Interviews / August 16, 2012

Brian Hill

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Brian was a contestant on the first season of the Bravo hit reality series “Top Chef”, and since then he has been one of the six regular chefs in the Food Network reality show “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills”. He has also been featured live on the red carpet for E! Entertainment’s Golden Globe Awards, the KTLA Morning Show, and Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” In March 2010, he launched the Comfort Truck in Los Angeles, California.

Name: Brian Hill

Birthday: December 21

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Diet Detective: What keeps you going (your motivation)?

Brian: The opportunity to inspire people and to make a difference in others lives is what keeps me going. I became a chef not only because I love working with food, but also because cooking allows me to share my knowledge and experience with others. I cannot tell you how gratifying it is when I’ve cooked for someone and they tell me that they love what I’ve prepared, and are inspired to start cooking. I love hearing things like that!

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

Brian: Caribbean Chicken. It’s a light and healthy dish but is still heavy on flavor.

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?

Brian: There are a number of tips I recommend. Most people don’t know this, but more often than not, sautéed items are coated in flour before sautéing. This is especially problematic for people on diets such as Atkins. Accordingly, patrons should specifically ask that flour not be used. Another “no no” for dieters occurs when people order scrambled eggs with egg whites. Diners think that by ordering egg whites, they’re being healthy and lowering the fat content. This should be true, however what often happens is a number of chefs actually use whipping cream instead of light milk when cooking with egg whites. Thus, that light breakfast is actually super fattening! Diners should always ask that nonfat milk be used! One huge “behind the scenes” tip I recommend to all my clients who are trying to eat healthier is if their meal does require oil that they ask that the chef use it sparingly and that they request fresh oil. A number of restaurants try to cut costs by reusing cooking oil and grease. Not only is this unhealthy, but it dramatically increases the fat content in food.

A good chef should not be insulted that a diner wants to eat healthier. In this day and age, light substitutions are almost standard in my industry. That said, if there is a real concern that the chef may be angry, the old “I’m allergic” adage will usually do the trick.

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?

Brian: Pineapple is hands down my favorite healthy ingredient. It can be used in salads, alongside poultry and in desserts. It has next to no fat and is under 100 calories per serving. The one must-have healthy food item is a tomato. Tomatoes are extremely low in fat and are still very tasty. They’re a great accompaniment to any meal and can be prepared so many ways while still maintaining maximum flavor.

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

Brian: I pride myself on cooking light and keeping meals as healthy as possible. That said, for a really great light and easy meal, you can never go wrong with salad. I like Greek salad with light dressing. Hold the cheese of course! For my own clients, I typically prepare a fruit and veggie salad with my original pineapple vinaigrette.

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?

Brian: Turkey burgers instead of hamburgers every time! They’re lower in fat and cholesterol. Substitute white buns for whole wheat and if you must use mayonnaise, use canola based mayo rather than regular. This is one of Eddie Murphy’s favorites!

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

Brian: Sautéed apples served with vanilla frozen yogurt. The juice in the apple acts like a natural oil and thus softens the apple without the need for actual butter or oil. This is a delicious and healthy dessert.

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

Brian: Mango, mango, mango. I cannot get enough of it!

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

Brian: Raw Secrets by Frederic Patenaude.

Diet Detective: What are your two favorite health magazines?

Brian: Men’s Health and Shape Magazine.

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

Brian: Fuji Apples. They re-hydrate the body, contain antioxidants and taste great! What more can you ask for in a food?

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

Brian: Walking and cycling. Both are easy and allow me to be outdoors.

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite healthy recipe or cooking tip? If so would you share it?

Brian: Whenever possible, grill instead of frying or sautéing. People underestimate how healthy grilling food can be. Not only is it a lighter way of cooking, but cooking on the grill is one of the best ways to maximize the food’s true flavor.

Diet Detective: Do you have a Calorie Bargain?

Brian: Since I try to eat as healthy as possible, I don’t really have a calorie bargain. That said, as I mentioned before, if I am craving a hamburger, I will make a turkey burger instead. On the sweet side, in the past, I have substituted carrot cake with fat-free carrot muffins instead.

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

Brian: I was a welfare child who grew up in one of D.C.’s worst ghettos. Since my father was not around and my mother and sisters literally burned hard-boiled eggs, I had to learn to cook or I was not going to eat. For me, I guess you could say cooking became a matter of survival. I spent my days watching Julia Child on television. I became fascinated with food and with learning how to cook. By the time I was 13, I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the entire family. I knew that my only chance of getting out of the ghetto was to get an education and to become a chef.

Unfortunately, my mother did not support my ambitions, and I left home when I was 17. I took a number of jobs in the restaurant business, and basically did anything and everything I could to learn how to become a better chef. I simultaneously enrolled in college which I loved, but I needed to make a living, and given that I seemed to have a knack for cooking, I went for it!

After leaving college, I started my own catering company. Around that time, I auditioned for a game show, called “Hollywood Showdown”. I ended up winning an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles. After visiting Los Angeles, I realized that was where I belonged. I packed up everything and moved. Luck, timing and preparation were on my side. I ended up cooking a meal for P-Diddy’s manager, which thankfully, he loved. Soon, I was cooking for major celebrities like P-Diddy, Mariah Carey and Eddie Murphy. I went on to be the personal chef to Mary J. Blige and competed among some of the most highly-educated chefs in the world on the Bravo show “Top Chef”.

Diet Detective: Define and discuss failure.

Brian: Although I am not married, given where I have come from, I feel that failure is not being a good husband or parent to my future child. I define failure as believing that there is nothing left to learn.

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

Brian: Twenty years ago, I wanted and needed to know it all. I took a lot of risks professionally that I probably wouldn’t have taken today. Time and experience have taught me that it is always best to stick to what you know and do that well. There’s a saying that “you can be a jack of all trades and a master of nothing.” I truly believe that.

Diet Detective: What’s the next major item on your “to-do” list?

Brian: Write a cookbook and open up my own restaurant.

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

Brian: To me, individual responsibility means accepting the responsibility for your own situation and not blaming others for your circumstances. Growing up the way that I did, I was faced with adverse situations every single day. I find that the best way to deal with them is to not panic and to find a solution. Anyone can come to you with a problem — It’s finding the solution that matters.

Diet Detective: What is your most influential story, fiction or nonfiction, from a film, book, magazine, newspaper or parable? Explain its impact on your life. What’s you’re favorite saying?

Brian:  All Politics is Local and Other Rules of the Game by Tip O’Neal. Growing up in D.C., I always had an interest in politics and the workings of Government, but what most influenced me about this book is how true it is. The book really taught me about knowing when to say when and how to best approach people. My favorite saying is, “What’s worth doing, is worth doing well.”

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?

Brian: Winning Hollywood Showdown! That one trip to Los Angeles changed the course of my life indelibly. I never even realized that there was a world out there beyond what I had known.

Diet Detective: What’s the most bodacious chance you’ve ever taken?

Brian: Leaving D.C. and everyone I had ever loved behind to move to Los Angeles where I knew no one in order to pursue my dream of becoming a chef.

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

Brian: The biggest lesson that I’ve learned to date is, as I mentioned earlier, to always stick to what I know. As far as the biggest lesson that I haven’t learned, I don’t suppose I’ll know it until I get there.

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