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Michael Lachowicz

Chef-owner of Restaurant Michael, Winnetka

Photos: (after) Saverio Truglia; (before) Grier Productions

Saved His Own Life

The product of a food-loving Italian-Polish family, Michael Lachowicz weighed 320 pounds when he entered culinary school at 17. Though he succeeded in losing more than 100 pounds in 2002 on the portion-controlled, no-trans-fat Seattle Sutton diet, by the time he opened his namesake restaurant in 2005, he had boomeranged all the way up to 345 pounds. A year later, he topped 400.

“People think, You’re a chef, it must be tough to be around all of this good food,” he says. “For me, it wasn’t foie gras and lobster. It was McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. A typical meal would be three loaded hot dogs, a couple cheeseburgers, two large orders of fries, and a few pizza puffs or tamales, all followed by copious amounts of sweets. It was twisted, sick, and clearly unhealthy. But I didn’t care.”

Worse, Lachowicz began popping pills and drinking heavily. By late 2009, he says, his only visits to his own restaurant were to raid the register to finance a 40-pill-a-day Norco habit, washing down the painkillers with two bottles of Scotch. His rock-bottom moment came one night in March 2011, when he passed out in his Chicago condo while foraging under the couch for stray pills. He awoke with his face in the carpet, surrounded by fast-food wrappers. He cried for an hour. “I wanted to put a gun in my mouth,” he remembers. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

How He Lost It

The next day, Lachowicz arrived at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital in Uptown, ready to begin a detox. But the admitting physician turned him away because of his size. Lachowicz recalls: “He said, ‘We don’t have a cardiologist onsite 24/7 in our detox unit. If you go into cardiac arrest, we can’t save you.’ ”

With the help of his brother, Tom, Lachowicz muscled through the excruciating four-day withdrawal at home, then began 28 days of rehab. A month later, he feared he was about to relapse. That’s when he joined a nearby Bally fitness club and met Nate Masters, still his trainer today.

Masters started Lachowicz gently on simple medicine ball exercises. Over time, his weekly routine increased from two 50-minute workouts to a two-hour weight-training session focused on shoulders and back (seated rows, pull-ups, incline bench), two punishing cardio circuit-training workouts (10 exercises with four sets of 12 reps), and one hour of yoga to build flexibility.

At the same time, Lachowicz cut his daily intake of calories from a jaw-dropping 12,000 to just under 2,000. After ditching the booze and pills, along with the fast food, he started eating several small meals, carefully portioning out servings. “If I don’t measure it, I have the tendency to add a little extra,” he admits.

In eight months, Lachowicz lost 86 pounds. He would eventually drop a total of 196, nearly half his previous weight; his body fat percentage fell from 44 to 18. “For me, this isn’t a diet,” he says. “I lost the weight as a byproduct of changing my life.”

How He Maintains It

“Breakfast is a tablespoon of whipped peanut butter on a toasted whole-grain English muffin or added into a bowl of oatmeal,” Lachowicz says. “For lunch, I might have a small sandwich of egg whites and turkey with green peppers. For dinner, I do a lot of brown rice. And grilled turkey or chicken breast. I’ll cook down a bag of spinach and toss it with red pepper flakes. And I drink a lot of water; I flavor it with MiO [calorie-free sweetener].”

The chef allows himself one weekly cheat day, which he calls Manic Monday. It usually begins at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Wilmette: a ham, onion, and cheese omelet with all the fixings. “With my workout schedule, I know I’ll burn it off,” he says.

To keep on track, Lachowicz attends six support group meetings each week for narcotic addicts and compulsive eaters: “The groups keep me accountable.” Another motivator: “To be here for my family, my wife [Lachowicz married Alexis O’Gorman in April], and the people I love.”

 

Michael Lachowicz’s Yellowfin Tuna and Wild Scottish Salmon Tartare, Côte D’Azur-Style

Yellowfin Tuna and Wild Scottish Salmon Tartare, Côte D’Azur-Style
Photo: Anna Knott

Yield: 4 servings
Calories per serving: 280
Prep time: 20 to 30 minutes

Tartare

2 Tbsp. Nonpareil capers, drained
½ cup Peanut oil (or enough to cover the capers)
6 oz. Ultrafresh sushi-grade yellowfin tuna loin, cleaned and minced (Lachowicz recommends as a source Burhop’s Seafood in Wilmette.)
6 oz. Wild Scottish salmon fillet, cleaned and minced
1½ tsp. Shallot, minced
½ tsp. Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. Preserved oven-dried or sun-dried tomato, minced
2 Tbsp. Cured black olives, chopped
1¼ tsp. Vietnamese fish sauce (or high-quality soy sauce)
1¼ tsp. Thai garlic chili sauce
  Kosher salt and finely ground white pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

Sauce

2 Tbsp. Unsalted butter
  Zest from 2 lemons
½ cup Crème fraîche
  Kosher salt and finely ground white pepper to taste

1. Dry the capers with a paper towel.

2. Fill a sauté pan with the peanut oil and heat to medium high.

3. When the oil starts to shimmy, fry the capers, 1 tablespoon at a time, for 30 seconds.

4. Drain the oil and dry the capers on a paper towel.

5. Gently combine all the tartare ingredients in a bowl, mixing in the olive oil last, and fold together.

6. Allow to set in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.

7. For the sauce, warm the butter over medium heat until it’s light brown and gives an aroma of hazelnut.

8. Add the lemon zest to the warm butter.

9. Whisk the warm lemon butter into the crème fraîche and season to taste with salt and pepper.

10. Pour the sauce around the tartare and serve.

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