Fire Up the Grill!

Bobby Flay, chef-owner of four celebrated restaurants in New York City and Las Vegas and host of the Food Network's "Boy Meets Grill," is known for many things: a love of barbecue, an obsession with bold flavors and superior grill proficiency. Healthful eating, however, has never been a top priority. So the title of his new cookbook, "Grilling for Life: 75 Healthier Ideas for Big Flavor from the Fire," may catch some fans by surprise. For his sixth cookbook, Flay teamed up with nutritionist Joy Bauer to create recipes low in simple sugars and refined carbs. The result: a collection of dishes as vibrant as Flay's traditional repertoire but with far less unhealthy fat. NEWSWEEK's Julie Scelfo visited Flay at his newest restaurant, Bar Americain, to find out what he learned from Bauer's nutritional analyses: Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Were there any personal reasons you decided to write this book?

Bobby Flay: I have the most beautiful wife. She's 30. I still think I'm 25, but I'm not ... I'm 40. I want to really enjoy my life every day. And I think most people are happy when they're really healthy ... This book to me is like an answer to everything's that's been going on with the low carb, no-carb [trend]. It's obviously helped a lot of people to lose weight in a quick-fix kind of way. My sense of it was always, there's got to be a longer-term solution to living a better, healthy lifestyle without it tasting "healthy."

You don't like foods that taste healthy?

Exactly. You can use things like cracked wheat or bulgur, but you need to flavor them.

What made you decide to write the book with a nutritionist?

I know an apple is better for you than a box of Snickers, but basically that's [all I know about nutrition]. I needed somebody who really could be my cop, somebody to police what I was doing. I brought Joy Bauer in to really give it the professional view from a nutrition standpoint.

What did you learn working with her?

Originally, I used a ton of fruit juices in my marinades and stuff and she was like, "You can't use these." I was like, "What do you mean?" I thought fruit juice was healthy. She said: No, you make fruit juice and you take all the fiber out and it's all sugar. The fiber is really important. If you're going to make dessert, you want to use things like strawberries and whole apricots.

So how did you adjust your cooking? I just took a lot of it [juice] out. Or if I used it, I used very little, like a kiss of orange juice or lemon juice. In some recipes I used a lot of lemon zest or orange zest instead because there's so much flavor in it and there's basically no fat in it at all. Were there other things Bauer caught you doing?

The salt we had to cut down somewhat. Also, she'd say to me, [pay attention] to the meats you're choosing. To me, filet mignon has no fat in it ... but apparently it does. She made me cut down the portion size. Moderation is an overused word, but it's really true. I learned to start choosing leaner meats.

Any other tips on healthier grilling?

Use canola oil whenever possible because it's lighter and better for you. Stay away from things like peanut oil. You should only use olive oil when dressing a salad.

Have you ever dieted before?

My weight fluctuates from time to time. Because of the business I'm in, I'm just constantly eating. One of the things that has really worked for me is not eating late at night, which is a really bad habit for chefs. It's 11:30, and now we're hungry. It's 2 o'clock in the morning and you have 19 dishes. It's terrible. Sometimes when I go out three nights in a week late, late at night, I'll feel it.

In the forward to the book, Bauer said a lot of the ingredients you use are natural disease fighters, like chile peppers. Did you think about that before?

Never. That's one of the things. When you team up with someone like that, you learn a lot.

You also commented that you don't like processed foods, artificial foods.

It's terrible. Disgusting. There's no reason for it. Splenda and all this stuff? Forget it. It's not even food.

You have a lot of ethnic ingredients in your recipes. Where does that come from?

Just growing up in New York City. Especially the Latino stuff. It's who I went to school with.

So your friends are responsible for your cooking career?

Exactly. Louisa Gonzalez used to take me home to her parents house on 96th Street where I used to eat delicious Puerto Rican food.

Here I am interviewing you about healthy cooking, and you're eating french fries with mayonnaise. Please explain.

It makes life worth living. How could you not eat french fries?