Interviews / August 16, 2012

Billy Strynkowski

By Charles Platkin, PhD

A culinary graduate of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, he has been a member of the Cooking Light team since 2001, Chef Billy also supervises the Food Village at the U.S. Open Tennis Center every September, making certain his cooks serve high-quality food to over a half million tennis fans. Prior to joining Cooking Light, he was the Executive Chef for Restaurant Associates at the Time Inc. headquarters in New York.

Chef Billy, is a regular guest on CNN and has appeared on dozens of other TV shows including ABC’s The View and Good Morning America. When he’s not developing recipes in the Cooking LightTest Kitchens, Chef Billy is traveling around the country hosting Supper Clubs and other Cooking Light events.

Since 2005, Cooking Light readers have enjoyed a monthly helping of Chef Billy with his column “Kitchen Tips with Chef Billy.” Featured in the First Light section of the magazine, “Kitchen Tips” offers basic suggestions and facts every cook should know. He has also lost 60 pounds, so he knows first-hand about cooking light and getting fit.

Diet Detective: Chef, thanks very much for taking time out of the kitchen to do this interview. I guess my first question would have to be what keeps you going — what’s your motivation?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: My passion for food is the driving force behind my career. I love teaching people to realize that eating correctly doesn’t have to involve eating boring foods. To me, the excitement comes from serving fresh, well-prepared, healthy meals to my loved ones, and teaching others how to do the same.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy meal to prepare?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Grilling is a great way to maximize the flavor of your food without adding any fat. There is nothing better than fresh grilled seafood, meat, poultry, or vegetables with a seasonal salsa or chutney. Top it off with a dash of oil, and you’re in heaven.

Diet Detective: What are some kitchen insider tips you can use when dining out to make sure your meal is healthy? What are good things patrons can ask for (substitutions, omissions) that would make you fix them an extra-healthy meal if you were their chef? How do you make sure that the chef gets the right message and doesn’t get angry about preparing the food in a healthy manner?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Order a light appetizer. By quenching your initial hunger with a soup or salad, you’re less likely to overeat when it comes to the main course. You can always mix it up by requesting a grilled vegetable plate instead of a soup or salad. Even if they don’t have it on the menu, most restaurants are happy to comply with special requests when it comes to your health.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient? What’s the one thing you’d suggest people keep in their kitchen if they want to cook healthy meals?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Sauces are a great way to liven up even the blandest of meals. I always keep flavored mustards, vinegars, fresh herbs, and fresh citrus; i.e., oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits ­for the zest, pulp, and juice. Add those to any base, and you’ve made a restaurant-worthy glaze.

Those who are focused on eating healthy must purchase a good steamer. Steaming your vegetables and grains is a great way to preserve the fresh taste in the privacy of your own kitchen.

Diet Detective: What’s the easiest healthy meal you know how to make?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Grilled fish drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar with chopped tomato and rosemary relish­ — it doesn’t get much easier than that!

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy make-over meal — a meal that’s usually not particularly good for you, but that can be prepared so as to provide health benefits?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Chicken Pot Pie is easy to transform into a healthy and fun meal. Instead of using a buttery pastry crust which adds unnecessary calories, ­try using phylo dough instead. Fresh vegetables, lean chicken breast, and low-fat milk are all it takes to transform this high-calorie home-style favorite into a healthy dinner for the entire family. Let your kids explore their inner chef by letting them make their own personal-pot-pie with their favorite vegetables.

Diet Detective: What dessert do you dream about that’s healthy and low-cal?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Come summertime, I look forward to indulging in frozen yogurt with fresh berries, cinnamon, and sugar — it’s so delicious!

Diet Detective: If there were one healthy food item (something you love) that you had to eat every day, what would it be?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Almonds are a great snack to keep with you at all times. Not only are they a good source of protein, but they’re crunchy and flavorful too. If you’re not a nut kind of person, fresh vegetables with salsa is a healthy snack to take the edge off your hunger.

Diet Detective: What’s the best book about health that you’ve read?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a great resource for creative and easy dishes that even non-vegetarians can enjoy.

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food from a health perspective?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: From a nutritional stand-point, there isn’t just one perfect food. A balanced diet is a result of eating several perfect foods, which not only have nutritional value, but provide energy and flavor. Vegetables, grains, nuts, and just about any complex carbohydrate are all perfect foods­ when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Diet Detective: What physical activity do you do to keep yourself in shape?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: In addition to restricting the amount of sweets, fats, and carbohydrates in my diet, I stay fit by exercising six days per week. I usually run four miles daily and bike up to 50 miles weekly.

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite healthy recipe or cooking tip?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: I make my own summer drinks — ­they’re a great substitute for the high-calorie daiquiris and margaritas found at most restaurants. I freeze my favorite fresh fruit ahead of time, and then blend it with ice, club soda, and honey.

Diet Detective: Do you have a Calorie Bargain?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: I substitute almonds for candy. Instead of a handful of M&M’s, I grab a few almonds — they’re much better for you and have the rich taste I crave.

Diet Detective: Tell us how you got to where you are now.

Chef Billy Strynkowski: I’ve been working in a kitchen for most of my life, and believe that the only way to have a successful career is to practice, practice, practice. A little luck and a lot of passion won’t hurt your chances of success either.

Diet Detective: Define and discuss failure.

Chef Billy Strynkowski: To give up whole-heartedly in what you believe in, what you stand for, and what you strive to achieve. Becoming a prisoner of your own body is the ultimate failure in my book. Success is being content with how you stack up against the goals you set for yourself. Happiness is my ultimate success.

Diet Detective: Is there anything about yourself that you’ve changed your mind about in the last 20 years?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: If I were to live my life over again, I would have started eating a balanced diet 20 years ago. It’s extremely important to realize early on that rich foods need to be consumed in moderation.

Diet Detective: Define individual responsibility and how you react to adverse situations.

Chef Billy Strynkowski: Individual responsibility is the art of taking care of business without telling anyone that business has been taken care of. The greatest human responsibility is to try the best you can, every day, all the time.

Diet Detective: Was there a defining moment in your life when you made a decision that changed the course of the rest of your life forever?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: The day I realized that my energy level had plummeted, I had no enthusiasm, and was uncomfortable in my own skin. It was at this juncture ­that I decided I needed to make some changes.

Diet Detective: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself? What’s the biggest lesson you haven’t learned?

Chef Billy Strynkowski: I’ve learned:

If you feel good about yourself and think positively, positive things will continue to occur.

Everyone owes it to themselves and their loved ones to live a long and healthy life.

Your age isn’t just a number — your age represents how you feel, how you react to daily challenges, and the enthusiasm that drives your relationships.

There will always be a lesson left to learn, and you learn best as you go.


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