Latin Light

Latin Light

A funny thing happens to women who come to work for Food Network star Ingrid Hoffmann: They lose weight. A lot of weight. “They don’t go on a diet,” says Hoffmann, the Miami-based host of the Latin cooking show Simply Delicioso. “They eat what I cook—avocados, mangoes, organic chicken—and the weight comes off.”

Fresh food fix
When you work long hours in close quarters—as Hoffmann and her staff do, often getting up at 4 a.m. to prepare food for an 8 a.m. shoot—you get to know the eating habits of your co-workers pretty well. “When I see them making bad choices, or not eating at all, I say ‘Come on, you gotta eat something now.’ Then I feed them whatever I’m cooking—arroz con pollo, fish tacos, plantains,” says 43-year-old Hoffmann. (Click here for her delicious Arroz con Pollo recipe.) For Claudia Uribe Chang, who had trouble losing post-pregnancy pounds, that meant easing up on fatty, sugary foods. “Ingrid didn’t tell me what she was up to,” Chang recalls. “She just got me eating her whole, fresh foods and I dropped 35 pounds!”

Latin lessons
If you’re wondering how someone can eat tacos, rice, and plantains all day and lose weight, Hoffmann has the answer. “Latin food is good for you: It’s mostly grains, fruits, garlic, and tubers,” she says. In Colombia and Curaçao, where she grew up in the ’70s (she’s a self-proclaimed “mutt,” part Argentinean, Bolivian, Colombian, Peruvian, and German), the beans, greens, fruits, and spices the family ate were grown locally—sometimes in their own backyard. In addition, Hoffmann notes, in Latin America people eat portions half the size of those we eat in the U.S., and the biggest meal of the day is usually lunch—plus, they don't skip meals. So when Hoffmann noticed another assistant, Delia Leon, not eating for long stretches of time, she suggested Leon wear a timer set to go off every two or three hours. “When you forget to eat—or refuse to eat—for seven hours you get ravenous and lose your ability to eat smart,” Hoffmann claims. “Once Delia started eating every few hours, she lost 50 pounds.”

Easy does it
With her first cookbook, Simply Delicioso (Clarkson-Potter, 2008), Hoffmann is spreading the word about healthy Latin food—and how easy it is to cook. She reinforces that notion with her TV motto, “If I can do it, you can do it.” “I’m not a trained chef—I learned to cook from my mom, who was a caterer. I was always the kid wandering into the kitchen and poking my fingers into things. For me, it’s about inspiring people to take that half hour to make a great-tasting, healthy home-cooked meal.”