Though he acknowledges the potential risks of the procedure (“It’s not for everyone,” he admits), the operation was a success for him. He dropped 140 pounds within a year, and though he’s gained about 20 of those back, he maintains a weight of around 200 pounds on his 5-foot-8-inch frame. He keeps the weight off by running — he even participated in the 2010 New York City Marathon — but he admits that eating still soothes him when he gets upset.
His relationship with food, however, is now a much healthier one. He’s earned a reputation as something of a gourmet, thanks in part to the numerous food segments he’s done on Today over the years; his pair of cookbooks, Al Roker’s Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook: More than 125 Recipes for Family Celebrations All Year Long and Al Roker’s Big Bad Book of Barbecue: 100 Easy Recipes for Backyard Barbecue; and his independent productions for the Food Network, including My Life in Food, Around the World in New York City and Recipe for Success.
Though Roker wears many hats, the role he takes the greatest pride in is being a husband and father. While in his office during a break from taping, surrounded by works of art made by his 13-year-old daughter, Leila, which adorn the walls of his office, Roker wonders if his son, Nicholas, 9, ate the waffles from the batter Roker made before leaving the house at 4 a.m. “All he’ll eat is waffles or pancakes,” he says. He calls up his wife, Deborah Roberts, a correspondent for ABC’s 20/20, to find out.
Later, he recalls their first meeting, 22 years ago. “She’s gorgeous and made for TV,” he remembers thinking. “Me, not so much.” He won her over after house-sitting for her while she was on assignment. In Roberts’ home, he discovered the bare kitchen of a career newswoman: nothing in the refrigerator, empty cupboards, even the packing cardboard still in the stove. Roker filled the larders with staple food items and left her a home-cooked meal. They began dating and married in 1995.
That was 17 years and two children ago. (Roker also has a daughter from a previous marriage, Courtney, 24, who is studying to become a chef. “She takes after me,” he says. “I used to cook with her when she was a kid, and now she’s just taken off.”) An old-fashioned dad, Roker serves as a class parent at his son’s school. When he’s asked whether his kids watch him every morning on TV, he says no. “I parent the way my parents did, and my dad limited the amount of TV we watched during the week,” he explains.
While his children may not be closely monitoring his on-screen career, Roker has no plans to stop anytime soon. He loves the unpredictability of his days, which start at 3.15 a.m. as he reads major newspapers on his iPad. But as his professional responsibilities become more vast and varied, Roker’s still as dedicated as ever to the show he calls home.
“I’m not about to quit my day job,” he says. “I’m going to ride this train to the last stop, and even then, I’m going to make them take me off.”
But with consistently high ratings and an audience who adores him, he seems to have a long, successful ride ahead. What’s his secret?
“Willard [Scott] always used to tell me, ‘Be you. Be yourself,’ ” he says. “And that’s what I do.”
June Cross is a professor of broadcast journalism at Columbia University and the author of a memoir, Secret Daughter.