Long, laborious hours over a stove and tasting dishes on the fly don’t exactly breed nourishment, but chefs know that sticking to a few easy healthy food habits can punctuate a demanding, exhausting industry with much-needed moments of calm and clarity.
Opening a restaurant (a grueling, all-consuming affair) leaves little time for sleep, yet alone sport. But a rigorous schedule didn’t deter Derek Stevens, who just unveiled Union Standard in Pittsburgh, from keeping to his ultramarathon training and Brazilian jiu-jitsu sessions. The disciplined chef/owner also took care to whip up healing ginger-turmeric tea amid round-the-clock planning and construction. “Turmeric root is an obsession of mine,” he says. “It is both an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, which helps with any injuries I may have.”
Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman in Boston, shed over 100 pounds after surgery and profound lifestyle transformations. Like Stevens, his non-alcoholic tipple of choice right now stars ginger, paired with organic apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest and maple syrup. “I steep all the ingredients together with a bay leaf and drink it hot, or chilled over crushed ice. The kick in the vinegar and ginger is reminiscent of a cocktail, yet the health properties of all the ingredients are amazing,” he explains. Avid swimmer Ruth Gresser, chef/owner of Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, VA, relishes turmeric as well, but when mixed with garlic and cayenne in warm lemon water. Just as her father does, she begins her day with this pungent elixir. “He has been doing this for years, and his mother lived to be 100,” she says.
Partaking in breakfast rituals is one especially appealing route for restaurant folks to peacefully segue into chaos. Every morning, Paul Berglund, executive chef of the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, sits down to the same plate: whole wheat toast with peanut, cashew, or almond butter and honey alongside two eggs. This jolt of protein is complemented by chai, an attempt to curtail his intake of caffeine, which he points out, tends to “run kitchens.” Matt McClure, executive chef of The Hive at the 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville in Arkansas, runs three times a week to clear his head, but relies on an energizing breakfast, too. “I try to start out on a healthy foot with three soft scrambled eggs and a smoothie I make with bananas, yogurt, and fresh berries,” he says. A daily smoothie sets Michael Schwartz, chef/owner of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, right as well. “Five or six days a week I wake up at 5:45 a.m. and work out on an empty stomach,” he says. His post-gym reward? A cooling concoction of blueberries, whey protein, hemp seed, hemp milk, cocoa nibs, and sea salt “that keeps me going until about 11 a.m. when I get hungry.”
Mindy Segal, the pastry guru behind Mindy’s HotChocolate and Revival Bakery in Chicago, says having structure is key to maintaining a wholesome regimen. For example, she brings containers of fruits and vegetables to the restaurant and always stocks the fridge with romaine hearts to make a quick salad or wrap instead of regularly succumbing to caramel corn and hot fudge donuts. “I also have my trainer come into HotChocolate two days a week. It makes my workout more personal,” she adds.
On Sundays, Micah Wexler of Wexler’s Deli, the smoked meat haven in downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica, embraces routine by heading to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market with his wife. Here, he gets far away from his beloved pastrami by loading up on “beautiful vegetables” that find their way into sugar and heavy carb-shunning home-cooked meals. Intermittent fasting is another of his feel-good tricks. “I eat my first meal around noon, my second around 8 p.m., and then I don’t eat again until noon the next day,” he explains. “It’s pretty in line with my lifestyle and it really works.”
Tuna salad, strewn with tomato, onion, peanut, and dried cranberry is Emma Bengtsson’s healthy go-to tradition. The chef of Aquavit in New York, who unwinds by participating in bachata dancing competitions, says the “simple but so good” tuna is what she cranks out when she’s feeling lazy. “I’m always on the go and don’t have a lot of time to cook for myself,” she says. “Best of all, I always have these ingredients at home and can eat this with a spoon.”
Alia Akkam is a freelance writer and former Food Network intern who covers the food, drink, travel and design realms.