The era of the bloated toque is fast waning. Across the country, executive chefs are making fitness a priority, not only for themselves, but for their staffs too. Here’s how these guys are battling back against the late hours, constant temptations, and high stress of the profession. You might learn a few things too.
The Restaurant: Kids BBQ Championship, Food Network
The Challenge: Crushing Cravings For Delicious, High-Calorie Food
Eddie Jackson grew up around food. Both of his grandmothers were chefs, and his mother cooked for a local high school. Every morning he’d wake up to homemade biscuits, and the house was always stuffed with comfort food. “I fell in love with food,” Jackson says. When he was younger, his calorie intake didn’t matter: He was a football and track star who eventually played cornerback at the University of Arkansas and for four NFL teams.
But when his NFL career ended, Jackson moved to Miami and began working as a caterer and private chef. He was talented and understood the fundamentals. When his girlfriend signed him up to be a contestant on MasterChef as a joke, he went through with it. “I was like, ‘Wow I must be pretty damn good!’ ” he says. He moved to Houston, opened a food truck, and won Season 11 of The Next Food Network Star. But he never stopped working out.
Because his father was a fitness trainer, exercise is as much in Jackson’s blood as cooking. “To this day I have that mentality of taking care of my body,” he says. It’s for health as well as rewards. “So I don’t feel bad when I have a burger or a slab of ribs.”
As a professional athlete, Jackson depended on fitness for his livelihood. He was paid to be ripped. And he’s found a way to keep that going. When he moved to Houston, he opened a gym, Fit Chef Studio. Even now that he’s a Food Network star, Jackson teaches a few classes in the gym, incorporating the same high-intensity interval training that he swears by for his own fitness. His typical workout is a circuit of 10 to 15 exercises—”and I don’t stop,” he says. “I keep my body moving and my heart rate up to burn the maximum amount of calories.”
Because he spends his days preparing and eating high-calorie foods, Jackson can assess his needs pretty easily. He doesn’t measure ounces; he eyeballs a plate and knows if it’s too much for him. He advises one thing above all: portion control. “The more you eat, the harder it is to burn those calories,” he says. He tries to eat protein early in the day to avoid big, heavy meals later. It’s apparently working.
The Restaurant: No Name Supper Club, Los Angeles
The Challenge: Thriving On A Work Schedule That Mimics A Vampire’s
The amply bearded chef of the quasi-secret supper club No Name opened his first restaurant 16 years ago. Like all new business owners, Jared Simons was on the job every morning and night. He pounded calories, drank too much, and worked into the wee hours. He ballooned to 205 pounds, way too much for his 5’9″ frame. “One day I woke up and felt like death,” he recalls. That was nine years ago.
Then a friend introduced Simons to five-day-a-week high-intensity training. He dropped most of the weight, so he could at least eat and drink without guilt. (Check out Men’s Health‘s new MetaShred Extreme program for high-intensity interval workouts that will help you drop pounds fast.)
Simons says he was happy—for a while. “I think I looked pretty good from the outside,” he says.
In the fall of 2015, he saw a story online about the “Vegan Ironman,” singer John Joseph of the punk-turned-thrash band Cro-Mags. Here was a man in his 50s, Simons recalls, who was “crushing triathlons.” So Simons bought a bike, picked a doable race (an Olympic-length tri), and set a timeline of four and a half months.
As an early riser who didn’t have to be at work until the afternoon, Simons’s problem wasn’t time. He worried most about fuel. He was 38 years old and wanted to find a way to stoke his energy and stay healthy. “And I kept coming back to Joseph’s story and a plant-based diet.”
Simons adopted a strict vegan diet despite working full-time in a place that served rich food. Five weeks later, he says, “I felt amazing.” He was leaner and stronger. His wife said he was no longer snoring. He felt more energetic even though he required less sleep.
Encouraged by the changes, Simons kept pushing. He joined the LA Triathlon Club, hired a coach, and went gonzo on training. He was spending two to four hours a day running, biking, swimming, and working out. The gym he built in his Hollywood Hills garage has TRX straps, a Concept2 rower, a Keiser spin bike, and weights. A year later, he had finished three Olympic-length triathlons and a half Ironman.
Simons isn’t finished yet. He’ll attempt his first full Ironman race, Sonoma County’s Ironman Vineman, in July of this year.
“I literally feel like I’ve become superhuman,” Simons says of his new body. “Doing all this has brought health back into my life. I’m not just working out so I can look good. It’s now a lifestyle, and it’s about how I feel. I’m probably adding years back to my life.”
The Restaurant: Departure Restaurant + Lounge, Portland, Oregon
The Challenge: Resisting The Damaging Influences Of Others
Gregory Gourdet left New York City to save himself. In his 20s he was a star in the city’s kitchens, but he was drinking too much, chain-smoking, and abusing cocaine. Seven years of this took its toll, and he entered rehab. That’s when, for the first time in his life, he went out for a run. “I had nothing else to do,” he says.
It was a few more years, though, before his recovery stuck. Gourdet moved to Oregon in 2009, went to AA meetings, and embraced running. At his first marathon, he recalls, “I started to cry around mile 23 because I realized I was going to finish.”
Since then, Gourdet has been sucked into the ultra scene, finishing a 50K and several 40-milers. He does hot yoga for recovery and mixes in CrossFit at least twice a week for strength. He follows a diet that largely matches his menu at Departure: roasted carrot and squash salad, wok-cooked brussels sprouts, and crispy cod with kimchi. As for the running, Gourdet has the Mountain Lakes 100 on his calendar for September. “When I’m running a lot I can break down any project,” Gourdet says. “It me plan things out in my head.”
The Restaurant: SPQR, San Francisco
The Challenge: Living With The Lure Of Carbs
Every day, Matthew Accarrino makes—but doesn’t eat—piles of pasta in the kitchen at SPQR, the Michelin-starred, Italian-inspired restaurant he runs. He resists overindulging due to his commitment to road racing, which requires 10 to 15 hours a week of his time.
He started racing as a kid and aspired to go pro, but a freak accident in an ultimate Frisbee game when he was 16 snapped his femur and ended those ambitions. Instead, he began to cook. For 12 years, he didn’t touch a bike.
After working in various New York City restaurants, Accarrino, 39, moved to California in 2007 to help open Craft Los Angeles. His girlfriend gave him a road bike as a gift, and he began to ride a little. But when he moved to the Bay Area two years later, he got serious.
Accarrino’s diet is low in processed carbs and high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. A typical racing season meal: roasted salmon with quinoa, served with moisture-rich tomatoes and cucumbers for rehydration.
“I’m stronger and faster than I’ve ever been, but I’m probably eating more,” he explains. “It’s all about constantly refining your diet and training program.” Biking and cooking, he says, have parallels. “Climbing the same hill over and over to try to get faster is not that different from making the same dish over and over to make it better.”