Fit to Fight: Miami Chefs Compete in Weight Loss Challenge for Charity

Last year Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars alum Mike Isabella participated in a challenge to save lives and shed pounds dubbed Fit for Hope. The Washington, D.C. fundraiser pitted 12 chefs against one another over the course of 12 weeks and raised more than $30,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Because of the positive impact it had on Isabella's life, he's decided to regionalize the challenge and make it Miami-appropriate. He's picked captain and regional host Jamie DeRosa to head Fit to Fight, which kicks off Monday, June 30, with a party open to the public at Tongue & Cheek.

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"Mike and I have been fans of each other's work for a while, and he'd told me about his experience last year in Washington," DeRosa says. "We thought it would be a good idea to gain more exposure for the charity and try to include friends and colleagues here in Miami."

DeRosa was in charge of inviting chefs to participate in the challenge. "I had a long list, and everyone I reached out to first responded immediately. The chance to come together for this great charitable organization is the driving force."

Fit to Fight will raise funds for Live to Fight, a nonprofit started by cancer survivor and martial arts lover Kristen Brown. Brown and her board of directors, including Ottavia Bourdain (Anthony Bourdain's wife), raise money and offer support for people with life-threatening diseases.

As of Monday, participating chefs Jacob Anaya (OTC), Tim Andriola (Timó), Julian Baker (Toscana Divino), Timon Balloo (Sugarcane), Andre Bienvenu (Joe's Stone Crab),

Sean Brasel (Meat Market), Aaron Brooks (Edge Steak & Bar), Todd Erickson (Haven and HuaHua's), Brad Kilgore (J&G Grill), Dena Marino (MC Kitchen), and Ralph Pagano (Alba Seaside Italian and Naked Taco) will weigh in at the kickoff event at Tongue & Cheek, where they will find out more information about their trainer, gym program, and goals for the 12-week challenge.

Training director and NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist Ben Isabella ( Mike's brother) will work with local gyms and trainers who volunteer to help contestants by providing gym access and training sessions.

"For all of us, it's going to be about putting that pressure on us to get motivated and, more than anything, make a lifestyle change," DeRosa says. "Mine is to lose weight and change what I eat, how I eat, when I eat, and turn this into a routine and something I'll be able to continue to do on my time, my style, and my fashion."

While dropping pounds, the chefs are also tasked with raising a minimum of $1,500 through events at their restaurants and goal-based pledges. Nothing is set in stone yet, but there are talks and plans for collaborative dinner series, themed happy hours, and a bike ride that would end in brunch at Edge Steak & Bar (Chef Brooks is an avid cyclist). "We haven't really decided what we're gonna do to raise money yet, but we're going to have some fun with it," DeRosa says. "Anything that ties food and exercise and spills over into the social community, allowing people the chance to participate and get involved, is what we're aiming for."

At the end of the 12 weeks, the chefs will reconvene at a closing party at Tongue & Cheek September 29 to weigh in on who has won -- or rather, lost -- the most. A special prize will be given (last year it was a trip to the Aspen Wine and Food Classic, and the chefs ended up auctioning it off, with the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society).

"I think a little bit of smack talk on Twitter and the experience of it all is what everyone will take away more than a trip to Aspen or whatever other prize there is," DeRosa says. "It's more about getting your ass kicked and someone pushing you in the direction to make that happen. Some of us need more push than others. I'm going to lose more than, say, Todd Erickson, but that doesn't mean I'm going to win the challenge. At end of the day, we're all going to be winners as long as we set out to do what we intended."

Progress of participating chefs can be tracked at fittofight.org, where pledges can also be made and will benefit Live to Fight.

The Fit to Fight launch party runs from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 30, and is open to the public. Guests can enjoy the World Cup game, passed hors d'oeuvres, and a cash bar, with partial proceeds going to Live to Fight. In addition to mingling with the chefs and trainers, you can even set your own goals and start your own competition with friends. "If there's something we all share, [it's] a love of food," DeRosa says. "It's definitely going to be a challenge, but I'm ready."

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