The Queens periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring and in this installment, we are thrilled to introduce you to Anthony J. Caruso, host of “Thindulge.” Not only did Anthony win us over with his knack for taking everyday recipes and turning them into delicious healthy dishes, but he also stole our hearts with his natural charisma and warmth. Just look at that smile!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have always loved food. When I was five years old, I wanted an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. That love of food showed up on my waistline. Italian home cooking will do that to you. I moved to New York after college to pursue a career in acting and realized that I needed to take to take the weight off. I started exercising and ate the same boring food over and over again because the food I loved was off limits. I was thin, but didn’t enjoy eating. Then, one day, my partner and I were watching Food Network and commenting on how delicious the food looked, but that we would never make it because it was too fattening. I looked at him and said, “I wonder how it would taste if you used some low-fat ingredients?” That’s the moment my concept of recipe manipulation was born. I started trying out all kinds of recipes and they were great. Friends would eat it and swear it wasn’t healthy. People started asking me how I did it. When I saw how many people were stuck in the same rut I was in, I thought it would be a great idea for a show, which has evolved into Thindulge.
What is your recipe for success?
My main ingredient is faith in myself and my dream, because if you don’t believe in you, you can’t expect anyone else to either. I mix that with unwavering determination, because everyone who has done anything great in this world has had people ridicule them and tell them no. Then I fold in gratitude, which keeps you humble and grounded. I top it all off with joy, because if you’re not going to enjoy the ride, why bother?
If you weren’t a chef, you would be…
A massage therapist. It’s actually what I do now, when I’m not cooking.
If a casserole described your personality, what would it be?
Mashed Potato Casserole. I’m cheesy, I’m mushy, I’m comforting and my goal is to put a smile on peoples’ faces when they see me. And like mashed potatoes where you can pair them with many different ingredients and still taste good, I’m versatile and can adapt to different situations very easily.
Name one cooking disaster you’ve had.
I was teaching a cooking class and they had me use a convection oven. I had never used one before, but they gave me a quick demo in how to set the temperature and I figured I would be fine. Well, I didn’t know that a convection oven has a stand to put the food on so the air circulates around the food. It was missing the stand that goes in the oven to elevate the food and I slid the food in like you would a regular oven. When I went to take it out and show the class, it wasn’t done. I put it in longer and still wasn’t done. And again. And again. Meanwhile, I have to ad lib, all while maintaining some authority that I’m qualified to teach the class. After all, here I am, a Next Food Network Star Finalist, and I can’t get my food to come out right. Finally, someone noticed the stand in back and brought it out. What should have been in for 8 minutes was in for 30 minutes. That’s a lot of ad libbing to a group of hungry people!
Why did you decide to “thindulge” recipes as opposed to making them full fat, like most other chefs?
I feel there is a perception that healthy cooking has to be boring – that you have to deprive yourself of the foods you love, in order to stay fit. I look at magazines and their idea of a healthy snack is deli-sliced turkey breast wrapped around sliced tomatoes. My idea of a snack is nachos. As a kid, my mom would offer pears and apples for dessert and I always groaned. I wanted chocolate cake. Besides, anyone can throw a stick of butter in a recipe or cook things in bacon fat and it will taste good. In my opinion, it takes more effort and creativity to create a chocolate layer cake that is 100% whole grain, sugar free and has a fraction of the fat, calories and cholesterol and yet still tastes like it came from a bakery.
If you had to eat the same meal every day for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
Spaghetti and meatballs all the way. As a kid, we had it every Sunday. In my family, we have pasta on Thanksgiving before we eat the traditional turkey dinner. It takes me home every time I eat it.
What is your least favorite ingredient and why?
Tofu. I can’t stomach the taste. I really wanted to find a way to eat it since it’s so heathy, so I tried putting it in a pumpkin soup to mask the taste. There weren’t enough spices in the world to cover up the taste. I threw it all out and ordered pizza.
Who was the most famous person you’ve cooked for?
From what I understand, someone has made my recipes for Whoopi Goldberg.
If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?