Whos That? An Interview With The Chef Of The Phuket Fit Grill Cheffy Baby

A self-described “Alien food freak sent from the future to save the human palate”, Cheffy has been wowing Phuket Fit guests with his culinary creations for the last year and a half. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Cheffy and a 1994 James Beard Nominee; Cheffy has worked in nearly every facet of the restaurant industry as well as 23 years on TV. Always around camp, Cheffy loves speaking with guests about nutrition and healthy eating. He believes the Phuket Fit Grill is an important tool in your arsenal, but how you use it is up to you.

What was your first job out of culinary school?

I got my first chef job two weeks out of school, as the executive chef at a large hotel. Catering, room service, a café, a regular restaurant and I had to feed 150 employees a day. I had like six different operations going on.

Were you there a long time?

Not long. It wasn’t fun; I only had Sunday nights off. So I started my own catering business, which was dinner party catering. My favorite thing in the world is a dinner party. There’s nothing better than a group of friends getting together at someone’s house. Playing music, drinking wine, eating food, and chatting; that, to me, is the best night in the world. I decided to cater to that, but I didn’t have a way to market it.

How did you solve that problem?

I noticed that local television stations had chefs on all the time and they got to promote their restaurants. So I called one of the television stations. They said no. “We don’t know who you are and you’re just a catering business.” So I said, “Well, just let me come cook for you.” I went and cooked for them, and they said, “OK. You can be on the show.” From there my catering business took off in a big way.

When was this?

It was 1989, the same day as my ten-year high school reunion. It was great going to the reunion after having just been on television. After that, I went to another television station and did the same thing. Then that station offered me a job on the Murphy In The Morning show. I eventually played a practical joke on the host of that show, and while he laughed it off, I was never on his show again. Yet, we are still friends.

Was that the only show you were on?

Eventually, I was on every network in the city.  In 1994, I had a show on the Tampa Bay CBS station and was nominated for a James Beard award. That’s the Academy Awards of the culinary world. In 1995, I hit gold when I was hired as the Body by Jake FIT TV chef. They show a lot of repeats on Discovery Channel and I still get emails from viewers.

James Beard Award? That’s a huge honor. Did that open doors for you?

After the James Beard nomination, I continued with TV, radio, newspapers columns and even started doing infomercials. I was working six days a week in Tampa on the radio and the head of Florida Citrus happened to be a listener. I was using my catering money for weekly food travel excursions like to New York, California and Europe. I used to tell the listeners “the station has sent me somewhere again” Luckily, Florida Citrus thought I was making much more than I actually was so they had to stack the deck to get me to be their next spokesperson.

What was your job with Florida Citrus?

They needed to sell fresh grapefruits, but didn’t have any great ideas how. I explained to them that if people didn’t love grapefruits, it was going to be tough to get them to buy them or cook with them. My idea was to pitch grapefruits to the public as a larger slightly sweet lemon. Anything you can use a lemon for is even better with a grapefruit. They loved the idea. That was the beginning of Cheffy Baby World Food Tours that lasted until 2010. After almost 2 million air miles, it was time to stop touring.

That made you their go-to grapefruit guy?

I was in charge of marketing grapefruits and I had lots of ideas. You can put it on fish instead of lemon, use it in pan-fried vegetables, or use it with chicken! I went with the grapefruits on a television tour across the country. It was like I was on a rock tour. It really took off, but then we hit a roadblock. Wal-Mart wouldn’t accept the promotion materials. They sent me to meet with a VP there, really one of the top guys, and I convinced Wal-Mart to accept it.

Sounds like you worked your magic. Where did you go from there?

After getting an in with the Wal-Mart people I decided to go after the biggest fish in retail. My goal, upon graduation from culinary school was to be a spokesperson. So I contacted Wal-Mart Merchandising VP and sold him on making me their in-store culinary television spokesperson. I was in front of ten million people a week and distributed over 25 million Cheffy Baby recipe cards annually. That gig was awesome.

How did you first hear about Phuket Fit?

I’d been living in Thailand for over ten years and decided to go back into the culinary underbelly and back to work.  Of course, everyone in Phuket knows that Phuket Fit is an industry leader, so it was a perfect choice.

How long have you been at Phuket Fit now?

A year and a half. I took a job at Phuket Fit because the opportunity to prepare luscious fitness food really excited me. It’s a careful balance. It has to be healthy, but you also have to have great flavor or people aren’t going to show up. Live well, train hard, and eat right.

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