In the beginning of the summer, a dozen Miami chefs entered the Fit to Fight challenge. The challenge, created by Top Chef alum Mike Isabella, started in Washington D.C., where the toque enlisted his Beltway peers to work out and raise over $30,000 for cancer support and research. The challenge was so successful, with 14 chefs losing a combined total of 300 pounds and raising money, Isabella decided to bring it to Miami.
Each Miami chef has committed to raise $1,500 personally to benefit Live To Fight, a non-profit organization that brings together people in the martial arts and mixed martial arts community to raise money and offer additional support for people within that community with life-threatening illnesses. The chefs have also agreed to change their lifestyles, incorporating exercise and healthy eating into hectic schedules that too often involve late nights, rich foods, and a few end-of-shift drinks.
Of the dozen Miami chefs who entered the challenge, including Jacob Anaya (OTC); Tim Andriola (Timo); Julian Baker (Toscana Divino); Timon Balloo (Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill); Andre Bienvenu (Joe's Stone Crab); Sean Brasel (Meat Market); Aaron Brooks (Edge Steak & Bar);Todd Erickson (Haven and HuaHua's); Bradley Kilgore (J&G Grill); Dena Marino (MC Kitchen); Ralph Pagano (Alba Seaside Italian and Naked Taco); and Jamie DeRosa (Tongue & Cheek), who also serves are team captain, some are really taking this seriously.
MC Kitchen's Dena Marino, known more for making indulgent pasta dishes than for her finesse in the ring, has taken to boxing to build strength and endurance. The chef hits the bags at SoBeKick six days a week, along with Timon Balloo, Todd Erickson, Sean Brasel, and Jamie DeRosa, taking to Instagram to thank her instructors and fellow Rocky wannabees.
So far, the chef has lost over a dozen pounds, saying "the biggest change I've seen in myself is the weight loss and my body changing. I now have lots of muscle, which I never knew I had. I'm completely obsessed with boxing and sneakers." The chef has also changed her eating habits. "I cut out all carbs and almost all sugar, except one in my espresso in the morning. I learned how to eat properly and love protein shakes."
At yesterday's Fit to Fight Fundraiser at SoBe Kick, Marino showed off her fierceness alongside Sean Brasel, Timon Balloo, and Todd Erickson, as former football star Jason Rader led the class in a series of training drills that had us punching, kicking, and sweating for a physically intense hour. This was no for-show class. This was a real workout.
Todd Erickson, who says that although he lost only about seven pounds, sees major results from his daily workouts both kickboxing and at spinning class. "My love handles and gut have all but disappeared. All of the kickboxing and spinning have burnt fat and replaced it with muscle, which, in my opinion, is even better than what the scale says. My jeans and shirts fit much better, so I'm thrilled!"
Erickson also co-hosted a similar fundraiser at Flywheel studios, where a toned instructor led a group of about 30 participants through a simulated Tour de France ride.
Team Captain Jamie DeRosa also hosted the event, followed by a healthy brunch at Tongue & Cheek. DeRosa is also looking svelte after a steady routine of spinning and boxing. DeRosa says that he's lost about 15 pounds, but also added muscle from his workouts.
DeRosa says the chefs keep each other motivated with group texts, team classes, and healthy breakfasts. "It's just fun how everyone's come together."
The Tongue & Cheek chef/owner says that part of the reason for the lifestyle change is for his daughter Isabella. "She takes up a lot of energy and I have to keep up with her. Now that I have a child and family, I want to be healthy and live to see her walk down the aisle."
DeRosa, who is a business owner, said at first it was difficult to find the time to get to the gym, but it's all a matter of prioritizing. "I think for a lot of us it was scary to carve out some time during the day that didn't involve business. You know, I love sports, but I feel like instead of watching a game, I should be working on my craft. But this isn't a hobby. It's a lifestyle change. It's become a part of who I am. It's something that you just have to do. It's good for you both short term and long term."
The final results of the chefs' efforts will be announced at a special Fit to Fight Weigh-In Party at Tongue & Cheek on Monday, September 29, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50 and include special appearances by celebrity fighters (to be announced), cocktails, and bites by the participating chefs. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.com.
If you want to support these chefs in their efforts, there's still time to donate at fittofight.org.