Ahead of the New Year’s resolutions that many of us will make around getting healthy and eating clean in the new year, contributor Carley Thornell chatted with culinary professionals to find out how chefs stay healthy every day.
For chef Andy Husbands, his usual road trips include eating barbecue at about 30 places in four days as research for such restaurants as Tremont 647 and the new Smoke Shop. Earlier this year, his most ambitious adventure was burning off the calories by cycling 300 miles over three days for the No Kid Hungry charity, raising more than $2 million along with other culinary crusaders.
“I try to eat healthily, and I run and do a couple of bike trips a year, but nothing too crazy — but Chefs Cycle was definitely the craziest thing I’ve done!,” says Husbands. “Being on the line is so physically demanding that it can be a challenge to work out, but that was something else.”
The burnt-end baron says the hours of training inspired him to occasionally take to two wheels to get to work when the New England weather cooperates.
Whether it’s for stress relief, exercise or eating in moderation, a growing number of chefs are embracing healthier habits to keep them in fighting shape for behind the stove. For chef Deborah Scott of Coasterra, it was a do-or-die situation that led her to dieting—and a healthier way of life after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes eight years ago.
“Saying you are what you eat has a lot of validity, and I just made the decision that I didn’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life,” she said. “I didn’t want to be unhealthy anymore and if I can make the adjustments to my diet and eating habits, I can be in control — and I like to be in control!”
Now whittled down to a size 6 from a 16, Scott has cut out grazing at work, dairy, 90 percent of carbs, and all sugar (except what is naturally in fruit). She says for her it’s not so much about exercise as controlling her eating habits, “although I probably walk about ten miles in the course of a day across our space that’s twenty-eight-thousand square feet,” Scott says. “I used to have back and neck aches and get tired fast, but now I can do a twelve-hour day no problem.”
Her recipe for success? Embracing a philosophy that variety is not the spice of life. Bringing consistent breakfasts, like grapefruit and toast with butter, and lunches, such as salads with turkey, mean there are fewer opportunities to graze and indulge. It’s the same for chef Roger Waysok of Chicago’s South Water Kitchen, who eats a “chef’s bowl” every morning of quinoa, asparagus, egg whites, turkey sausage, avocado, and spinach. He doesn’t drink coffee, so sencha green tea shots packed in a cooler give him an added boost of energy throughout long days.
Breakfast is also the healthiest meal of the day for chef Mark Jeffers, who eats organic yogurt, housemade granola, and berries before a long day at Manzanita, where he uses the freshest and best produce that comes in from local farms. While his personal tip is to keep a well-stocked refrigerator to whip up quick and healthy meals during chefs’ inconsistent off hours, the focus on a healthy lifestyle at The Ritz-Carlton mountain resort in Tahoe has resulted in a mouthwatering menu of such morning specialties as avocado egg toasts on nine-grain bread, chia pudding with raspberry coulis, a Greek yogurt smoothie, and a chicken sausage frittata with egg whites.
Although it would be easy to revert to a simple bacon-and-eggs menu during his former role as a banquet chef, Jeffers says meeting demand for Lake Tahoe’s outdoorsy vacationers, along with The Ritz-Carlton’s ethos of offering guests and employees waist-friendly options, is a welcome challenge. The brand limits fat-laden food in the employee dining room, provides sautéed and roasted options in lieu of fried items, reduces sodium, and offers fresh — not frozen — fruits and vegetables.
At Telefèric Barcelona, chef Oscar Cabezas revamped the meals for staffers to incorporate authentic Catalan cuisine (the owners hail from Barcelona) with more fresh vegetables from the Walnut Creek, California, area, and the result was nutrition bowls with six to seven local ingredients that vary every 12 days. Not only is it more economic than making a lot of pork or seafood that often went to waste, but workers call in sick less often and enjoy the offerings more, says Cabezas.
Some cuisines with fresh veggies and herbs are inherently healthy, which helps toques like Piyarat Potha Arreeratn (a.k.a. chef Bee) stay on track in the gym even more. He can usually be found there five days a week if he’s not at boot camp twice a week, with a routine that includes 100 pull-ups and 100 squats. “NaiYaRa is in a neighborhood with a ton of workout facilities, and we source some great vegetables from Homestead Farms and bring them together with Thai flavors for light, healthy options,” said Bee. “The Japanese portion of the menu, primarily raw fish, is the best way to feast while keeping the body in mind.” He said owning a restaurant “isn’t a sprint, but a marathon — the same goes for pursuing a healthy lifestyle, and they both take passion, determination, and discipline.”
Chef Arun Sampanthavivat brings the same philosophy to Chicago-based empire Arun’s Thai, and says his herb-forward menu has helped him run a kitchen for more than 30 years. “Diners are always impressed with how the food has a clean and refreshing taste because of the herbs and spices we use instead of preservatives — which have medicinal benefits, too,” he said.
He also credits daily yoga and meditation for his joie de vivre: “Physical and mental health always go hand-in-hand,” he says — along with that fork in hand.
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Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at email@example.com.