This chef landed his dream job, but it's not in a restaurant

4 December 2023
Bringing the science of 'food as medicine' to life
Meet Cordon Bleu-trained Chef Marzio Lanzini, who manages Sydney's newest kitchen - not in a high-class restaurant, but at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre.

It may sound like an odd pairing, a chef housed in a medical research institute, but it’s exactly this unique combination that caught Chef Lanzini's attention.

The appointment of a ‘Chef in Residence’ is part of the newly launched CPC RPA Health for Life Program, a partnership between the University of Sydney and the Sydney Local Health District aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting New South Wales residents across the lifespan, in their journey to live and age well.  

Professor Luigi Fontana with Chef Marzio Lanzini in the metabolic kitchen at the Charles Perkins Centre

Professor Luigi Fontana with Chef Marzio Lanzini in the metabolic kitchen at CPC

Chef Lanzini’s role involves working closely with a dietician, exercise physiologist and scientists including program director, Professor Luigi Fontana, to bring the science behind ‘food and exercise as medicine’ to life through practical hands-on clinical, educational and engagement activities.

On any given day Chef Lanzini could be at a Sydney high school teaching year 10 students how to shop and prepare a healthy lunch or running healthy cooking workshops for clinical patients in the metabolic kitchen at the Charles Perkins Centre-Royal Prince Alfred (CPC-RPA) Clinic.

“This is a career highlight for me, bringing all my training and experience to a place that combines my interest in healthy eating and nutrition with innovation, while also addressing the increasing household issue of budgetary stress,” he said.

“Many people have a vague idea about the guidelines around healthy eating, like eating more whole grains, beans, fruit and veg or not consuming too much salt, unhealthy carbs, fats and other ultra-processed foods. But what they don’t know is what does that look like on my plate? And how do I have my pantry stocked and things prepped so I can pull that together in 15 minutes after a day at work?

“We are also hearing from high schoolers that there’s lots of misinformation on diet out there on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. We want to give people scientifically-based advice they can trust.”

Born in Northern Italy, Chef Lanzini has an interesting past having travelled and cooked his way around the world, an adventurous spirit brought on by his parents’ bold decision to move to Kenya and open a restaurant when Marzio was eight.

His journey has seen him work in a myriad of roles across hospitality—including in hatted and Michelin-starred restaurants—in food manufacturing, consulting and project management. But it was living and working in Spain during the era of El Bulli (a restaurant that pioneered the molecular or experimental gastronomy movement) that he credits with fostering his interest in science.

The CPC RPA Health for Life Program is a new initiative for the Charles Perkins Centre. It encompasses a lifestyle medicine clinical service, as well as education, research and engagement activities to promote healthy nutritious eating, exercise and wellbeing across the lifespan. The Program is supported by the Australian Youth and Health Foundation (promoting the philosophy and practice of natural health).

Cook broccoli bruschetta with Chef Lanzini

Looking for a simple yet delicious way to include more vegetables in your breakfast? Try this delicious broccoli bruschetta.

A world leader in the field of nutrition and healthy longevity, Professor Luigi Fontana, who is the scientific director of the CPC-RPA Clinic, has big ideas for the program. He sees it as filling a real gap in practical hands-on advice on diet and exercise for the primary and secondary prevention of common chronic diseases that currently overwhelm our hospitals.

“For most people their diet is very much what they grew up with mum or dad serving them. We don’t want to change the taste of people’s cuisine, what we want to change is the ingredients,” says Professor Fontana.

“So instead of using white rice you will use brown, instead of using lots of meat and animal fat you are going to use legumes, minimally processed whole grains, low-fat dairy and fish. Instead of ghee or butter, you will use extra virgin olive oil, tahini and avocado.

“To begin we are offering a lifestyle medicine clinician service via the hospital and an educational program via schools and online resources on our website, but the sky is the limit here.

“For example, we know that diet can play an important role in reducing risk factors for cancer recurrence. In the future, we’d love to work on a program for women with breast cancer or men with prostate cancer. But we can’t just give people guidelines and send them on their way, having a chef onsite means we can show them – not just how to cook, but how to prep and plan which is half the battle.”

The Charles Perkins Centre is well known for its innovative multidisciplinary projects. The Chef in Residence follows the highly successful Judy Harris Writer in Residence Program, now in its seventh year, which allows creative writers to collaborate with scientists to explore the Centre’s major themes of diabetes, obesity, ageing and cardiovascular disease.

“As we enter our second decade, the Charles Perkins Centre is getting quite the reputation as the place where these unique multidisciplinary projects and partnerships come to life,” said Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre.

"This program embodies our vision to be a world-leading, innovative, multidisciplinary research centre for chronic disease prevention and treatment."

By embedding the principles of healthy diet, exercise and wellbeing into our clinical services and outreach we can really make a difference. I’m exceedingly proud of Professor Fontana’s foresight and warmly welcome Chef Lanzini to the team.
Prof Steve Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre

Michelle Blowes

Media & PR Adviser - Health

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