Fit To Fight: 8 Weeks in with Chef Dena Marino

We all know how difficult it is to love to eat and stay reasonably thin and in shape…. but can you imagine what it must be like if you are an amazing chef who every day is faced with selecting the freshest ingredients, creating unique menu items and then preparing and plating them…and then to serve to others?

Such is the life of the twelve Fit To Fight Challenge Chefs here in Miami.  Designed as sort of a charitable “Biggest Loser”, the challenge entails twelve weeks of healthy eating, exercise and general “doing without” all to raise money for Cancer research.

Sort of the Ice Bucket Challenge 3 times a day for twelve weeks!

Led by Fit to Fight Miami Team Leader, Jamie DeRosa of Tongue and Cheek, each of the twelve chefs has a special donation page so Miami fans can contribute to their favorite chefs as a show of support.  Go here to Donate now!

MIAbites featured Chef Timon Balloo of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill last month after 4 weeks of the program where he proudly announced he had lost 15 pounds. (

This week, we met with Chef Dena Marino of MC Kitchen at the 8 week mark to check in on her progress, but Dena, as the only woman chef in the challenge, was not about to let me conduct the interview so easily….

She insisted I join her and some of the other chefs at SoBeKick for their twice-weekly Chefs Class.  And not as a spectator, but as a member of the intensive one-hour class designed just for the Miami Chefs by former professional boxer and SoBeKick GM, Thomas Johnston and trainer Jason Rader.  SoBeKick located on a second floor in Sunset Harbour offers both one-on–one boxing and training and also group classes in a no-frills, serious work out environment.  This is not a fancy, slick fitness studio…you come here to work.  A dietician is on hand to offer suggestions for balanced dining like setting up portion control and making sure the right balance of macronutrients are in your diet.

In attendance at this weeks classes on Tuesday and Thursday were Dena, Chef Timon Balloo (fresh off a big vacation and anxious to get back into the program), Chef Todd Erickson of HaVen and Hua Huas Taqueria, and Chef Sean Brasel of Meat Market

Tuesdays class lead by Jason started with a warm up of jumping rope (which was an epic fail for me) A former pro- football player, Jason got down to work, putting us thru various interval and cardio moves including pulling a 125 lb. boxing bag around the room, sprinting carrying a medicine ball overhead, actual boxing with gloves and my favorite, pushing “the sled”, a mat stacked with 30 lb. dumbbells and weights.

Thursday’s class, led by Thomas, was completely different, and felt like right out of a scene from “Million Dollar Baby”. We boxed, kicked, ran in place, did push ups and crunches basically non-stop and by the end of the hour-long class, we were sweaty but exhilarated.

And, FINALLY, I was awarded my interview.  Or maybe,  I had just earned it!

MIAbites( still catching my breath): Wow! 8 weeks in…2/3 of the way to the 12-week goal.  What have been your biggest challenges?

Chef Dena( laughing ):  Only 8 weeks?  Feels like 18 weeks!  Biggest challenge? Not eating what I want.  Every day I am faced with preparing fresh pasta dishes and can’t bring myself to even try the so-called substitutes.  I am living on chicken and fish… feel like I am turning into a chicken. “cluck cluck”.

MIAbites: What foods are you craving?

Chef Dena- Pizza and Pasta top the list

MIAbites: Have you cheated?

Chef Dena: NO!  maybe once…a flour tortilla 3 weeks ago

MIAbites: Workouts?  Thomas here at SoBeKick credits you with being the most committed to the workout routine.

Chef Dena: I really enjoy SoBeKick and in addition to the Chefs Class try to be here 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day recently.

MIAbites: Do you have a Chef workout buddy?

Chef Dena: Todd ( Erickson ) has been here at every Chefs Class with me and has been a great motivator and made it a lot of fun!

MIAbites:  How often do you talk/share/support with the other chefs?

Chef Dena- Everyday…we have Group Texts. When Timon returned from vacation, we got a text from him saying, “Boxing?”…we thought he had forfeited!

MIAbites: How do you feel and what has been your progress?

Chef Dena:  I am really committed to building into my schedule a regular work out routine, it has been wonderful for me to work with Thomas at SoBeKick and I will continue even after the challenge is over.  To date, I have lost 15 pounds, which may not sound like much, but I have also gained muscle tone and reduced my body fat ratio.

MIAbites:  You see your competition…. Are you going to win Fit to Fight?

Chef Dena:  For me…I already did…this program is a win for everyone.  I plan to keep going and continue with this program even when it is over. #yeswedid

The Fit to Fight Challenge continues thru the end of September when MIAbites will profile the winner, but you can donate to the cause at any time, and we hope that Miami foodies and fans will give generously in support of this wonderful group of chefs and the cause they are all supporting!

Fit to Fight Miami