Thursday, August 27, 2009
Chef Luis Bruno’s story inspirational
By BARRY BURLESON
Chef Luis Bruno knows the importance of healthy eating.
He once weighed 400 pounds, was facing diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver and was told he had five years to live if he kept his eating habits.
“You have to change your life,” he said. “I turned it around. I learned how to eat better and I learned how to exercise.”
Chef Luis (pronounced Loo-ey) was recently appointed by the Hilton Jackson Hotel to enhance its food and beverage offerings under a new health and wellness umbrella. He is the former executive chef for Mississippi governors Kirk Fordice and Haley Barbour.
Chef Luis’s story is an inspirational one.
He’s a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in Bronx, N.Y., near Yankee Stadium.
“Now I’m a Southern Puerto Rican,” he said. “I tasted cornbread and I was hooked.”
Chef Luis has never met his father. His mother raised him through several abusive marriages, he said.
“Alcohol was involved,” he said. “I saw my mother beat up when I was young.”
He said his brothers and sisters took a lot of different paths, but at the age of 13 he decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps – who opened up a small supermarket.
“I worked there and ate – not a lot of activity,” Chef Luis said. “Then my brother said, ‘let’s open up a pizzeria.’ My payment for working was food. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”
He reached 275 pounds by the age of 18. He decided to pack up and move to Florida and go to culinary school. In 18 months he graduated at the top of his class. He also fell in love with a Mississippi girl and later married Kathleen, a Jackson native.
His first job was at the governor’s mansion.
“Mrs. Fordice talked to me and hired me on the spot,” Chef Luis said. “I love her. She’s a beautiful person.”
He later left the governor’s mansion to open his own restaurant. A serious weight problem followed, later forcing him to close the restaurant. As the beginning stages of diabetes started hitting him, his wife urged him to go to the doctor.
“It took me a year to go,” Chef Luis said. “The doctor said, ‘you have to lose weight.’ It went in one ear and out the other. I was stressed out and not eating right.”
He said how he ate was getting worse – including such things as a whole box of cereal and a half a gallon of milk at one time.
“I was at 400 pounds,” Chef Luis said. “I had sleep apnea and was trying to sleep in a chair. My doctor said I had the beginning stages of cirrhosis of the liver and I had to do something – now.”
His options were surgery or diet.
“I took the diet part,” Chef Luis said.
He went on an 800-calorie a day, pure liquid diet and lost 200 pounds in nine months.
“Is it easy to keep off?” he said. “Heck no. Am I going to keep it off? I don’t know. I believe food is an addiction. I wake up wanting to eat food.”
Chef Luis’s commitment to healthy living carried him back to the governor’s mansion to work for Gov. Haley Barbour, prior to accepting the position with the Hilton.
“I try to give myself challenges,” he said. “I need ambition. What happened with me – it’s scary.”
He has designed a signature glassware series, a line of spices and authored a cookbook – “Don’t Feel Guilty, Eat It!”
He has other goals, like his own television show and a facility for children which would include a cooking school to teach them good health.
Chef Luis also volunteers for such groups as “Just Have A Ball” which promotes “eating right” to children.
He’s kept his weight under control for “going on five years.” His health is back to normal.
“It’s not easy,” Chef Luis said. “It’s a battle for me every day.”
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