The Incredible Shrinking Chef: Part III

Chef Nookie talks strange, habit-breaking 'erasers,' ditching an all-elastic wardrobe, and returning to the kitchen.

Nookie postal

In Part III of “The Incredible Shrinking Chef,” Steve “Nookie” Postal’s running diary of his time in Mass General’s obesity treatment center, the chef talks about his progress a month after surgery, including one bizarre rendezvous with alternative medicine, his return from culinary sabbatical, and the growing network of chefs reaching out about changing their own lives. —Edited by Christopher Hughes

Let’s see, where were we? Ah, I remember. Woe is me. I’m depressed. Blah blah blah. Yeah, I’m better. I can eat real food now, even though I really don’t want to yet. Except when it’s really good. But what’s crazy is that I’m noticing how many things I would have eaten during the day: A couple slices of bacon just out of the oven, mortadella right off the slicer, maybe a pinch of cookie dough as I’m walking past the kitchen. It’s eye opening!

We work on something—and by “we,” I mean me and my fat brethren who are trying to slim down—called mindful eating. We started it about two weeks before surgery, and now that I’m truly working on it, I’m seeing the effects. It involves really connecting and concentrating on what you are eating. Sounds like super-hippie, smoking-ganja-and-living-on-a-commune kind of shit, but it’s working.

So, I’m down a ton of weight—41 pounds so far. People are saying that they can see a difference, even though I’m not convinced that they can. But I’m beginning to feel different. It’s easier to get around. Stairs are no longer a chore. But I feel like I look exactly the same. Ellie Campbell, my chef de cuisine at Commonwealth, read somewhere that it takes about a month to see a difference. I mean, I can see my wiener now, so that’s kinda cool. (Hey, little buddy!)

But what’s been the most impressive thing about this process is seeing the response from the chef community. I’ve had 13 people come by and vow to make a change in their own lives, whether through surgery, diet, or exercise. It’s been cool, like some pay-it-forward, Kevin Spacey-type stuff. I think talking to someone who has gone through it makes people more comfortable with the issue. I mean, I hated being fat. Sure, it wasn’t all bad. I loved eating whatever the hell I wanted, whenever I wanted.

But for one thing: my clothes never fit. I know this won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but my wardrobe consisted of elastic waistband chic. If I had to dress up, it was pretty much limited to velour. When I asked my wife about transitioning back to “regular” clothes the other day, she gave me an eye-roll and said, “I think that ship has sailed.”

If I were a regular coffee or beer drinker, life would be hell right now. But being deprived of caffeine or alcohol isn’t an issue. It’s carbs. Today we baked Christine Tosi’s corn cookies from the Momofuko Milk Bar cookbook, and somehow, I resisted. I haven’t had a carb in almost two months.

Oh, and I did some other crazy shit. I went to see “The Mad Russian.” I’m not going to get into who he is. Actually, stop reading, look it up, and then come back. (Waiting …)

Okay, I assume you’re now familiar with the stylings of one Yefim Shubenstov? If not, I’ll break it down for you. He’s not a doctor or a hypnotist. He bills himself as an “eraser,” a crazy addiction-breaker who works out of an apartment in Brookline. The process pretty much goes like this: the Mad Russian talks for three hours, you leave the room, come back, and he yells at you, waves his hands around your body, and you leave. It was … odd.

I was directed to him by my buddy Patrick, who was a smoker for 20 years and couldn’t quit. After he saw Shubenstov, boom, cold turkey. For me, well, jury is still out. I asked him to help with portion control, grazing, and late-night eating. It was interesting, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing back out to buy another ticket.

So, I’m back at work part-time. The funny thing about my sabbatical? I honestly thought everyone would need and miss my presence. Turned out that wasn’t really the case. It was me who missed and needed them. Ellie has really taken over the day-to-day operations, and I’ve turned into a floater of sorts. But I’ve found out that Nookie without a job is not a really a happy person. Yet that extra time is affording more leisure time to focus on other aspects of our business—growing it in ways I couldn’t before.

I’m desperately trying to open another concept. But like at Commonwealth, I won’t be impatient. I’m not going to jump into a bad lease. But I feel like it’s close. With that being said, where would you like to see Steinbones? Central Square? Near our friends at Bagelsaurus in Porter? Anyway, that’s all I got. Next week, I move onto stage 3 of my diet, so we will see what that holds.

Oh, and make a reservation for Commonwealth’s Valentine’s Day brunch. I mean, red velvet Oreo pancakes with cream cheese frosting? I would devour those if, I could …