Be gentle, they're (mostly) new at this.
Chefs aren't generally known for their healthy habits. In fact, they're often pinned up as the poster people for unhealthy excess, overwork, and poor self-care habits. When your business is tending to the pleasure of others, sometimes your own wellbeing can fall by the wayside—but it doesn't have to be that way. We caught up with some of our favorite forward-thinking chefs at the recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival and asked: What are the things you've done to take care of your own physical and mental health?
Amanda Cohen: Dirt Candy, New York
I am an avid exerciser. It centers you for the day and keeps your body healthy. The more you exercise, the less likely you are to go out every night and drink because you have something to wake up for. The other thing that I try to enforce is drinking water. I know it seems so small but I cannot tell you the difference it makes in my staff when they're actually hydrated. They are smarter, function better, and they're less likely to make really stupid mistakes.
Sarah Grueneberg: Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio, Chicago
The first two years my restaurant was open, I had no time for Sarah. This year, I decided time for Sarah is important. I'm seeing a trainer three times a week, and I do acupuncture. Taking time out for my physical self is the part that I always put by the wayside. I realized I have more energy and I’m more positive when I exercise.
Kelly Fields: Willa Jean, New Orleans
I require that I don't just get out of bed and go to work. That generally means I make breakfast for myself at home. I spend time with my dog, Kinney. I require downtime for myself away from everybody. That's a new thing for me and that alone is a gamechanger.
Rebekah Brooks: Dizengoff, Miami
I've actually stopped exercising. My mental health work has been about breathing and trying to be more in the moment. I listen to Eckhart Tolle and Jon Kabat-Zinn in the car. It's something that I try to bring into my everyday life because I feel like the more you practice, the more it's with you, like any habit.
I stopped eating ice cream after midnight. I love it, but it's really bad for my glycemic index. When I ran Restaurant August—which is super high-end classical French—I still would run every day and keep myself in shape but my doctor was like man, your cholesterol is just... holy crap. When I opened MoPho, all we use is coconut milk. There's a little cream and butter at Maypop because it's supposed to be New Orleans French. But at MoPho you will never find cream or butter unless it's in the desserts. It's only coconut milk.
And it's all broths, so my cholesterol and sodium levels dropped. My doctor was like, "Man you're in great shape now. What happened?" I guess I stopped ingesting large amounts of cream and butter. Now I go to MoPho every morning and eat pho for breakfast. The broth is so refreshing. It's got a little bit of salt, a little but of sugar, and healthy nutrients. You just feel great. It's hydration.
Ashley Christensen: Death & Taxes, Poole's Diner, and more, Raleigh
[My girlfriend] Kait and I just started focusing on being more thoughtful about what we put in our bodies. It's amazing how fast that will change how you feel and what your body does. In any industry that's busy, it's so easy to give in to a life of convenience, and that is where it all falls apart. Late meals, eating the wrong thing, drinking coffee for six hours every morning. The thing that Kait and I put a lot of energy into is using our freezer. We'll put time into cooking a big pot of something healthy, delicious, and fulfilling and serves the body well. We divvy it all up in deli containers and pop those in the freezer, pull them out the night before, and have lunch the next day. We're using more intentional convenience now.
Rick Bayless: Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco, and more, Chicago
Plan health into your day. I'm a huge yoga guy and I do yoga every single day. It's physical and mental. It's also a whole lot about breathing, which is one of the greatest tools that you can use for stress reduction.
Other people find what they need to do. You may find that yoga or running or another physical activity does it for you. I encourage everybody who works with us to plan some balance into their lives so they can take care of themselves and eat well. I'm really against the thing where when you get off work and you're starving and you run out and get a cheeseburger. That's good every once in a while, but you also need to not gorge on that kind of stuff just because you're hungry and you're off of work. Have some balance.
Matthew Jennings: Townsman, Boston
Two years ago in May I had a gastric sleeve surgery—a sleeve gastrectomy—which removed 85 percent of my stomach. I've lost 175 pounds. It has completely changed my life. It's been a physical change that ended up leading to a mental and psychological change, and ultimately a change in my core values and goals for my entire life. I had to retrain my brain to eat smaller amounts. I have to eat much more healthy food and focus on eating certain times of the day.
I have fallen down the rabbit hole of fitness again. I'm reintroduced to the beauty of being an athlete like I was in college and I'm finding joy in working out, particularly cycling. It's addictive because cycling is such a head game. Every time you get on a bike it fucks with your head and challenges you. Chefs seek torture like that. We're masochists to some degree.
Shane McBride: Maysville, New York
I've opened 13 restaurants. For a lot of those, I did the chef thing where I drank and had fun. The last three that I've opened, I didn't drink at all. I've actually worked out with a trainer. When Chino [Daniel Parilla] and I opened Augustine, we worked 60 days in a row without a day off. I wasn't physically exhausted as I was when I opened Colicchio and Sons with Tom [Colicchio] in 2010, when I was drinking every night. I've cut back my drinking by leaps and bounds from the young chef thing. I try to go to the gym at least twice a week, even if it's just to do the elliptical machine and get my heart rate up. It's also a great stress relief. I wish I could get a massage every day, but that's not in the cards.
Matt Abdoo: Pig Beach and Pig Bleecker, New York
Chefs have a tendency to go down the rabbit hole of what's easy and convenient. Food has always been my comfort. It's not unusual for me to go home after a stressful night have a bag of Swedish fish to myself and pass out. But eating better and working out, having that time I take out of my day to be selfish, to be about me. Unplug your phone, turn it off—chefs are completely tethered to it. Take an hour for yourself and do something healthy, whether that's going for a walk for an hour in the park, going to the gym and sweating, getting a massage, or just taking a walk and relaxing. You cannot create a positive environment for the people around you if you are not in a positive state. You have to be your best as a manager, leader, and chef of a kitchen. You have to be happy so it will trickle down and make the rest of your employees happy.
Justin Carlisle: Ardent, Red Light Ramen, The Laughing Taco, Milwaukee
I married a wonderful and beautiful wife and she takes care of me. I have also learned that I'm not 20 anymore. We chefs have grown up destroying our bodies like the masochists we are, and we think our bodies are going to keep on going. The body tells me it's not going to keep on going.
I changed the way that I eat. I changed my sleeping habits. I sleep six hours, but I'm always up early. I want to spend mornings with my wife and have juice and coffee. But I never used to feel like I was away from work. The minute I woke up I went to work. Now we're being a family and talking, watching the news together, taking the dog for a walk, feeling like a human. Running into work constantly felt normal and that shouldn't be what normal is. We should be doing normal all the time.