By Jenny Lynne G. Aguilar
AT 24, “JERRY” is a big loser, quite literally: He has just shed off a whooping 50 lbs in eight months, thanks to the advice and assistance of Florabel Co, a Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) graduate of UST who pioneered the South Beach Diet (SBD) in the Philippines and is now one of the most sought-after SBD consultants by diet-conscious personalities and celebrities.
“Cooking has always been my passion and that’s the reason why I pursued HRM,” Co said.
Thanks to her father who serves as his cuisine critic each time she experiments, Co has managed to whip up new and innovative recipes.
“There was even a time when I joined a competition and my father tasted my entry first and gave some insights on how I could improve it,” Co said.
Since college, Co has joined and triumphed in numerous cooking contests, among them the Pinoy Nouvelle Cuisine Competition 2001 where she won first prize for her grilled catfish in tamarind soy sauce with bitter gourd salad.
She got a taste of what the culinary world had to offer when as an HRM student of UST, she interned at the Via Mare Seafood Restaurant in Pasig City.
But she credits UST for allowing her to learn first-hand the challenges of cooking and of the hospitality services.
“Years back during our practicum, the burner would malfunction at times and we would usually experience water shortage,” Co said. “It is a good thing that our professors were always there to assist us.”
Reaping the fruits of toil and hard work, she graduated in 1995 and was immediately hired at Via Mare as kitchen supervisor.
South Beach crash
Co prioneered SBD in the Philippines in late 2003.
She said she had come across the healthy-carbs routine several months before and promptly tried out the recipes from the SBD cookbook that she had asked actor, friend and business partner Marvin Agustin, to bring home from a stint abroad.
“I lost 28 lbs after sticking to it and my friends asked me to prepare the same thing for them and that’s it.”
But Co said she would be a poor model for SBD since she has not been able to successfully maintain her figure due to the stress and demands of working in the kitchen.
“As a chef, I have to keep tasting different flavors and trying out different foods so I can develop other dishes,” Co said. “Nasisira tuloy ‘yung diet ko. I cannot just stick to what’s recommended under SBD.”
Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist from Miami who is responsible for devising the diet, said that it is not just a diet; it’s a way to eat of life. SBD, which is coined after its place of origin in Florida, is divided in three phases.
The first phase requires eating normal-size portions of lean meat, fish, eggs, reduced-fat cheese, nonfat yogurt, nuts, and plenty of vegetables. The next phase consists of eating the right carbohydrates, whole grains and fruits. Once dieters have reached their desired weight, they go to the third phase, which is the maintenance stage, in which practitioners will have to continue making good food choices.
Co is now busy formulating her own South Beach Diet recipes using locally available ingredients and suited to the taste buds of Filipinos.
“The problem with Filipinos is that they see diet schemes as something impossible or unachievable,” Co said. “But once they learned the theory behind SBD, it comes down easy.”
Co also dismissed misconceptions that the SBD is only for the rich and the elite and that the minimum-wage-earning Juan de la Cruz cannot afford it.
“Sticking to SBD does not mean the recipes written in the book,” Co said. “It could be as simple as avoiding chicken skin and fats.”
She added that doing away with processed foods like those available in fast-food chains is the best way to trim excess body fat.
“SBD is a change of lifestyle,” Co said. “It is about knowing what you should and should not eat.”
She also emphasized that SBD is not a crash diet wherein one has to deprive oneself of certain food for some time, before going back to one’s old eating habits.
Co’s clientele ranges from show-biz personalities to politicians and socialites. Her clients include Kris Aquino, Gringo Honasan, Franklin Drilon, Claudine Baretto, Marjorie Baretto, Dr. Vicky Belo, Sharon Cuneta, Richard Gomez, Lucy Torres, Tessie Tomas, Armida Siguion-Reyna and Sergio Osmena III.
Recipe for success
At present, Co owns four restaurants in Metro Manila with each offering a distinct menu.
Her Floring’s Famous BBQ in Cubao specializes on grilled dishes, while her Sumo Shang in Shangri-La Plaza serves Japanese cuisine. In Gateway, Cubao she has Café Ten Titas which serves Filipino dishes while her Florabel’s in Podium serves Continental French menu.
“Florabel’s is my first restaurant and it carries my name,” Co said. “It is more like a second home accented with a floral theme. After a hard day’s work, our customers visit our restaurants to relax and choose what they want to eat.”
Apart from her flexibility to adapt to her customer’s request, Co give her recipe for a successful career: “In life, love what you are cooking up.”
Another recipe for success from chef Florabel Co: “Patience, perseverance and being focused on what you want to be and do is the key to being successful.”