Four Seasons chef trims the fat

September 15, 2008 10:58:14 AM PDT
Weight-watching is not easy for most of us; but when you're a chef at a one of the city's premiere restaurants, dieting can be impossible. Experimenting with recipes, tasting food in the kitchen and socializing with other restaurant people after work, can help a chef pile on the pounds. Just ask Kevin Hickey, executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. About 18 months ago, he found his weight had crept up to 360 pounds--way too much even for his 6 foot 3 inch frame. Over the years, he had made half-hearted attempts at dieting, but after his son Declan was born, Chef Kevin decided it was time to really do something about his weight. The chef found he was often too tired to play with his little boy (who's now 5) and felt being over-weight was too blame for his lack of energy. He started with a doctor supervised liquid diet and lost about 45 pounds. "I did the liquid diet because I wanted to see immediate results in order to motivate myself. The motivation worked and I began a healthier lifestyle," the chef says.

Then he became determined to exercise. Chef Kevin progressed from speed walking on the treadmill to 30 minutes on the elliptical followed by moderate weight training. "I do this 4 to 5 times a week and ride 10 miles roundtrip on my bike to work a couple times a week."

Riding from his home in Bridgeport to the Gold Coast hotel is quite an a feat after a long work day that often ends after midnight. But his efforts are paying off. He has trimmed down to 268 pounds, losing 92 pounds! His goal is to lose 110 pounds, about 30 per cent of his original weight. Another bonus to the chef, who says he's always loved fashion: he's dropped 4 to 5 sizes and now enjoys shopping for something other than chef's jackets.

Chef Kevin now counts calories and has developed a few tips and techniques to slim down. "I always eat breakfast at home," he says. "When I come to work I am ready to work -- I am not starving and looking for something to eat -- which in a hotel, first thing in the morning, means ready for the taking croissants, muffins, danish, sausage, bacon, bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon etc. I try to not swallow everything I taste, and I only sit down to meals. I never eat standing up."

As the Executive Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, there are still occasions to eat and drink indulgently. "I attend wine dinners, new restaurants and taste the food at work. I do this, however, with a plan," the chef says. "I always balance any indulgences with low-fat, high-protein sensible foods and exercise. This way I enjoy the indulgence without affecting my weight or health, but I can say that my tolerance for fatty, rich foods and alcohol has greatly decreased."

Chef Kevin is happy to share his dieting tips and says he has tried to lighten up dishes at the hotel. Among his favorites: Late Summer Picnic Potato Salad; Bronzini (Fish) Filets with Stewed Heirloom Tomatoes, White Beans and Swiss Chard; Sweet Corn Chowder, and Yogurt and Berry Parfait.

Chef Kevin has been executive chef at the Four Seasons for two and half years; he had worked for the hotel chain for 13 years before that. A Chicago he began his Four Seasons career in 1995 at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, where he was promoted to Executive Sous Chef, during his five-year tenure. In early 2000, he moved to Europe and served on the pre-opening teams for the Four Seasons Dublin and Four Seasons Canary Wharf, London. In 2001, Hickey was promoted and joined Four Seasons Atlanta as Executive Chef where he enjoyed great success with the Hotel's Park 75 Restaurant, earning Zagat's title of "Best Brunch in the World", before returning to his hometown of Chicago in 2004 to serve as Executive Chef of the Ritz Carlton Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel.

A life-long White Sox fan, Chef Kevin's culinary roots are planted in Bridgeport right alongside his family ties. His mother, who was active in Illinois politics, was often away at dinnertime and would leave Kevin and his older sister money to buy Chinese food or pizza. His teenage sister would keep the money and instruct her younger brother to make dinner. "At 10 years old I was tearing through the cupboard and making us dinner out of anything I could find," Hickey recalls.

At age 15 his family moved to Chicago's North Side and Hickey began working at his uncle's Gold Coast restaurant where he rolled up his sleeves and did everything from cooking to washing dishes and busing tables. He continued to gain experience at various Chicago restaurants before graduating from the University of Wisconsin Stout with a degree in hotel and restaurant management.

Hickey says he's delighted to be living and working in Chicago where he can frequent the neighborhood ethnic markets and work with local organic farmers who offer the freshest products. Hickey's love for ethnic food is evident in the culturally-inspired Modern American cuisine he is known for serving. "I incorporate food from these Chicago markets into my distinct style and ever-evolving menu," Hickey says.

Hickey is involved in the Chicago culinary community serving on the advisory board of Common Threads and being active with the Green City Market. Seasons restaurant is a proud recipient of the 2008 AAA Five Diamond Award.


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