The Dano Diet

Photo by Robyn Wishna.

The Dano Diet

Photo by Robyn Wishna.

The old saying goes, “Never trust a skinny chef,” but Dano Hutnik, owner of the renowned Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca, recently broke the mold and tightened his apron at the same time. That’s right: The 60-year-old Ukrainian- born chef—whose restaurant’s specialties include homemade sausages, spreads, strudels, and other decadently delicious Eastern European fare— has become an exercise junkie. With a rigorous routine of fitness training and a change in diet, Dano shed an incredible 54 pounds in three months. He spoke with Fresh Dirt Ithaca about going from knockwurst to knockout.

You’re someone who’s always seemed robust and healthy. How has losing weight changed you?

I feel better about myself. I don’t have to be embarrassed that my suit doesn’t fit. Now I fit in all my nice clothes and people say, “Oh, you look so skinny!” and the chicks, they say, “Oh, you look good.”

Did you follow a specific diet plan?

Those things don’t work. If a diet says it’s totally seamless, it’s bullshit. It’s, you know, money-making for some people: “I have the best diet for you.” No, no. None of this exists. All diets have consequences: “Eat much less, suffer a little bit.” And it’s quite a bit of suffering: A person like me, I like to eat.

Were there any specific rules you followed?

I don’t eat after 5:00, and I really watch what I’m eating. The big enemies are carbohydrates, as much as I love them. But I’m so used to eating goodquality stuff, like good oil, that if I have something fake or not proper, I get a stomachache. When I’m craving something sweet, I have this power bar that’s very tasty and sweet but has only 90 calories. And when I’m really, like, really hungry—you know, the kind of hungry when I’m freaking out—I have a grapefruit. Not an orange, because oranges have quite a bit of calories. You wouldn’t believe it, but grapefruit has actually the ability to burn away fat.

Has the transformation been hard?

There are days when I binge and then feel awfully guilty, just like I feel awfully guilty when I don’t go to the gym. Like today I was supposed to go in the morning and in the evening, but I had to go to the restaurant. Yesterday I was supposed to go in the morning and in the evening, but I went only in the evening because I had a splitting headache in the morning.

Does discipline come easy to you?

Dano in wonderland—yes, that’s him at 19, in his former life as a ballet dancer, performing in Alice in Wonderland in Vienna.

I guess I’m a little bit driven because when I put something in my mind, I just have to do it. For 15 years before cooking, I was a dancer. When I was 10 years old I decided I wanted to be in ballet, and then I went to a Russian ballet school for eight years. That was discipline. And like dancing, I put myself into a position that I was going to learn how to swim.

So how often do you get in the pool?

Swimming is on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the morning, because usually what happens in the morning is I go more than once to the weight training and exercise machine floor. When I go on the floor, I swim only 30 laps. But then I go into the warm-water therapy pool, and that looks harmless but I have a hard workout in there because I don’t stop.

It sounds like you keep a rigid schedule.

I have to. When I go in the morning, I wake up and have my breakfast and my vitamins— recently I’ve gotten into vitamins—and then after the workout I drink my Muscle Milk, you know, because I’m trying to keep up with all of those muscle guys. Then I come home and do the laundry because I’m the laundry king, and then I vacuum and clean. And then maybe I watch a little television or Skype with friends in Europe or my daughter in Turkey, and maybe I take a little old-man nap, dozing off for a few minutes. But everything is scheduled. For instance, today I have my shaving stuff with me. And I have to shave, but I hate to shave, so once a week, on Thursday evenings, I shave, you see? I have to have a routine and I always have to follow it. I’m good at changing things in cooking, and making new foods, but I’m not good in life to do that. Even at the gym, I always want to have the same locker, the same spot in the warm-water pool, the same spot to swim if I can.

Is there anything else you want to accomplish, healthwise?

Knock on wood, I am very healthy so far. But you know, I would like to have more of the feeling I get when I’m done swimming or working out: I feel so much lighter and so much more satisfied! Good things happen when I work out. My life is so frickin’ stressful, but when I exercise I can sleep very good. My wife likes it, too. And you know what else? It’s good to be doing something for myself. When you’re in the restaurant business, you do a lot of stuff for everybody else. And if you have kids, you have to do things for them. So this exercising is, after so many years, the first time I

’m doing what I want to do for myself. I have my peace. My wife is not nagging, my kids are not complaining, and my employees are not there. I just have the water. And afterward I sit in the sauna and bullshit a little with the guys, and life is good right away.

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