With Peruvian chef Franco Noriega’s shredded physique—he’s modeled for Dolce & Gabbana—and scantily clad YouTube cooking demos, you’d think his boy toy rep might overshadow his kitchen cred. But at Baby Brasa, his Manhattan pollería, the food takes center stage. A tribute to taste, nutrition, and affordability, Baby Brasa offers organic rotisserie chicken, creative salads, and sides that all redefine fast food for the fitness minded. We asked Noriega how he stays in model shape.
How can you love food but stay so fit?
I don’t understand that “Don’t trust a skinny chef” stereotype. I don’t want to eat what a really unhealthy guy eats; at the same time, I can’t call a salad “dinner” and be happy. For a real meal, I want a beautiful protein and superclean sides: yucca, sweet potatoes, quinoa, lentils. With the restaurant, it’s all my favorite things in one place.
Baby Brasa’s chicken is all-organic. Why?
I ate organic in Peru, where everything is organic and local. When I came here, I started gaining weight, feeling tired, getting sick. I mean, we are what we eat. I want food to taste good, but I also want to feel good.
At the restaurant, we pay three times more for organic chicken than regular. At first—I really wanted to make a profit!—I cooked an organic chicken and a steroid chicken at the same time, and it was like two different proteins. The difference was so fucking clear.
If you roast organic chicken with only a little salt, it’s delicious. But if you do that with a regular supermarket chicken, it’s horrible.
What’s your favorite ingredient or side?
Quinoa is an unbelievable superfood. I’ve been eating it since I was a year old. And it’s so versatile! Make a smaller piece of chicken with a mound of quinoa and you’re good to go. Throw it with chopped tomatoes and it’s quinoa salad. You can substitute hot quinoa for rice, or do dessert—quinoa pudding’s delicious.
What do you eat for breakfast?
First I have green tea with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and wait 30 minutes. Then I usually do a shake with almond milk or açaí; and I have tons of things on the counter—maca root, goji berries, bee pollen, almond butter—so I add whatever’s there, with maybe banana or avocado.
Any tips for guys who think “eating healthy” is boring?
I enjoy every single bite I take. Having to eat something bland or boring just to get there body-wise—for me it’s not worth it. You can still have great food and look fucking great.
How do you work out?
I ride my bike or skateboard across the bridge into Manhattan two or three times a day, so my cardio’s covered. And I go to the gym five times a week. I love it, but I’m learning how important rest days are, whether you want to get bigger or slim down.