Cooking Light sits down with the executive chef to discuss her new cookbook.
In 2013, Missy Robbins was on top of the world. As the executive chef of two Michelin-starred kitchens in New York City, she'd reached the apex of success in her field, had the respect of her peers and adoration of her customers, and operated a couple of consistently bustling dining rooms in one of the toughest restaurant cities on the planet. Then she walked away from it all to take a break and focus on her own wellbeing.
Through essays and recipes, Robbins' new cookbook Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner…Life explores the chef's leap of faith into a hiatus from restaurant life to examine what truly matters to her and makes her happy. Now in the best physical shape of her life, Robbins is at the helm of her own wildly popular Brooklyn restaurant Lilia, and shares some wisdom for anyone in a love affair with food and restaurants.
Cooking Light: How did you realize that you needed to make a drastic change?
Missy Robbins: I knew I wanted to do something else, but I didn't know what that something was. It didn't necessarily mean a restaurant. There was a part of me that wanted to have a quote unquote "normal life" and I didn't want to be at work until 11 at night anymore. I also knew that I was overweight and I didn't feel good when I woke up.
CL: You used this time off to address your physical health. How did you re-frame your relationship with your body and food?
MR: I was doing Pilates three times a week with a personal trainer—a luxury when you have no income—and I learned that you can exercise as much as you want, but if you have a shitty diet, nothing changes. When you're a chef, it's incredibly tough. You're taught to ignore what your body feels like, but I finally had the time for myself.
I went on Weight Watchers and lost five pounds in the first week. At first I took it very seriously and eliminated a lot of foods. I stopped eating pasta, then gradually reintroduced it; pasta became vegetables with pasta rather than pasta with vegetables. I ate a lot less of it and then gradually I just didn't need it. I'm perfectly satisfied.
But I literally don't put anything in my mouth anymore without knowing how many [Weight Watchers] points it is. It is obsessive behavior and I don't know if it's any different from any other addiction, but if you know that's your vice, you have to control it. Now I understand how I feel when I slip a little bit—like going to Lucali and eating a whole pizza because it is that good—and I know the next day I'm going to eat totally differently and get back on track.
CL: You're 46. Let's say 23-year-old chef Missy walks into your kitchen and asks for advice. What do you tell her?
MR: I'd definitely tell her to take care of herself. We look at our staff as a whole, front and back of house, and we try to impart a healthy environment for them and a healthy lifestyle.
CL: What does a healthy lifestyle mean when you work in a restaurant?
MR: It's exercising and eating well, not going out every night and drinking like cooks do. It's surrounding yourself with healthy and good people, working in a healthy environment, sleeping enough, taking a moment to do whatever it is that makes you happy—whether it's sitting very leisurely with a cup of coffee, going out to breakfast with a friend, taking a run or going to Pilates. It's very important to do that for yourself. I work very differently now and I make time for those moments.
I missed out on important life events, weddings, and family stuff. I don't want the people who work for me to do that anymore.