by: Trish Lee & Amelia Rea.
CPM was able to catch up with Chef Robert Hesse, two-time Hell’s Kitchen fan favorite, Beat Bobby Flay contestant and Assistant Executive Chef at the Eldorado Casino Resort in Reno. Chef has also become the face of food at four other properties following a recent merge with Eldorado and MTR Gaming Inc., owner and operator of racetrack-casinos Mountaineer Park, Scioto Downs and Presque Isle Downs, which is where Chef has been spending a great deal of time. Revamping food, and revamping himself, Chef is constantly changing.
Being a good chef isn’t a static thing for Chef Hesse. “I’m a different chef than I was 10 years ago, six months ago, or even yesterday. Just like good dishes, chefs evolve over time.”
Be sure to check out all of our Chef Hesse articles here.
Believing in the Food
Spreading his knowledge to other chefs at these casinos, Robert has been traveling the country helping to revamp menus, food and the ways in which other chefs think about food, much like he has done at the Eldorado in Reno, Nevada. “I like to bring what I know to other chefs and show the other guys what they can do. These guys coming up through the ranks have a lot of skill and passion and it’s really rewarding to help them take those skills to the next level. They learn a lot from me, but every single day, I learn from them too. It’s not about people believing in Chef Robert Hesse. It’s about people believing in the food.”
Chef Hesse has been very successful in getting people to believe in the food. “The key is to feed the people. Make them experience it. I like to get people excited about the food. I want everyone on the property from the guests to the valet to the servers, to know where the good food is. I want people’s mouths to be watering for it before they even get to the front desk. And it’s the chefs that have to make that happen. I’m just one man.”
Chef Hesse definitely wants everyone to share his passion for good food. “Anyone with a passion and love for good and they can create something – they’re a chef. You don’t need a fancy degree to be a chef.”
A Brand New Man
Chef Hesse knows all about change. After having undergone a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (gastric sleeve) in January of 2014 with a pre-surgery weight of 497 pounds (weighing nearly 600 lbs during his time on Hell’s Kitchen) Chef is sporting a new, much slimmer 180 pound figure. “I am healthier. I feel better, I see better, I walk better, even my teeth feel better – I’m a new man. I used to live to eat now I eat to live.”
Chef has been working out regularly, eating four ounces of food seven times a day and staying away from foods he calls “White Death” – including processed prepackaged foods, sugars, breads and pastas. “Being Italian, pasta is the hard one to stay away from, but it’s about changing the way food is viewed,” says Chef who now enjoys spaghetti squash with broccoli rabe and some Romano cheese in lieu of pasta (he swears you won’t miss the pasta in this tasty dish). “Having the surgery wasn’t just some magic pill to fix a problem. It’s been a learning process and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with others. It really has made me a better chef.”
Chef Hesse also plans on revamping his own style and helping others similarly situated to feed themselves and their loved ones. He is planning to write a cookbook and share what he has learned about cooking, eating and feeding your loved ones after a gastric sleeve. “After surgery the doctors give you a lot of information, charts and calorie counting and what foods to avoid but that doesn’t really address the real world issues of how to feed yourself and your family. Or even how to handle food when you are out on a date. I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable eating around me.”
“Diet is a four letter word. There is beauty in food. Savor the food. Enjoy it. Move on.” Chef Hesse is also changing his own personal motto “Never Trust a Skinny Chef” to “Always Trust a Skinny Chef” and, after having sampled our fair share of Chef’s dishes at the Eldorado, where almost all the food is from scratch, we totally trust this Skinny Chef.
Traveling around, helping other chefs, creating new menus, hosting and judging events is fun and rewarding, but a busy life is not without its drawbacks. Chef Hesse constantly strives to find balance. Chef wants to make sure that he can also be there for his three year old son, Aiden. “Growing up without a dad, growing up without anything, I don’t want to see my son struggle. And I realize that while the hours may be sometimes long, or that I may be away, what I’m doing is for him too. It will give him a lot of opportunities I didn’t have.”
Invest in Your Food
Chef Hesse acknowledges that the problem we have with food in our country is a widespread issue worth tackling and shares that our youth, the future of our country, eats some of the lowest quality food available. “There are four tiers of food when it comes off the truck. The first tier goes to your higher end grocery stores, markets and restaurants. This food is the best available. The second tier, which is still really good stuff. There may be a few that have to be thrown away – that food goes to the general supermarkets and roadside stands. Then comes the third tier. It’s still okay to sell but has to be hand-sorted and picked through. That food goes to smaller markets and our military. And then you have your fourth tier food. This is the food that is left and has been picked over and a lot of it thrown away. That is the food that goes to our schools, missions and prisons. Essentially school children get the same food prisoners do.”
“People invest in houses, the stock market, their children’s futures, but not in their bodies. The investment in my body is the biggest investment I have. Why can’t we have a fruit and vegetable dollar menu? I see these problems with food and I think ‘what can I do as a chef to help fix this?’”
Seriously – why can’t we have a fruit and vegetable dollar menu??? CPM is totally on board with that!
Looking for more Chef Hesse? You can catch him on a recent episode of Beat Bobby Flay, where Chef goes head to head with Chef Michael Jenkins in an episode entitled “Fry Me a River”. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll be putting in another appearance or two on the Food Network (keep your eyes peeled!). If you want to catch Chef in short order, you can catch him at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, PA, at the Eldorado Resort and Casino in Reno, at any of the other Eldorado/MTR properties.
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Great to see you doing so well Robert – I just re-watched HK Season 5 and recalled how bad I felt that you had to exit the competition. Hope to visit and eat your food one day!!