Born at 12 pounds, Ventrella doubled his weight in the first month.By the time he was 13, his waist was the same size it is today. He made the football team at Glenbard North High School and became a standout lineman.It’s a cozy spot where he and his cousin used to hang out when they were kids.(His uncle and the restaurant’s owner are partners in a construction company.) No doubt the generous portions at Marino’s—along with the Italian home cooking of Ventrella’s mother, Maria—played a role in his relentless weight gain over the years. A heaping serving of homemade ravioli in vodka sauce can be augmented with meatballs, sausage, or chicken, and the Saturday special is Cheesy Beef, a sandwich on garlic bread—served with fries on the side, of course. Even aside from the bountiful meals, nature, it seems, stacked the deck against him from the start.
On a late summer day, Ventrella, sporting a red bandanna around his forehead and wearing a Superman T-shirt, sips a glass of water in Marino’s Pizzeria & Italian Cafe in west suburban Wood Dale.He is working on a cookbook with his mom that will feature healthier versions of traditional Italian dishes.As a solo author, he has a book in the works on low-cal international plates, such as sashimi.He has scouted for an agent, asking the trainers, Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, for recommendations.But West Coast agents weren’t interested in him, and the agents who have sought him out are sharks, he says.
“They aren’t as unique anymore.” More than that, Nordhielm says, winners of weight-loss shows aren’t really demonstrating any talent. You can’t translate that into a talk show or a mall tour or a hit single. That’s like being a former comedian.” It probably doesn’t help Ventrella’s prospects that some of the winners become fat again—for example, the season 3 winner, Erik Chopin, regained almost all the 214 pounds he lost.