Paul Prudhomme is happy.
"I'm mobile. I work 18 hours a day. I wake up every morning feeling wonderful," he says.
But about two years ago, at 485 pounds, he was not so happy.
"I got to an uncomfortable weight and I had to do something," he says.
First, he tried powdered diet products and even got creative with them, inventing new recipes.
"I got sick of it and decided it was time to get serious," he says. "With my ability to cook, I changed to food."
For a while, he experimented with macrobiotic cooking, a vegetarian approach emphasizing whole grains and high fiber, then moved on to a variety of dishes supplanting his usual heavy hand with butter, cream and roux with a lighter touch.
The result was a 130-pound weight loss, enough to make him mobile in the kitchen. At his present weight, 360 pounds, he is comfortable.
"I can work a station," he says. In restaurant lingo, that means cooking non-stop as customers place orders, which Prudhomme did for three months after the weight loss. "I hadn't done that in years." And he no longer does it, having resumed his usual role of overseeing the kitchen. "Now I don't have to. I know I can."
With his cholesterol, blood pressure and other vital statistics well within normal range. Prudhomme tends not to worry about excess weight as long as he's comfortable.
"I've had a weight problem since I was 8 years old," he says. The last time he can remember being thin was at a photography session when he was 4 years old.
Since weighing more than 500 pounds as a teen-ager, Prudhomme has done his time with diets, fluctuating between 350 and 500 pounds and once even fasting for 40 days.
"If it applies to me and losing weight," he says, "it's not an article, it's a book."
What are his weaknesses?
"If I have a plan, a foolproof plan, and know what I'm having, I can deal with it," he says of dieting. "But if I don't have it, I eat anything."
Sweets used to be a problem. "I was always a binger," he says. He would refrain, then buy a quart of ice cream and eat the whole thing.
"I can't eat sweets every day or I'd weigh 1,000 pounds," he says.
For a while, the chef hired an experienced cook who prepared low-calorie meals for him. Then, he began creating his own diet dishes and stuck to them almost exclusively for about one year. After losing 100 pounds he started eating two diet meals a day and one meal off the diet.
Although the weight loss was an achievement, he's happiest about keeping it off for one year with the modified diet.
Says his wife Kay, "When Paul decides he's going to diet, there's nothing that keeps him from it--except no food at all."
"I try never to beat myself up about gaining weight," he says. "If I go off for a day or two, I try to forgive myself."
Prudhomme admits his recipes aren't the easiest and defers to his sister Enola and her new light-recipe Cajun cookbook, "Low-Calorie Cajun Cooking" (Hearst Books: 1991, $17.95). But for the cook who doesn't mind putting some time into diet dishes, Prudhomme has come up with some winners.
His Mullacalong Chicken makes his eyes roll just talking about it. As for sweets, "you can do some neat things with artificial sweetener," he says. One example is a flan he likes to make with canned skim milk, pureed cottage cheese, eggs and arrowroot.
Prudhomme has no plans to publish a diet cookbook, though at one time he did. His sister Enola had thought up the idea of a family cookbook around the same time. William Morrow, publisher of Prudhomme's first cookbook, wanted Paul to write the family book so the siblings swapped ideas. "The Prudhomme Family Cookbook" was published in 1987 and now Enola's low-calorie book is just out. Paul's next book, "Seasoned America," is scheduled to hit bookstores in the fall.
Meanwhile, Prudhomme is happy to pass on his successful light recipes to others wanting to lose weight. Here are some of his favorites.
2 tablespoons Chef Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons dried leaf cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups corn kernels (preferably fresh, about 4 ears)
5 1/2 cups defatted chicken stock
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts with all visible fat removed (about 1 pound 10 ounces, total weight)
Olive oil spray
2 cups chopped onions
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 sweet red pepper, seeded, stemmed and cut into strips
2 packets low-calorie sweetener
Combine Poultry Magic, turmeric, cilantro, ginger, mustard and curry powder in small bowl.
Combine corn kernels with 1/2 cup chicken stock in blender and process about 2 minutes. (Mixture should be somewhat coarse, not smooth.)
Place chicken breasts in bowl, coat with 2 tablespoons seasoning mixture, and rub in thoroughly with hands.