Even working a single day as a chef can feel like a workout. The hours of standing and occasional heavy lifting can wear on the body. According to these Austin culinary and hospitality professionals, however, the key to keeping a healthy body is staying active outside of the kitchen.
Chef, Clark’s Oyster Bar
Due to growing up in an active household and playing sports throughout high school, excercise rarely felt like a chore for Josh Hines. When he entered the culinary industry, the demands he felt on his mind, body, and time made working out more difficult, but also more important.
“It became less instinctive to me to be fit and it became more of a conscious effort, but it was something that I needed for my head space just to maintain sanity,” Hines says. “It wasn't just about looking good and feeling good, it was about needing those endorphins and that adrenaline and that time exercising to keep my mind in a good place.”
Earlier in his career, those endorphins came mostly from playing basketball as often as his schedule would allow, but in 2010 a tear in his achilles left him sidelined. After six months of rehabilitation for the injury, Hines was itching to get active and sought out a new, lower impact sport. He joined a cycling group in Austin and took to competing soon after.
“That’s where it immediately took off for me. We as chefs are all pretty competitive and it was this perfect fit of fitness and great physical and mental health,” Hines says.
In May, Hines and a whole community of cycling chefs teamed up for No Kid Hungry’s charity endurance bike race called Chef’s Cycle. The race raised $2 million to fight child hunger across the U.S.
“We can get so caught up in this business in tweaking profits and getting myopic about food. Then we realize, ‘Wow there are people who don’t even have anything to eat’,” Hines says. “Whether it’s time, money, good vibes, whatever it may be—we need to be conscious of the fact that we should give more than we take.”
Hines’ giving attitude and passion for cycling extends to the advice he gives younger chefs.
“This is a great profession but you absolutely have to take care of yourself. You can't expect to not take care of your body and have it last for as long as you want to be in this industry,” Hines says. “Your back will give out, your knees will give out, you won't be as happy.”
Although working as a chef and competing as a cyclist presents Hines with a unique set of time demands, his balancing act is relatable and a model for success.
“It’s having that thing that you do outside of work that actually makes you better at your job.”
Steven Allen Ridge
Director of Operations, McGuire Morman Hospitality
Steven Allen Ridge takes the time to ensure that his chefs stay healthy and he leads by example. As the director of operations for McGuire Morman Hospitality, Ridge’s staff spans Austin’s extensive restaurant scene, from Perla’s on South Congress to Lambert’s downtown. Ridge knows that a healthy chef is a happy chef and a happy chef means happy customers. He recognized that a wellness program would facilitate this, so he implemented a company-wide partnership with Castle Hill Fitness, where all chefs could take free classes three times a week.
“In our hospitality lifestyle, as long as we take care of others, as long as we make happiness a focus—that's what our success is bred after. And then it becomes contagious,” Ridge says.
The classes vary from yoga and Pilates to bootcamps—some of which are taught by servers from the McGuire Morman group. Ridge says he makes an effort to attend each class to set a good example.
“I've been the organizer of it so I feel an obligation to attend and not just for the healthy aspect of working out—which we all love to do—but also as the liaison to all these classes,” Ridge says. To him, the aim of the program is just as much about having healthy employees as it is building a community.
“It’s going back to our culture of finding people who live a lifestyle that we truly try to lead every day at work,” Ridge says. “In the restaurant business and hospitality business, there’s a lot of crossover between personal life and work life. We’re just constantly trying to maintain that balance.”
In Their Own Words: How These Culinary Professionals Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
Elizabeth Street Cafe Manager Kelly West
“Fitness is a huge part of my life, mainly for all the fun recreational activities, but also so I can stay healthy. If you aren’t familiar with working within the restaurant industry, managing a restaurant is a very physical job. You’re on your feet and moving around almost the whole time you’re at work, and for a person like me, it’s perfect! I don’t get tired after long shifts, and I’m generally always in a good mood and stress-free, thanks to all those endorphins. I think having a physical job also benefits my running and training. Marathons are an endurance sport, and being active for so much of the day definitely helps build endurance. While most runners take it easy all day after a Saturday long run, I might go home to relax for a few hours, but then I go into work and am on my feet for another eight or nine hours. Those days, I’ve definitely earned a treat—my favorite is Elizabeth Street’s Singapore Noodles, followed by a macaron…or three.”
Jeffrey’s Chef de Cuisine Mark McCain
“Being a chef is a physical and stressful job that demands very long hours. Staying fit has helped me manage the stress and fatigue of spending all day on my feet. When I have an active escape, I find that I sleep better and have more energy throughout my day. For a few years I raced bicycles while living in Chicago, and not only did my training keep me in better condition and help me push through the long winters, but it also changed the way that I ate, the way that I perceived food, and the way that I cooked professionally. I learned a lot about the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, quality ingredients, and the timing of my food intake. I found myself using much less dairy and sugar in my cooking and focusing on the importance of sourcing whole foods and unprocessed ingredients. Staying active outside of work has allowed me to push myself further physically and mentally and build a larger base for longevity in my career.”
McGuire Morman Hospitality’s Sous Chef Mike Diaz
“Maintaining an active lifestyle definitely keeps me on my toes as a chef and helps me keep up with the fast pace of the restaurants.These days kitchens are very demanding and you have to be able to keep up with the youngsters or else they'll leave you behind. Swinging the bat and throwing the baseball around is a fun way to stay fit with my hectic schedule, and it's easy to get back into it if you've been M.I.A. from the field for a while.”
Midnight Madness: Service Industry Sweat
Designed to help service industry folks and medical providers (or anyone that finds themselves in the office until the wee-hours of the morning) get their goals with no excuses, this 30-minute, total body workout is geared to help you break a sweat, burn fat, and get yourself ready to relax before going to bed. These midnight workouts are perfect for everyone. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced fitness enthusiast, this quick, intense workout is the first step toward your goals and getting or staying in shape and seeing results in a matter of weeks!
When: Class takes place at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and Friday. (Think of it as a late night workout after your Tuesday and Thursday shift.)
Where: Austin Simply Fit on Burnet, 5134 Burnet Road
For a single class the cost is $35. Then there are packages which discounts the per session cost:
4 classes–$120 ($30/class)
8 classes–$200 ($25/class)
12 classes–$240 ($20/class)
Once a package is purchased, you can use them any time within 6 months.