If you’ve watched Master Chef on FOX, you’ve seen Joe Bastianich. He’s the slim, shaved-headed judge that makes contestants squirm the most with his quiet, intense demeanor and critical look. If you’ve never watched the show, industry pros know Bastianich as an East Coast entrepreneurial force and wine connoisseur who owns Italian vineyards and shares ownership in 18 acclaimed eateries (among them Babbo, Del Posto, Felidia, The Spotted Pig and the New York Italian market centerpiece Eataly) with notable partners such as Mario Battali, Dave Pasternack, April Bloomfield and, of course, his mother, the chef Lydia Bastianich.
But his latest effort on the industry front is very much a personal one. Bastianich, a former heavy smoker, became a spokesperson for Blueprint to Quit, a smoking cessation program that tackles both the physical and mental pieces of nicotine addiction. “I quit 15 years ago using the Nicoderm patch, and had my own tricks that I used, but these days with the Blueprint to Quit, it’s not only access to the patch or Nicorette gum or whatever you need to deal with the physical addiction to nicotine,” Bastianich said, “but also the support and counseling to deal with the social and the habitual aspects of quitting smoking that can be more difficult at times that even the physical addiction.”
He’s passionate about it because he knows the foodservice industry is a tough one in which to avoid a cigarette. While the numbers have improved, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 percent of people in foodservice are addicted to cigarettes, making the industry the second highest smoking population amongst U.S. occupations. (Mining is the highest, with the same percentage, but broader age range. Of the overall population, 19 percent of adults smoke.)
“I found the program, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to do something positive within my own industry,” he said, adding that was why he was reaching out specifically to industry publications like Foodservice News. “I employ a lot of people (about 3,000 across the businesses) I’m a leader in the industry, so it’s a positive message for a good cause.”
Bastianich did more than just quit smoking, he said he altered his lifestyle completely, eating healthy and exercising—ultimately developing a running habit. “I was a two-pack-a-day smoker, so for me it was dealing with the physical addiction, and then all the things that surrounded it,” he said. “So I just kinda made a whole change of lifestyle. …It’s avoiding those cigarette moments, avoiding situations that would cause you to smoke, and finding other ways of living your life without being dependent on cigarettes.”
By quitting, he added, foodservice workers obviously improve their health, but have the bonus of improving two senses that are critical to their professional life: taste and smell. “The dividends are immediate and long term,” he said.
The Blueprint to Quit program provides the two aspects of quitting smoking that Bastianich labored through on his own 15 years ago when he kicked his habit: the Nicotine replacement piece (nicotine gums and patches or other products) and behavioral support. The latter is available exclusively at Walmart through QuitNet, which is one of the largest Internet-based quit smoking communities that provides smokers with access to trained experts and an online interactive community.
For his businesses, Bastianich said he looks for employees that “thrive on making people happy” and are social, and has noticed that type of person—himself included—brings other traits to the table. “I think inherent with those type of traits are people who are creative and compulsive and I think that’s why smoking is perhaps so widespread,” he said. “We work long hours, we work stressful jobs, the cigarette is a classic way to have a break in the night of the restaurant, but I think (the work and stress) is not an excuse.”
For more information on Blueprint to Quit, visit http://see.walmart.com/blueprinttoquit/.