mixer for two minutes), you end up burning eight more calories than you consume. “Like many of my ideas, I think, and think, and think, and then it came to me: What if you could be calorie-forward all the time?” says DiSpirito. “If you could be ahead of your calories, not only eating low-calorie food or negative calories, you could burn calories while cooking. So I started wondering if it’s possible; I tested it, and it turns out it is possible.”
DiSpirito says that the idea came to him before his Fitbit partnership. He has been working steadily on diet and nutrition since about 2006; over the years, he’s enlisted the help registered dietitians, registered dietitian nutritionists, doctors, trainers, osteopaths, and more to verify theories, reduce calories in recipes, and learn more about overall health.
He forayed into diet-friendly recipe development around the same time. He still remembers the first discovery that really got him going. Spending the summer at his home in the Hamptons, DiSpirito was eating lobster like it was going out of style; however, he was trying to stay away from his favorite presentation of the crustacean, lobster bisque, due to all the calorie-dense heavy cream. In attempt to make it lighter, he substituted other liquids like skim milk, chicken stock, and water with wine, and stumbled upon a scientific (and dietary) revelation. “For years, we’ve been making lobster bisque with heavy cream, which has a thousand calories,” says DiSpirito. “And we always thought that heavy cream was the best way to extract lobster flavor. Then I did a little research and I found out that contrary to conventional wisdom, the molecules in lobster that taste like lobster, the volatiles, are hydrophilic, not lipophilic, meaning they are attracted to water molecules, not fat molecules. So a water low-fat extraction is the best extraction.”
Since then, DiSpirito has gone on to expand upon his repertoire of low-calorie renditions of fatty dishes. He moved on to brownies, fried chicken, quesadillas, mac and cheese, Italian. Through his work and own personal concern, DiSpirito has become obsessed with decreasing obesity and changing individuals’ connection to the food system. He’s started a weight loss coaching and food delivery service and he frequently uses his celebrity status to give talks about the environmental, economic, and political costs of bad diet and obesity.
He can quickly throw out statistics on how obesity ties in to all of these issues. Cars burn an extra 938 gallons of fuel than if people weighed what they weighed in 1960, he says, which costs $3.4 billion per year; $1 billion, and an extra 350 million gallons of fuel, go to overweight passengers. On average, most food travels over 5,000 miles before it reaches consumers’ homes. Like many other chefs, DiSpirito extols the benefits of locally sourced foods; he gets riled up over the misconception that they cost more. “It doesn’t make sense intellectually, on the merits, in terms of physics,” says DiSpirito. “The average food mile on food that we eat in America is 5,000. Locally grown has traveled 200 miles instead. How could it possibly be more expensive when you have spent 4,800 less miles of fuel on traveling that food from Mexico or wherever it came from? Do you know how expensive fuel is?”
And then there’s the health toll. One in ten children has type 2 diabetes, whereas the disease was almost unheard of in the 1960s. He cites a Robert Johnson Foundation Report that claims that if obesity rates don’t reduce, it will cost the United States close to $500 billion annually. He is harsh on factory farming and genetically modified foods, because, he says, we now make more than three times the amount of food to feed the nation and, while 49 million Americans are food-insecure, the majority eat three times the calories needed to maintain a healthy weight.
While DiSpirito would like to see a major switch in food consciousness (local, sustainable, and nutritionally dense food as well as home gardens), his latest book addresses a handful of issues. He refers to obesogens as one of the biggest dietary culprits. Including gluten, sugar, and dairy (casein and lactose), these items enable the body to acquire and store fat. To DiSpirito, they’re all too common in the average American diet. The tome shows readers how to cook without them, while substituting healthy alternatives. “The book comes from my evolution as a dieter, as a health-conscious person, as a health advocate,” says DiSpirito. “I thought it was important to do this book because a lot of gluten-free foods, most that are commercially available, are not good for you. I wanted to show people who were concerned about this that they could be gluten-free, healthy, low-cal, and low-carb.”
Click to the next page for DiSpirito’s Roasted Pork With Sauerkraut, Apples, and Dijon Mustard recipe.[
Roasted Pork with Sauerkraut, Apples, and Dijon Mustard
The pairing of roasted pork and apples is nothing new, but delivering it in twenty minutes and around 220 calories per serving is! Time-wise, dinner is one place where you can take the easy way out. You can’t half-wash the clothes, or partially clean the dishes, but you can take plenty of shortcuts in cooking, and that’s what I’ve done here. Although you can use any type of apple, I’ve chosen the Gala variety for this recipe. They’re juicy, crisp, hugely flavorful, and readily available all year long. Plus, they cook up tender and sweet. Pink Lady apples are a good alternative.
Yield 1 main course
Prep time approximately 5 minutes
Processing time approximately 20 minutes
Calorie Burn 110
Olive oil cooking spray
4 ounces trimmed pork tenderloin, cut into 2 medallions
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small Gala apple, cored
1 1/2 teaspoons smooth (not whole-grain) Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons sliced onions
1/2 cup “live” sauerkraut, like Rejuvenate
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Spray a nonstick ovenproof skillet with cooking spray and place it over medium-high heat. Season the medallions with salt and pepper on both sides and once the pan is hot, place them in the pan. Cook until browned on each side, about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Slice half of the apple into slices and set aside. Using a Microplane or the small holes of a box grater, grate the other half into a bowl and mix in the mustard. Put the onions and sliced apples in the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until the apples and onions have softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Place the pork on top of the onions and apples and place in the oven to finish cooking the pork, 2 to 5 minutes.
4. Transfer the pork to a plate. Add the sauerkraut to the pan with the onions and apples and toss to warm.
Evenly distribute the mixture next to and under the pork.
5. Dollop the apple mustard on top of the pork and serve.
• Add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme to this recipe for added aroma and next to no calories.
• “Live” sauerkraut means it was not heated and all the microflora were not destroyed so they are available to your body.
Excerpted from the book Cook Your Butt Off! by Flavorworks Inc. © 2015 by Flavorworks Inc. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing Life & Style. All Rights Reserved.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.