Chef Marc Forgione—the owner of a mini restaurant empire extending from Atlantic City, NJ, to downtown Manhattan—specializes in surprising combinations. Most of them happen in the kitchen, where Forgione is known for his inventive, melting-pot take on American cuisine: He puts corn flakes in his crab cakes, and sprinkles potato chips onto kampachi. Forgione’s beloved “chili lobster”—a dish inspired by Singaporean chili crab—mixes South Asian spices with a side of Texas toast. But, among his fellow chefs, Forgione may be best known for another unusual achievement: his body. At 35, Forgione has the kind of casually buff physique, with a trim waist and ripped upper torso, that would be an accomplishment for anyone. But in the food business—where a typical workday involves taste-testing new foie gras recipes, and the typical physique is best embodied by Mario Batali—Forgione’s fitness level puts him in “freak” territory.
“He’s a chef and sex symbol,” Dean Tsakanikas, Forgione’s general manager, and a husky former college football player, tells me, sounding a bit awestruck. “I don’t know how he does it,” Tara Glick, Forgione’s pastry chef, agrees. “He’s got a secret the rest of us don’t.” Forgione’s own staffers aren’t the only ones curious about his fitness regimen. There are roughly 50,000 restaurants in the greater New York metropolitan area, making the city a cradle of unhealthy temptation even if you don’t spend all your hours working in one of them. But in Manhattan kitchens specifically, the question circulates: How does Forgione pull it off? Is there a trainer on his payroll posing as a dishwasher, keeping a watchful eye on him? Or is he a kind of food-world Hindu mystic, blessed with a superhuman capacity for self-control?
The answer is neither, actually. Forgione’s fitness quest begins on a black BMX bike outside his apartment building in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood. A little after 9:30 a.m. on a Friday, he meets me there. He doesn’t look very cheflike: Forgione wears his hair in a Mohawk, and with the bike, black Nike track pants, and visible tattoos, he resembles an X Games athlete. “I was just going to work out,” he says. Gesturing to the footrests on the bike’s back wheel, he suggests I hitch a ride on the “pegs.”