Chef Mark Anthony wants you to know he’s not hawking a product.

He doesn’t hope you’ll buy the latest food prep gadget. He’s not trying to sign you up for a diet plan with meals shipped straight to your door. He won’t entice you with a shiny stack of cookbooks.

Instead, he’ll let you watch him cook, and then he’ll serve you a full-course meal. For free.

“I’m not getting paid by companies to market their products,” said Anthony, who comes to South Portland this Sunday to deliver a free cooking show and meal. “I want to help people get off cholesterol.”

The thing he is selling is the idea that a plant-based, vegan diet is the key to health.

In his own life, Anthony, who lives in Las Vegas and has catered to many celebrities, began cutting out meat, dairy and eggs from his meals four years ago.

Since then, he’s lost 83 pounds, dropping from 305 pounds to 222. He attributes it all to his change in diet.

When he began this transition, he was working as an executive chef for a hospital food service provider.

“I found out that we were feeding the people in the hospital the same food that caused them to be here in the first place,” Anthony said. “We’d have a guy in for (cardiac) stents and then feed him bacon and eggs. I didn’t want to be that guy. That’s when I started doing my homework and knew I needed to change the way I eat.”

Despite his own experience with weight loss, Anthony feels the current obsession with obesity has more to do with marketing pharmaceuticals than making people healthier.

“There are a lot of people who are overweight who are healthier than a slender person whose arteries are loaded up with cholesterol,” Anthony said.

“The biggest problem in society is the cholesterol,” he said. “In America, we have the highest cholesterol rates, and we have the highest rates of diseases. Countries that eat more of a plant-based diet don’t have the same diseases.”

According to Anthony, 90 percent of Americans die from what he calls “killer diseases,” such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
He says this is the logical result of a national diet that is made up of only 7 percent fruits and vegetables.

In contrast, he looks to Thailand, where people eat 72 percent of their calories in fruits and vegetables, and only 10 percent of the population dies from heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.

“Cholesterol kills more people than cigarette smoking every year,” Anthony said. “I think the surgeon general needs to put a warning label on anything with cholesterol.”

But Anthony isn’t waiting around for that to happen. Instead, he’s taken his message on the road, making hundreds of appearances around the country in the past two years to talk about and show people how to prepare better-for-you food.

His current tour includes 120 stops across the country.

“I looked at my map last year and I’d done half of the country,” Anthony said. “So I’m doing the other half this year.”

Anthony’s shows offer a bit of Las Vegas flair, and his South Portland stop won’t be any different.

He’ll include some of his signature watermelon carving along with the recipe demonstrations.

Oddly, he doesn’t charge for any of his shows. Instead, he takes donations and says what he collects in contributions covers his travel and expenses.
Anthony is a firm believer in the mind-body-spirit connection, and brings a nondenominational religious message into his talks.

However, he said he doesn’t get preachy and isn’t evangelizing for a  particular religion.

Many of his talks have taken place at Seventh-Day Adventist churches, a fact he attributes to the church’s promotion of a vegan diet among its followers.

“I’ve also done shows for Baptist, Lutheran and Catholic churches,” Anthony said.

At Sunday’s show, he’ll prepare a Southwestern-style menu, including taco burgers, chili, nachos, tacos and Southwestern vegan cutlets.

Like most chefs promoting wellness through diet, Anthony doesn’t recommend eating a lot of vegetarian hot dogs or fake cream cheese.

Instead, he advocates that people “stick to whole foods in their natural state.”

At the start of each two-hour program, he sizes up the crowd and starts preparing a meal that will feed everyone.

Once his demonstration is complete, he sets up a buffet line and invites everyone to partake.

“When you go from a cholesterol diet to a vegan diet, you actually simplify your diet,” Anthony said. “You spend less time in the kitchen. It’s easier to cook and live a vegan lifestyle. In the long run, you save money. When you get rid of your shrimp and eggs and meat, you have plenty of money left over for the most expensive vegetables.”

But on Sunday, everything will be free.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]