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'Fat Chef' Michael Mignano talks weight loss

Michael Mignano, left, owner of Main Street Bakery

Michael Mignano, left, owner of Main Street Bakery in Port Washington, is featured on the Food Network show "Fat Chef." Here he is at the bakery with his trainer Robert Brace. Photo Credit: Food Network

When food is your livelihood, losing weight is even harder. That's the premise behind "Fat Chef," a reality show premiering Thursday at 10 p.m. on Food Network. Each of the six episodes follows two culinary professionals as they struggle with obesity and its attendant health risks. The first episode features Michael Mignano, owner of Port Washington's Main Street Bakery and one of the most accomplished bakers on Long Island.

When Food Network's crew started following Mignano in September, the 36-year-old Bayport resident weighed 500 pounds and was being treated for Type 2 diabetes. He was filmed at work, at home, at the gym with his trainer and everywhere in between. After 16 weeks, he was able to get off his diabetes medicines and buy a new wardrobe.

I sat down with Mignano at his bakery, surrounded by a tantalizing assortment of cakes, pies, pastries and cookies.

Your livelihood depends on how these things taste. Can you be a baker if you don't taste the product?

When I create something new, I have to taste it because no one but me knows how it should taste. But people my size don't just taste. We eat. I've had to learn that instead of a whole brownie, just try a little corner.

Have you changed any of the products at the bakery?

With the sweets, no. If you remove the butter and the sugar from a chocolate chip cookie, you wind up with a cookie that's not worth eating. Dessert, for me, forever, is going to be an indulgent treat. But there's a lot I can do with the savory items we serve for brunch. I've been doing a lot with poached lean fish and chicken. I've started to use a lot of herbs, chilis, garlic, things that make your food taste better without oil and butter and salt.

The show offers a very intimate portrait of your struggles and vulnerabilities. Why did you decide to open yourself up to millions of viewers?

I figured there must be other people like me out there, people with families, with young kids, who were staring death in the face. I saw this as an opportunity to help other people as well as myself.

That's very altruistic.

But look, the TV show was also a great motivator. I would say to my wife, "I have a gun to my head called the Food Network." I mean, how humiliating would it be if I didn't lose weight?

But what about now? Since the filming has stopped and you no longer have that gun to your head, are you still motivated?

Our last day was Jan. 4, and we shot the last scene here in the bakery. That night I could have gone anywhere to eat, but I just went home and had a bowl of cereal with some rice milk. I'm out promoting the show now. I don't want to be the poster child for failure. My ultimate goal is to lose half my body weight. I like to say: I'll be half the chef but double the person.

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