HYDE PARK — Doctors at the University of Chicago are trading scalpels for cleavers as they scramble to come up with a menu for celebrity chef Graham Elliot, who will return for a celebratory meal with the team that performed his gut-wrenching operation.
“I haven’t even come up with [the menu] yet,” said Dr. Vivek Prachand, who performed surgery on the Chicago restaurateur last July and will celebrate nearly a year of good health with Elliot later this month.
Elliot, a judge on the TV show “MasterChef” and owner of Graham Elliot Bistro, has lost 150 pounds since undergoing gastric sleeve surgery at the University of Chicago's Center for Care and Discovery to have the size of his stomach reduced.
“If you conceptualize the stomach as a small bag, we removed the outer three-quarters of the stomach and it’s now a long, narrow tube,” Vivek said of the surgery performed to help the chef.
When he approached doctors at the Center for Care and Discovery about surgical options, Elliot’s weight was up to 405 pounds and he had trouble with the simple tasks like tying his shoes and was missing out on playing with his three kids.
Elliot was not available to comment.
“When you get to 400 pounds and you have a family to look after, you realize that’s all ego,” Elliot told MSNBC in March. “You can try to do it on your own, [but] if you don’t get the results, you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do.”
It may seem odd that someone so focused on food and pacing the aisles of a kitchen would fall victim to a disease popularly associated with fast food and lethargy.
“I think it speaks to the complexities of modern life,” Prachand said. “Once you get off kilter, it can be very difficult to correct.”
Prachand said contemporary culture has competing interests that drive obesity. He said America today has minimized values like sitting down every night to a home-cooked meal, changed eating vegetables into a form of self-punishment and also demonized the effects of fast food as a failure of will power.
“There’s this moral negativity that I think is unfair,” Prachand said, adding that we don’t begrudge a grandmother who smoked her whole life an operation to open the clogged arteries in her heart.
Despite having performed the surgery more than 300 times, Prachand said he was nervous in the days leading up to Elliot’s surgery.
“When you operate on someone with that visibility, anything that happens, good or bad, is going to be very visible, so it’s a high-stakes scenario,” Prachand said.
Though the procedure is considered one of the safest to undergo, according to Prachand, there is still the risk of infection or internal bleeding that comes with any surgery. He said the surgery could also have failed if Elliot fell back into bad habits.
“You don’t go through surgery so you can eat poorly,” he said.
Prachand, a trim man with the first signs of white in his goatee, does not come off as the type to allow much personal indulgence, certainly not Elliot’s foie-lipop, a foie gras lollipop crusted in Pop Rocks.
“I’m not an absolutist. If you’re doing things right 80 to 90 percent of the time, I think it’s OK to indulge a little,” Prachand said. “But does a tall glass of Coca-Cola appeal to me? No, not really.”
He said he eats much like his patients are required to after they complete their surgery.
“My approach is that the priority be on quality meats and no starchy vegetables,” Prachand said, adding that he also tries to limit sugars and carbohydrates like pasta and grains.
He admitted he’s not on Elliot’s level with his cooking, but said he will bring his own tastes to the table and hope for the best.
Elliot will return to share a meal with Prachand later this month after he finishes taping “MasterChef.”
In May, Elliot will speak at a faculty retreat for University of Chicago surgeons.