Celebrity chef Marc Bynum’s 3-year-old son is following in his dad’s footsteps — and then some.
There’s a play kitchen in his bedroom, where the youngster also runs his own restaurant. The little boy also tends to a vegetable garden, where he grows crops such as basil, chives, mint, rosemary and thyme.
But Bynum’s son doesn’t just call himself a chef. He’s a “chef doctor,” and often wears a stethoscope along with his chef jacket.
That’s how dad sees himself, too.
“Ultimately, that’s what we are. If you take it seriously, we are chef doctors,” says Bynum, who came to fame after becoming a champion on the popular Food Network show Chopped. “We can help you lead a long life, or we can cut your lifespan.”
Bynum is using his culinary talents and celebrity status to draw attention to childhood obesity, emphasizing that proper nutrition is the key to living a healthy life. He also is raising his voice in support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal to ban the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages in schools.
“Pumping our children with all these negative influences,” Bynum says, “Influences them.”
Bynum first developed a love of cooking growing up as a child in Long Island, N.Y., where he often joined his mother in the kitchen to help prepare the family meals. Watching his mother cook and seeing how it brought his family together provided the foundation for Bynum’s career.
As he grew older, Bynum found real purpose in the kitchen. He discovered the culinary arts as a teenager, which not only helped grow his talents but provided him with strength to deal with depression.
“I was good at it. It gave me therapy,” Bynum recalls. “It was just an organic growth, going into the kitchen, playing around with food… all of your senses are involved in cooking.”
Bynum received some basic culinary training at a vocational school and began to work at restaurants such as Boston Market to pay the bills. Eventually, he landed a gig as a sous chef for Marriott, which led to other jobs in some of New York’s top restaurants.
The chef’s career reached new heights in 2010, when he appeared on Chopped and became one of the show’s champions. Today he runs his own firm, M Bynum Creations, which provides a number of personalized culinary services and restaurant consulting.
A love and respect for food is what now motivates Bynum to tackle childhood obesity, he tells the Inside Track. Bynum grew up in an “economically starved community,” filled with plenty of fast food options but not much else. As a result, many of his own family members developed obesity, including his mother and brother, whose weight at one point exceeded 400 pounds.
Through a combination of healthy eating and plenty of exercise, Bynum’s brother, Matthew Williams, was able to lose more than 200 pounds. He is now working as a physical therapist and is going to school to become a doctor.
Matthew Williams's transformation — along with the chef’s personal teenage struggle with depression — really showcases the power that food can play in a person’s life, he says.
“I think childhood obesity and depression go hand-in-hand. It really affects the way people see themselves,” Bynum says. “I’m not asking everybody to be a chef, but I’m asking them to think.”
Bynum believes a vital part of that effort is tackling the food environment in schools, and he is encouraged with some of the progress he has seen firsthand. Sodas are no longer being sold at his 13-year-old son’s school, for example.
But Bynum also knows that the messages his son receives at school also matter. Rather than promoting junk food, schools should be places that serve and promote healthy choices for students.
Teaching kids the consequences of eating unhealthy also can be a way to reach them, Bynum says, which is what he does for his own teenage son.
“If you let them know, ‘You can have that Double Whopper if you want, but then you have to run for three hours to burn that off.’ That’s how I try to teach him,” Bynum says. “He’s an athlete. Athletes take care of their bodies. They have regimes, they have diets, they know what goes into their body.”
Bynum believes that he and his fellow chefs have a responsibility to change the conversation around food, including when it comes to marketing. It is going to take years of work to tackle the problem of obesity, but Bynum is optimistic that change can happen.
It’s his mission as a chef-doctor, after all.
“Everything ties into it,” Bynum says. “Everything ties into food.”
Click here to tell the USDA you support banning junk food marketing in schools.