Fat Chefs: Tre Wilcox Has Words For You

Eight years ago Tre Wilcox was an overweight sous chef who, like a lot of his peers in the kitchen, got "comfortable." Today he's probably one of the fittest chefs in Texas. No small feat in the birthplace of the fried twinkie. Wilcox estimates that 70% of chefs are overweight, a figure that he declares "disappointing."

It was while working in the kitchen at Abacus that Wilcox eventually began losing weight, dropping over 50 pounds. The Executive Chef of Marquee Grill in Dallas and a James Beard Rising Star of the Year finalist talks to us about circuit training, protein shakes and why he doesn't buy how you're too busy to work out. And yes, chefs, he's talking to you.

When did you decide you needed to lose weight?

It was holiday season about eight years ago at Abacus in 2004. I made a bet with a couple of servers and a pastry chef about who could lose the most weight in a month. I picked the month of November because I knew it would be more challenging with Thanksgiving. We had about six people put in $100 and whoever lost the most weight took the pot. I lost about 14 pounds, took the pot and haven't stopped since.

How much weight did you end up losing?

I was at about the 280 mark when I started this diet program. Now I hold my weight between 225 and 235.

And a lot of that is muscle.

My body fat content is usually no higher than 12%.

Was there something that made you realize you had to lose weight?

I think part of it for me was my background of being a top-notch soccer player in my younger days. At 17, I was a national Dallas Cup player with promises of going to college. I came from being someone in tip-top shape and as I got further in the chef industry, I got comfortable, and I let that go away. One of my biggest pet peeves is lack of discipline. Once I applied discipline to my workout life it became a little bit of an addiction as well.

Is it difficult in the kitchen environment, while testing recipes or coming up with your menus, to avoid eating so much?

No, testing is just tasting. You're not eating plates and plates of food. I did 15 recipes on Tuesday and there wasn't anything there I was wolfing down. It's a common misconception people think that with all the food in the kitchen you taste, you're going to be heavy. If you're like me and work out as much as I do it's not a big deal at all.

That stereotype does exist for a lot of people, the "fat chef."

Honestly it's one of the most disappointing things with the chef industry is that 70% of us are overweight. It's disappointing to me because we have access to the food and sure we can be busy. But 45 minutes, that's all you need. A lot of chefs spend as much time or more time after work drinking. Obviously in this industry we party hard, but that's just a discipline choice.

How do you find time to go to the gym?

I do it before work. When people say they don't have time or they say they're too busy, if you can make the time to go to the bank to deposit your check, you can make time to work out.

So you consider it not such a big deal to find time work out?

With a gym routine 45 minutes, 3 times a week is all you need. That's the bare minimum to me. My average workout routine goes about 2 hours. I like to work out at least 3 days a week. With a job as aggressive and demanding as it is, my rest days are rest. I'm still here at Marquee Grill pumping out a lot, moving and lifting.

And what do you do specifically at the gym?

I categorize my days of working out by body parts. One day it's shoulders, traps and back. And then next it's biceps, triceps and chest. And then that third day is legs or other muscles I feel need some more. I usually repeat my back workout because being a chef it's one of the most important parts of your body to have strong.

And you mostly do a circuit workout?

I'll do two different weight lifts for different parts of the body, then rest and go back to it. Three to four sets. After an hour and 30 minutes I'll do some abs and then I do my cardio after my weightlifting session.

Is there a reason you save cardio for the end?

If you do your cardio after your lifting session, what energy is used to run or whatever cardio it is, that energy is usually taken from fat. That's why I save my cardio portion for after.

Walk me through your diet.

I'm very disciplined about eating things naturally healthy. I don't eat processed foods. I don't do drive-through. If I eat at work I eat steak or fish with vegetables. I'm not particular about eating at certain times. It doesn't matter what time you eat, it just matters if you can burn the calories you put in your body.

Are there any particular "health foods" you gravitate to?

I'm big on protein shakes. My sous chefs make fun of me. When they see me blending, they say, "Oh it's your liquid steak."

You've got to cheat on something...

One of my favorite things is to eat fried chicken in the scenario of when I eat it, I eat a lot of it.

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