Throughout several years of covering bodybuilders and fitness influencers for Men’s Health, I have seen my fair share of “bro meals”. You know the kind: chicken breast, broccoli, brown rice. Food as fuel; eating as an act of sheer sustenance. Sufficient, and soul-destroying.
So when I meet up with former model-turned-ripped celebrity chef Ronnie Woo in Los Angeles to chat about his new cookbook Did You Eat Yet?: Craveable Recipes From an All-American Chef, I’m pleasantly surprised that he suggests we go for dessert at Magnolia Bakery. And over a table full of treats—lemon squares, chocolate cake, and a banana pudding that he correctly predicts will change my life—Woo explains that while the book does include a section on healthy recipes, it also reflects his philosophy around food.
“Did you eat yet?” was a common refrain in Woo’s home while he was growing up, and he has always thought of food as a source of very real joy—something does his best to impart both in his writing, and in his regular spots on TV shows like The Rachael Ray Show, The Kelly Clarkson Show, The Drew Barrymore Show and Today, as well as while appearing as a judge on Netflix’s Is It Cake?
“Partaking in food and enjoying a meal with your friends and stuff is such a fun, enriching experience,” he says. “That’s the thing. Like, you wanna live an enriched life versus constantly making these rules and enforcing parameters on yourself. That’s a tough way to live.”
“Sometimes you just have to eat the bread,” he adds. “For your mental health.”
How hard is it for you to eat for pleasure while staying in shape?
I think for the majority of human beings, eating for just fuel is not enjoyable. I did that during the modeling days where I had to stay a very specific size all the time, every single day. Because when you’re a model, you can’t fluctuate. I remember one time, I was dropped from a campaign because the client said I looked “full” in my clothes. I was the skinniest I had ever been. That was sort of near the end of my modeling career, and I started to take it less seriously after that.
Now, as a chef, it’s about feeling good in my own skin. I like to stay in shape physically, but mentally too. And I think in order to get to htat balance, you have to give into your cravings once in a while. I tend to do five days of pretty healthy eating, and then one or two days a week of letting myself eat whatever I want.
If I want a donut, I’ll have a donut! I just won’t have, like, a hundred donuts.
On those five days, are you really on top of counting your calories, macronutrients etc?
I just fill my fridge with as many colored vegetables as possible. And because I hate wasting food, and I hate wasting money, I generally eat all of it. I don’t count calories, and I don’t keep track of my macros. I don’t even really know what those are! That’s just too much work for me. If that’s what you’re dedicating your life to, then that makes sense, but for me it’s just about feeling good, and living a healthy life in all the ways that matter: mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Eating something tasty is my favorite way to celebrate something, or reward myself. And when I’ve worked out really hard, there’s nothing like that hunger you feel where you know you’re gonna eat something delicious.
What does an average day of eating look like for you?
Monday through Friday, I usually start my day with a banana or apple, two hard boiled eggs with hummus, a few Medjool dates, and a small glass of water. Depending on when my schedule allows me to go to the gym, I will either have a protein shake (frozen blueberries, almond milk, a scoop of super greens powder, a scoop of collagen powder, and two scoops of protein powder) or just eat a can of sardines with an avocado.
If I get hungry in the afternoon, I will usually snack on some nuts and dark chocolate. For dinner, I will roast some lean protein (fish, turkey, or chicken) along with two to four types of vegetables – I try to vary the colors of vegetables throughout the week. However, when it comes time for the weekend, I will eat whatever the hell my body is craving as a reward to myself.
What’s your all-time fave weekend treat?
To be honest, my favorite cheat day treat is always changing, but if I had to choose it would be potstickers, fried chicken wings, and really moist chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting.
If there’s one thing you’d like people to take away from your book, what would it be?
A little arsenal of recipes that they will come back to over and over again… and maybe a few laughs from reading my ridiculous stories.
Did You Eat Yet?: Craveable Recipes from an All-American Asian Chef
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