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Meet Ben Ceccarelli of Dinner For Mary in Valley Village

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ben Ceccarelli.

Ben, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In 2008, Mary and I took part in a 30-day challenge where we cut out grains, dairy, processed sugar and focused on eating lean meats, vegetables and fruit. It was the Paleo Diet challenge and we went into it hesitant, but with an open mind. We expected to lose some weight, especially by cutting out the grains and sugar, but we had no idea that this 30-day challenge would change our lives forever.

There was a definite uncomfortable adjustment period for the first 10 days or so. Our bodies were trying to get used to this new way of eating, and different source of fuel. After about two weeks, we were both thrilled with the results that were beginning to show. We lost fat, noticeably! I remember walking out of the shower and looking in the mirror, thinking, “I have abs!” Getting lean was amazing, but it was actually just a positive side effect to what was really happening in our bodies. We were finally giving our bodies real food to use as fuel. We slept better, had more energy in the day and didn’t feel bloated or lethargic after a meal. Our workouts improved, our mental focus improved and we started becoming better versions of ourselves. The meals weren’t anything extravagant, but for the 30 days, it was tolerable. What started as a 30-day challenge, soon became our lifestyle.

Mary and I quickly realized that if we were going to make our new eating style work, we were going to have to be better about making meals at home. Eating at restaurants started getting complicated. We wanted to know what oils were being used in the food if there was flour in any of the sauces and why everything had high-fructose corn syrup in it. We started making weekly trips to the grocery store so we could be sure there was real food to eat in our house. We started cooking all of our meals at home and making enough food to take for breakfast and lunch the next day. Mary had a much longer commute home from her office than I did, so most nights, I would be the one to start cooking dinner. Before long, cooking dinner became something I looked forward to all day and I saw it as a fun way to challenge myself by coming up with different meals every night. The exciting part was trying to figure out ways to take our old favorite comfort foods and make healthier versions using the knowledge I had gained along the way. I was on websites and blogs, Pinterest and Instagram, looking at what other people were doing, and using that as inspiration for my own cooking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I just started whipping up masterpieces from the beginning. There was a ton of trial and error… mostly error. The more I tested, failed and re-tested, the closer I came to mastering my recipes.

I was like a mad scientist with my recipes. I would walk down the aisles of the grocery store, imagining all of the possibilities that could come from the ingredients I saw. I would set time aside on the weekends to test out different ideas I came up with during the week. I liked to surprise Mary each night with what I was making, only to see her face light up when she took her first bite of a healthy version of a classic dish.

It became even more fun as I discovered new companies with products and ingredients that complimented my cooking. I started documenting the meals I cooked on my social media accounts every so often and would always begin the post with, “Dinner for Mary.” People loved it. Friends and family started asking what I was making for dinner that night and were drooling over the pictures of the food. After a while, I decided to start an Instagram account that solely focused on the food I was making every night. I called it “dinnerformary,” in hopes of inspiring other people (and other guys) to cook delicious, healthy, real food, like I do.

Now, I’m constantly inspiring my followers to cook for their significant other, and it’s really amazing how it has affected their relationships in such a positive way. There was a big outcry for my recipes, so I published the Dinner For Mary cookbook, which is now available on Amazon Prime.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There has been a lot of trial and error with my recipes. There was no blueprint for these types of alternative ingredients when I started, so I would have to throw a lot of the “failed attempts” away. But, from all of the struggle, some really incredible food was created and now, I’m so knowledgeable about what works and what doesn’t.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Dinner For Mary – what should we know?
Well right now, it’s just me coming up with delicious, healthy meals in social media, offering my cookbook to people and starting to do some YouTube videos. I’d love to see how far I can take this and maybe have my own Paleo cooking show on the Food Network.

There’s not a lot of male chefs in the Paleo space who are doing what I’m doing. The idea of a husband who cooks for his wife is something we don’t see too often especially in this specialized healthy genre of cooking.

I’m really proud of the relationships that have been affected positively by my message. I’m showing other guys especially that it’s not so intimidating to make super healthy and delicious food for your significant others.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Creativity and the artistic abilities to be able to create my own content. My background is in design and video, so I was able to create my cookbook from scratch by myself and shoot all of my YouTube videos by myself. I am a photographer, so I also don’t have to depend on hiring out for the pictures of my food as well.

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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