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Gabriel Pascuzzi on How His Childhood Struggles Affected His Relationship with Food

The Top Chef Season 18 contestant opens up about being bullied as a child for his weight and his past "unhealthy relationship with food."

Gabriel Pascuzzi Body Shaming

In the April 30 episode of Top Chef Season 18, chef Gabriel Pascuzzi opened up about his struggles with his weight and being body-shamed as a child. "I was definitely overweight," Gabriel said, adding that he was "eating things that weren't really good for [him]." In an Instagram post shared after the episode, he further explained his experience, revealing that he was bullied about his weight from third grade until senior year of high school. "I didn't understand why I could watch my friends eat the same stuff as me, and we played the same sports, but I kept putting on weight and having to move up pants sizes. I had an unhealthy relationship with food and my diet," he wrote.

In a recent interview with BravoTV.com, Gabriel shared more about his journey, including the pivotal moment that cemented his path to becoming a chef. When Gabriel was 16 years old, his father sent him to work at his uncle's restaurant for the summer in Bigfork, Montana. "When I went up for my junior [year] summer of high school, I was overweight. I weighed 260 pounds," he said. But that summer in Bigfork changed his relationship with food. 

"The first day of my apprenticeship, my uncle saw me open a soda, [and] he was like, 'What are you doing?'...  He snatched it out of my hand and said, 'You aren't drinking that sh-- anymore up here.' So I didn't drink much soda that summer. Also, there wasn't any fast food for miles, so that went out the door, too. I ate food from the restaurant, at home, and some local spots we would go out to once a week or so," he recalled. 

He continued, "When I got home to Portland, I weighed myself. I had gone from 260 to 187 pounds and maybe grew an inch or two. That's when it all clicked for me; I saw the connection [between] food and drinks and how that truly affected my body. From that point on, there was no other choice than to become a chef."

Since then, Pascuzzi has adopted healthy eating habits, which he has incorporated into his cooking style as a chef. "I try to maximize regional and seasonal ingredients with mixing in my culture as an Italian American and always trying to maximize flavor without having to lean on unhealthy crutches. I tend to cook on the lighter side [with] lots of acid, healthy oils. Then, I have my cheat items. We all have to, right?"

His food philosophy: "balance [and] make the calories count!" Gabriel said that he still doesn't drink soda or eat fast food. "I try to have a protein drink or make a healthy scramble or something in the morning. I usually miss lunch because I am so busy, and for dinner, I try to eat some healthy protein like chicken or fish, some veggies, and salad — [this is] where the idea for my restaurant Mama Bird came from."

Gabriel explained that he tries to stay "in the healthy realm" most of the week, and he loves to try new restaurants. However, he limits dining out to "once, maybe twice a week." When it comes to maintaining a consistent well-balanced diet, the chef shared that "cooking at home is huge for keeping things good for you."

Want more Top Chef? New episodes air Thursdays at 8/7c or catch up through the Bravo app.

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