The Incredible Shrinking Chef: Part I

Chef Nookie Postal gets personal about addiction, body image, and the unspoken problem in today's restaurant industry.

nookie postal

Chef Nookie Postal

If you read Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen or Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential in the late aughts, you might be under the somewhat romantic impression that the swinging chrome door separating kitchen from dining room is a veritable line in the sand—that somewhere in the bowels of the back of the house, maybe in a walk-in cooler or the basement prep station, chefs are inducing that laser focus with bumps of blow and swigs of scotch, night after night.

And maybe that’s still true in random pockets of the world. But according to chef Steve “Nookie” Postal, the real vice is the same one staring back at diners: food.

In a life consumed with eating, and exacerbated by odd hours and adrenaline-fueled quarters, a chef’s most imposing personal demon tends to lie at the heart of their trade. Obesity is rampant in the restaurant industry, and Postal says it’s a problem most chefs are loathe to talk about. That’s why the Commonwealth chef has agreed to open up about his addictions, depression, and a procedure he hopes will change his life.

Throughout the year, Postal will contribute a running diary documenting his thoughts, feelings, and struggles in a series we’re calling The Incredible Shrinking Chef.

Working with Mass General’s Digestive Healthcare Center, Postal is not only undergoing a state-of-the-art surgery, but also a multidisciplinary series of treatments (including access to specialists in obesity medicine, bariatric surgery, psychology, nutrition, endocrinology, and gastroenterology) to completely change his life. As he steps away from the professional kitchen, he’ll not only attempt to transform himself physically, but also alter his relationship with food entirely.

—Edited by Christopher Hughes

• • •

How the hell did I get here? Sitting alone in my house, drinking V8. I haven’t eaten anything in three days and I’m fucking starving. I feel like Shel Silversteins’ Hungry Mungry: the guy who ate so much he ate his whole family, and then the world, and then himself.

Today, I’m having a gastric sleeve procedure at Massachusetts General Hospital, and I’m scared to death.

How did this happen? How did I get so fat? And yes, I can say that because I am fat. Some people will wring their hands and groan, “Ohhh, don’t say that.” Well guess what, I’m fat. I know it. Everyone else knows it. It ain’t news, people.

But back to that original question: I know why it happened. The fact of the matter is, I love food. I love what I do for a living, so much so that my life has been consumed by it. I love making fluffy stacks of pancakes on a Saturday morning. I love New York-style bagels slathered with veggie cream cheese. I love going to Peach Farm in Chinatown late at night and overordering…three times. Salt and pepper squid, clams with black bean, duck, chicken, lobster, Peking raviolis. God I love Peking raviolis. I love pizza, dirty water hotdogs, lobster rolls, steak, you name it.

Nine-course tasting menus? Love it. Down and dirty roadside barbecue in North Carolina? Check. The bucatini at Guilia? There’s hardly anything better in the world. But you know what I love more than all of it? Even more than Sarma’s mezze or gyros at Greek Corner? Buffalo wings. Aw shit, I love Buffalo wings. I’d eat anything buffaloed.

nookie postal

The chef prior to surgery.

Actually, I take that back. You know what I love above everything else? My children and my wife. And it’s enough already. It’s time.

But I’m terrified. Not because I think I’m going to die on the table. As surgery goes, it’s actually not too invasive. It’s all laparoscopic, then home the next day. But I’m frightened about what happens next. Who do I become when my life, vacations, meals, days, and nights don’t revolve around food? Who will I become? What will I do? I’m scared, but I know it’s time.

So why am I here telling you this? Just shut the hell up and do it, right? Well, I wanted to be open about it because lots of people know about it, and those who don’t are going to find out pretty soon. But I don’t want people whispering to each other, “Did he have gastric bypass?” or “Is he sick?” Actually, no, I have been working with the MGH Weight Center for quite some time, and this is the course of action they recommended.

Obesity is a huge problem in this country, but it’s especially prevalent in my business. Chefs and restaurant employees are some of the most unhealthy people you’ll ever meet. You know that trendy downtown bistro you just dropped $300 bucks at last night? The chef who created it all, his dinner consisted of a handful of shit smashed into a quart container, which he devoured over a garbage can. That’s not some Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen-Confidential-type shit. That’s facts. And it happens in every restaurant, in every state, throughout the entire country.

And I know there’s a stigma surrounding weight loss surgery. But fuck that! I’m not ashamed of what I’m doing because I’m doing it for my family, myself, and all the other people who depend on me. I was recently talking to a friend about this and he said, “Too risky.” But I have high cholesterol, sleep apnea, gout. I’m on Coumidin for a pulmonary embolism. I weigh 294 pounds. It’s riskier not to do it.

So here I am. I have lost 12 pounds so far and I haven’t even started yet. I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be hard and I know it won’t always be pretty. But I’m going to do it, and I’m going to document it here for all to see. I’m not getting out of the business. If anything, I’m only going to get more involved. In fact, I’m hopeful that this can be an inspiration for others needing a life change. I mean, if I can do it, anyone can.

God, all I can think about is eating a fucking dumpling right now.

Well, I’m done here today. And I sure hope I don’t die because this series would definitely take a turn for the worse. But I’m not going to die. I’m going to learn and grow—just not width-wise. Thanks to the wonderful team at Commonwealth, especially Ellie who is now running the kitchen and Jennie, our GM. I couldn’t do this without you.

OK everyone, eat a dumpling for me tonight. And put some buffalo sauce on it.