How 15 DC chefs and bartenders battled the bulge and made the world a healthier place
By Francine Cohen

Beet radish

Just as ubiquitous as the seasonal songs you hear in every holiday commercial this time of year is the rush for predictions, charitable donations, and resolutions that will surely make your world, and the world, a better place in the new year. 2014 will be no different.

There will always be plenty of ways that you, as hospitality industry leaders, will be asked to give. And let’s be honest, it gets a bit redundant. But it doesn’t have to be the same old same old. You probably feel like Chef RJ Cooper ( does as he remarks, “The dine around pass food over a table formula is tired, old and just cramped. A new concept of making mobile kitchens in venues so chefs can cook for 3 tables of 10 etc. would be much more fun.”

No reason you can’t have fun while doing good. Maybe this is the year it happens and you’ll be inspired to take a page out of the book of some Washington, DC based chefs and bartenders who found fun and healthy living through charity work in 2013. Last year, while supporting the American Cancer Society by co-chairing the Society’s annual signature culinary, wine and spirits event, Taste of Hope (, the Restaurateur/chef Mike Isabella ( rallied 15 Washington, D.C. chefs and mixologists for the inaugural Fit for Hope weight loss challenge.

The 12-week challenge kicked off on June 24th and culminated on September 24th at Taste of Hope. According to the Society, the latest recommendations for adults call for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, or an equivalent combination, preferably spread throughout the week.

Faced with an invitation to support a new (to DC) charity event they turned what could have been just another “let me show up and park myself behind a white tablecloth draped 6 ft. long table and hand out food and drink while smiling and promoting my restaurant/bar” experience into something much more personally meaningful- for them and the charity they supported. While dropping pounds, each participating chef and mixologist was also charged with raising a minimum $2,500 during the 12 weeks and many turned to fundraising happy hours and restaurant events. Isabella says, “We chose something that made sense for the American Cancer Society. Obesity has been linked to increasing the chances of developing cancer. I’ve been wanting to lose weight for so long, so what better way to motivate myself than a challenge with my industry friends. We’re all so competitive.”

This competitive nature equals a motivation to get out there and lose the weight their own way; each went about it differently, but the result was emnormous…over 300 lbs. lost between them. And it while it made the actual charity event a bit more appealing to participate in it also had the added benefit of long term positive benefits. Cooper notes, “This challenge has turned into a complete lifestyle change. Diet and exercise are now much much more important. What started out to be a competition amongst us has turned into personal goals.” Will Artley (, who is still going strong, concurs, ” All of us have been working our butts off. It’s not like we had any extra time just hanging around. We made time and sacrificed to completely dedicate ourselves to this event. My inspiration came near and dear to my heart. Just before I received the invitation to participate, my soon to be wife (oct 18) was let go from her government job as part of the “descoping” plan. She has always had a passion for health and wellness and carries a BS in health and wellness from Marymount along with certificates from the Inauguration for nutrition and yoga and pilates Her passion has always been health and wellness. She wanted to write a book about her philosophy on getting healthy, and she did. I said I would follow her lifestyle for a year to see if it works, help her launch her career, and that’s how it started. In 70 days I’ve lost 60 pounds and regained my life back. I no longer need a machine to sleep with. My plan next year is to compete in a half ironman (1.2 mile swim,56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) and help raise more money.”

The money raised and pounds lost were big rewards for these participating chefs and bartenders who know first hand that long hours are often a stumbling block for colleagues who want to reach similar goals. Isabella acknowledges, “It’s hard to live healthy with the typical lifestyle of a chef.” Artley knows that everyone can see the same success that he and his fellow participants did and he concludes, “I just [want] to remind everyone that you have the choice to be healthy and that you are the one who can make the difference. Eliminate excuses.”