Let The Battle Begin

The second installment from Chef Matthew Jennings on the fight of his life.

August 10, 2016 ● 3 min read

So I’m two months in.   

The news that sells first: I’ve lost 55 pounds and feel amazing. My health is in great shape, I’m sleeping better, my energy is way up, I’m exercising, I’m wearing clothes that I haven’t worn since college, and generally everyone notices that I look much thinner.   

It’s been ok. It hasn’t been easy. This thing is 100% mental. While the two most essential obstacles to overcome post-surgery are getting the proper amount of protein everyday and staying hydrated, I decided to keep myself in check by cutting out all carbohydrates, dairy, sugars, alcohol, and caffeine. I didn’t have to, but it sure has felt great. I’m pretty fucking sick of boneless and skinless chicken breast and roasted fish at this point, but the proof is in the pounds... or lack thereof. I’m shedding. And I’m kind of obsessed with keeping it up.   

I still love cooking. My palate is completely unaffected. I was just in the kitchen yesterday, rocked out four or five new menu items, loved every minute of it. My desire to surround myself with great ingredients hasn’t changed. I love it, maybe even more than ever. But the pressure to consume and eat and snack and pick — that’s virtually gone. When my appetite does re-surface, which it will, it will be crucial to remember that I have literally stared into the darkness and come out the other side. I can do this. I might need food to live and to be content, but I don’t need it to be a crutch anymore. It doesn’t have to be my therapy.   

Today, I stopped at Cumberland Farms for gas, on my way to pick up a bunch of produce at a local farm. In the past, I would go inside after filling up, pour myself a large coffee filled with cream and three sugar packets, and then grab one of the sausage-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwiches from underneath the food warmer, and eat it on my way back to the restaurant— before breakfast! Today, it was a small, unsweetened iced tea and a protein bar. Life has changed.  

I’d be lying if I were to say this new journey was easy. Food is a goddamn drug. I have to literally remove myself from situations when I might put my progress in jeopardy. I decline invitations to dinner with friends. I have to ask my wife not to order delivery pizza for the kids. I have to stock up with a full Camelbak of water, apples, and celery, like I’m preparing for war. A war I can win.   

I’ve never wanted something so badly, felt so empowered to achieve it, and yet felt completely helpless at the same time. It’s almost an out-of-body experience; I watch people in my dining room eat big fat BLTs bursting with mayo with the greatest homemade crunchy, spiced chips, and I'm dying inside.

I miss pasta. I miss carbonated beverages. I long for a fucking brownie. One goddamn brownie. Who would have thought that’s one of the things I would think about so often? My wife makes these insane brownies and blondies that are almost half raw in the center. I used to hide in the freezer, stuff a couple in my pocket and then warm them up on a sizzle platter from my station until they were just warmed through. I’d dunk them in coffee, and work on my prep list or email vendors.  

I mourn for those days. But I don’t miss them.   

I love now. I love playing with my boys and not being out of breath, more than brownies. I love riding my bike 20 miles and not passing out, better than a greasy slice of pizza. I love feeling the clarity and balance of working harder than I ever have and having laser focus on my restaurant, over an oozy, gooey sundae. I love making love to my wife. My stamina and libido are back.

Damn it, I look good in the sheets — and that beats the hell out of some fried chicken.   

Chef Matthew Jennings | Collage by ChefsFeed