When Marco Canora got his mojo back, it showed.
Since 2003, Hearth restaurant had been turning out some of the most soulful, simple, excellent Italian food in New York City, but even many of the restaurant's regulars would have been hard-pressed to pick the chef out of a lineup. The then-reclusive Canora stayed hidden, hunched over in the kitchen, hair tied in a ponytail, and generally feeling pretty crappy. With good reason, too—by his late 30s, his 70-hour schedule, typical chef diet of all-day grazing on bread and butter followed by late-night indulgence (and resulting caffeine dependence) had led to a physical breakdown, including prediabetic blood glucose levels, outrageously high cholesterol and a full-blown case of gout.
Something had to give, and in 2010, it was Canora's unhealthy eating habits. As a business owner, husband and dad, health was the clear priority, but the fear of having to eat austere, flavor-free food sent the chef into a tailspin. After a brief period of sulking, Canora rebooted his entire eating style. Gone were the late-night cheeseburgers, beers and deli sandwiches, replaced by a whole-ingredient, nutrient-packed, "real" food regime that still kept deliciousness front and center.
The result: Longtime Hearth-goers and viewers who'd gotten to know Canora from his second-place finish on The Next Iron Chef, which filmed during the beginning of his clean-eating journey, were shocked to walk into the restaurant and find a short-haired, yoga-going, trim and completely energized chef chatting up the crowd.
Not only has Canora, now 46, maintained his lifestyle overhaul—he's compiled his recipes, techniques and pantry strategies into a new cookbook called A Good Food Day ($30). The title is a term he and his wife, Amanda, use to describe the perfect marriage of a healthy diet and delicious dishes you're actually excited to make and eat.
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And serve to your friends and loved ones. They won't even realize they're eating healthy when you serve them a vibrant spinach, roasted fennel and grapefruit salad (see the recipe), followed by chicken thighs meltingly braised with lemon, garlic and olives (see the recipe). A dish of protein-packed amaranth simmered with Tuscan kale and Parmesan (see the recipe) is almost hearty enough to stand solo (we've been known to make a lunch of it), and squash roasted with maple vinaigrette (see the recipe) is a spice-kissed side that's nearly sweetly satisfying enough to stand as dessert.
A good food day—go ahead and pencil one in.
Get the recipes:
• Spinach Salad with Roasted Fennel and Grapefruit
• Braised Chicken Thighs with Garlic, Lemon and Greek Olives
• Amaranth "Polenta" with Tuscan Kale
• Maple and Spice-Roasted Winter Squash