Meet Chef Susan Irby. Over the years, Susan has worked with multiple Master Chefs including George McNeill, Todd English and Ming Tsai. But perhaps her biggest claim to fame is her nickname: The Bikini Chef.
Yes, Susan used to cook while wearing a bikini but her moniker has more to do with the fact she gets you in the swim of things when it comes to cooking with "figure-flattering flavors."
The host of "The Bikini Lifestyle with Susan Irby" is currently making a splash with her hot new book, Substitute Yourself Skinny (Adama Media). The book serves up 175 super slimming recipes and waves of great advice on swapping out "bad ingredients" for good in your favorite recipes.
Who says you can't eat great and lose weight? Not DiettoGo.com and not the Bikini Chef!
Susan Irby recently sat down with yours truly to answer 7 questions about food, fat and her new book.
Diet-to-Go: So you say a few simple substitutions can help me eat great and still lose weight -- what's the catch?
Susan Irby: Yes, substituting flavorful leaner, lighter, healthier ingredients for full-fat versions will absolutely help you drop pounds. The catch? Consistency!
Enjoying one flavorful "skinny" meal does not mean you will lose weight. It's a step in the right direction, but to lose weight, consistency is key.
With over 175 recipes and "skinny secrets," Substitute Yourself Skinny is a great place to start!
DTG: What are the usual suspects -- the worst-for-me-and-my-diet ingredients -- that make my favorite recipes so bad for my waistline?
Susan: One of the worst ingredients is in many favorite dishes and revolves around cream. Heavy cream and full-fat cheeses will sabotage any diet and are prevalent in bisque and alfredo-style sauces.
Using nonfat sour cream and nonfat milk in place of heavy cream alone saves 692 calories and 87 grams of fat per 1 cup (1 cup of cream substituted with 1/2 cup nonfat sour cream and 1/2 cup nonfat milk).
If you must have cheese, opt for reduced fat versions, skim milk or part-skim versions and stay away from full-cream cheeses.
DTG: What are some of the great substitute ingredients -- foods that keep the taste but take away a lot of the fat and calories?
Susan: Nonfat vanilla yogurt is one of my absolute favorite ingredient substitutions. Use it in place of full-fat mayonnaise in chicken salad, tuna salad and shrimp salad.
Also, soynaise is a soy-based mayonnaise product that can be used just as you would mayonnaise on sandwiches and in recipes.
Use nonfat cream cheese and add a little lemon zest and perhaps a few chopped fresh herbs such as cilantro or dill to spruce up the flavor.
A lot of people shy away from low fat and nonfat versions of foods because they feel they lack flavor. Infuse your own flavor into these foods with citrus and herbs. They have tons of flavor, virtually no fat or calories, and have positive nutritional properties, too, such as vitamin C and fiber.
DTG: What led you to become a cook... and someone who cares about keeping in flavor while transforming food into diet-friendly fare? Did you suffer a weight problem?
Susan: I worked in a stressful corporate environment. To de-stress, I would come home and cook, taking out varying ingredients from my cabinets and experimenting with flavors.
It was during that time I self-published my first cookbook, Cooking With Susan, Southern Family Favorites, as a tribute to my southern heritage and family recipes. In doing tastings from the book, people would comment about the high fat content of the foods and asked why I wasn't fat. It was because I didn't eat those foods all the time.
So, I began teaching cooking classes on the healthier foods I eat like broiled salmon, grilled vegetables, and pan-grilled lean beef. Now, while I have never been obese, my weight has definitely fluctuated throughout my life, as much as over 20 pounds, and I realize the importance of staying with a plan, being aware of the types of foods you consume on a regular basis, dealing with the effects of what I call "emotional eating," and learning, over time, to enjoy everything in moderation.
Trust me, it's much easier to life a healthy lifestyle and stay more on the "bikini" side than it is to constantly feel you have to or want to lose weight. I could write a full book on that alone! Perhaps I should.
Weight can be viewed as a battle, but it doesn't have to be. Get your mind wrapped around being "bikini" first, then the rest is just healthy gravy. :o)
DTG: How has the culinary world changed from when we were kids? I recall "diet foods" tasting like cardboard... or worse!
Exactly, you are spot-on correct. In the past, reduced-fat, low-fat, and non-fat foods were not the most flavorful and their texture left little to be desired. Times sure have changed!
Some of the non-fat products in the market taste better than the full-fat versions. Take cottage cheese, for example. Use non-fat cottage cheese in lasagne, desserts, and many recipes calling for full-fat creamy cheeses and sour cream, or enjoy as is with a few slices of tomato, fresh basil leaves, drizzled with a hint of olive oil. Delicious!
In the past, the same cheese most likely would have been watery and flavorless. There are many examples of this. Before you say no to low-fat and non-fat food products, give them a try and try a couple of different brands. My guess is you will be pleasantly surprised.
As well, as I mentioned above, don't be afraid to add your own flavorful twist on these low-fat versions. Perk up the flavor by adding a little lemon zest, about 1/2 lemon, orange zest, fresh herbs... I can't stress enough the simple, fresh, crisp flavor just those little additions make to an ordinary dish.
DTG: Your recipes sound scrumptious, but how do I find the time to make a list, shop for food, and then prepare it in my kitchen -- I am a very busy guy!
Susan: I agree. We are all busy these days. Computers, internet, all the fun apps... our lifestyles these days, no matter where you live, are inundated 24/7 with information and the need to respond.
You have to train yourself to think ahead. Not weeks ahead, but a day ahead, or a few hours ahead. If there is a specific recipe I want to cook for lunch or dinner and I don't have time to write it down, I honestly take the cookbook to the store with me!
Ideally, think about the plan for your day the day before. Make it a fun event in your mind. Not a chore you have to do. Take a few minutes to write out your list which saves you time at the store.
Most of these recipes, with the exception of the lasagna, can be made in minutes. Again, think of cooking as fun. Involve your friends, family, or significant other. Or, use this time as "you time" -- a way to relax and de-stress from your day.
Experiment with different foods and flavors. What is the worst that can happen? You throw it out! Not ideal, but the idea is to have fun and make cooking an activity you enjoy, not something you have to fit in simply because you have to eat.
The more fun you make it, the more time you will want to dedicate to it.
DTG: So how did you become known as "the bikini chef to the stars?" Did you really cook while wearing a bikini... and weren't you afraid of splattering grease?
Susan: I do, on occasion, cook in a bikini. When I am at my family's cabin on Lake Martin, Alabama, I still sometimes cook in a bikini. That's where bikini cooking really began! After spending the day water skiing on the lake, we'd be so hungry we would cook in our bikinis.
Now, my logo is a cute pink polka-dot bikini. It's on my chef coat, my hat... so, technically I do cook in a bikini. Just not the kind you think.
Having said that, I do have a bikini chef coat surprise. The question, "do you cook in a bikini" comes up so often I decided to have a bikini chef coat custom made. I'll be cooking in a bikini on special occasions but you'll only get a peek-a-boo peek of the bikini. :o)
As far as being "the bikini chef to the stars," most celebrities are conscious about their figures, so what's not to love about great tasting, healthy "bikini cuisine."
As for splattering grease, I've got a few war wounds, so to speak.
Thank you Susan... we'll give your recipes whirl but excuse me if I don't cook while wearing a bikini!