Underneath a little ray of sunshine lurks a boundlessly creative, determined force of nature. His boxing name was "Hurricane Russ" for a reason.
But doesn't fight against opponents -- life taught him another just appears in their place. He fights for the good stuff instead.
Candid about the realities of obesity but also irreverently defiant of them, Russ’ cooking style is designed to break vicious cycles with punchy flavor combinations, ample color and mish-mash of cuisines that feel less like "fusion" than "folk art." It alludes to existing dishes more than it replicates any of them by rote: The concept is to create cuisines with solid nutrient ratios but also disrupt the long-ingrained psychological or neurological patterns attached with food. The North Carolinian in him gives this high-minded cuisine a dash of whimsical practicality and tongue-in-cheek sense of fun.
Much like his cooking, Russ juxtaposes and weaves together a life lived between a variety of extremes: fat and thin, wealthy and impoverished, erudite cosmopolitan professor and no-nonsense Southerner, healer and boxer.
Twelve years ago Russ was a 350-pound rock critic in the Carolinas, a typical evening was spent standing in the back of rock clubs hiding beneath a XXL trench coat and a 60-inch waist, observing and then writing about everyone else having fun, before going home and eating two large pizzas before the cycle wearily recommenced.
Nothing changed until he uncovered a history of sexual abuse, as the dust settled, realized he spent his entirely life using his brain to solve problems – to change his life, this time he began working from the outside in. He started walking three miles a day and developed from there.
Early into his weight loss, he was offered a job food writing and suddenly thrown into the world of fine dining with no previous cooking experience. He learned cooking, fitness and nutrition out of the usual order, and with that came a different point on view of them all.
"My relationship with food went about as far as calling for delivery, or a "a good tip" being put detergent on food you throw away so you don't fish it out of the trashcan later. That's the reality," Russ says. "Then suddenly for my career I was inundated with people in my life that spoke at length about foie gras or the latest food fad as if it were a trinket or a passing novelty. That was a good day: I just as often met people who were eating themselves to death. Not even including any questions of my abuse or coming of age in my mid 20s, to call that time period jarring and confronting is being polite. I cast aside the typical expectations of the obese, fatphobes, food snobs and personal trainers and began combining all these experiences into my dishes, on my terms. Cooking taught me to savor life, and trust my own ability."
The extraordinary circumstance produced extraordinary results, and he lost 200 pounds successfully and emerged a promising, creative cook in his own right amid the loss of his mother, grandmother, and his history of sexual abuse repeating itself.
He kept his weight off amid the flurry of emotional gut punches, leaving his life behind to start from scratch in New Orleans before moving to New York. And yet the most difficult challenges seemed like the simplest: the realities of fat prejudice, dieting, not regaining, and trying to make sense of it for yourself and deal with everyone's reactions around you. As he confronted and conquered his own demons, he began exploring the science of life after weight loss, and found how many struggle and unsupported with either maintaining or simply building a life that makes fighting the war on obesity worth waging. That doesn't necessarily occur with a diet.
He began writing, cooking and lecturing on weight-loss issues, and as others began asking Russ to teach what he learned, he found his skillset was the missing ingredient in many's obesity management strategy. His student's own creativity blossomed while also stopping suicides, helped break decades-long bouts of celibacy, and improved medical conditions and weight measurements by working in tandem with existing professionals, research scientists, and the diet industry.
He has appeared on the Today Show, People Magazine and been one of the few guest lecturers at long-running diet facility The Structure House, and the only without a formal scientific or culinary degree. He trained with some of the most creative chefs in New Orleans and has cooked for the Broadway community in New York and those wanting to beat the odds as he did. He regularly speaks with scientists and creatives to find new solutions so that women and men everywhere get everything they want out of weight loss, and much more.