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91.7 WVXU welcomed food writer Julie Niesen in August 2018. Niesen will delve into local, regional and national food and restaurant trends, news of interest to local diners and food lovers, and the people and personalities in the Greater Cincinnati food scene.Niesen has been covering local food since 2008. Her award-winning blog, wine me, dine me, has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, Serious Eats, The Cincinnati Enquirer (and its former weekly, Metromix), WCPO Digital, City Beat, WCPO-TV, Fox19, and many more. She is a longtime resident of Over-the-Rhine, where she lives with her menagerie of pets. When she's not eating food, thinking about food, cooking food or writing about food, she runs a thought leadership program for a technology company in Chicago.

Exercise, Portion Control And Crushing It 'Over A Trash Can': How Local Chefs Stay In Shape

how chefs stay in shape
Courtesy Matt Kasee
From left: Chef Jordan Hamons of Tablespoon Cooking Co.; trainers Helen Cain and Matt Kasee of Trilogy Fitness; and Chef Mapi de Veyra of Quan Hapa pose for a picture during Trilogy's Pounds and Pancakes fundraiser.

Working in the food and beverage industry isn’t easy - between the hours, the heat, the physicality and the demands of the public, there’s not a lot of time for self-care.

This trend is changing. With the well-publicized deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Charlie Trotter, chefs who may not have celebrity status are reconsidering their lifestyles. I spent some time talking with people all over the local industry - from chefs, to bartenders, to writers, to food retailers - to find out how they keep themselves in shape, mentally and physically.  

Being surrounded by food - whether you are tasting every dish before service, pouring drinks or selling food - can be hard on the waistline. Plus, the schedule - often opposite 9-5 - can make it difficult to fit in fitness.

For many of the chefs, bartenders and other food experts I talked to, getting healthy involved bringing in experts in the field. Matt Kasee, MS, CSCS, PES, CPT, USAW and owner of Trilogy Fitness Systems, trains several local chefs, including Jordan Hamons of Tablespoon Cooking Co. and Mapi de Veyra of Quan Hapa.

"First, we work on portion control," he says. "Since we never put anything off-limits, learning to control and put your own checks and balance system into place is vital." Kasee and his team work on consistent diets and shorter, more frequent workouts since chefs are already active through most of their shift, and can’t be sidelined with soreness.  

Patrick Stroupe, CPT, CES, FNS and owner of ModelFit, trains Jose Salazar (and, full disclosure, the author) and is himself a former bartender at SENATE in Over-the-Rhine. He echoes Kasee's emphasis on moderation.

"I wanted to eat SENATE constantly, and I did treat myself once per week," he shares. "What saved me most was bringing something as simple as a protein shake to take to the back and chug during service. When I did order from the menu, I made sure I knew what I was getting and asked for small adjustments: a SENATE burger, no bun or a My Wife’s Salad (dressing on the side) instead of fries."

Locally, chefs like Salazar keep this balance in mind. "I need to be able to keep up with the grueling pace," he says. Besides working out with Stroupe, he tries to eat healthier by snacking instead of big meals.

Stuart McKenzie, co-owner of Northside Yacht Club, balances working out with pre-prepped food. "I do a five-day weight-lifting split Monday through Friday. Being in the service industry is nice, because you can go at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., or 9 p.m. when it’s dead," he says. "I also try to meal prep and bring my own food so I’m not eating as much delicious (but not necessarily healthy) restaurant food."

Other chefs prioritize exercise, even if it isn’t weight-lifting. Joanne Drilling, former chef and food editor at Cincinnati Magazine, adopted boxing as her preferred exercise. Katie Crawford of Luken's at Findlay Market, discovered swimming seven months ago and hasn't stopped. "It's my 30 to 45 minutes every morning where I just zone out."

Cooking Up Some Diet Tips

As far as diet, one low in carbohydrates was a common thread among the chefs and other industry professionals I talked to. Robin Feltner of Cock and Bull, Jason Louda of La Soupe, Allison Hines of Daveed’s Catering, and Justin DeJohn of Mecca OTR all credit a low-carb, whole-foods based diet, whether that is the trendy keto or Whole 30, or just eliminating bread and other starches.

Others cite the fact that they eat their food quickly, in between tickets, is the key to their success. Brian Neumann, pastry chef at Mita's, says, "My civilian friends all think chefs eat like kings, when in reality we crush sandwiches over trash cans." Kayla Robison of Arnold's agrees: "Fourteen years of eating over a garbage can in less than one minute has helped with not over-eating, which has helped keep me in shape!"

restaurant tickets
Credit @senatepub / Instagram
A stack of tickets from a night at SENATE.

The most common way to cut down on calories? Forgoing alcohol. Salazar no longer drinks. "[Not drinking] helps me feel more energetic throughout the day," he says.

Stroupe points to foregoing the ritual of going out for post-shift drinks as a way to moderate. "Drinks might help you pass out when you get home, but they don't help the quality of sleep you need to maintain that work environment and the ability to make sound eating choices. I only went out one night a week, instead of after every shift."   

Tiffany Wilcoxson, bartender at Brick and Mortar Gastropub, will often work in 30 minutes of cardio after a shift and still be able to go out for a drink: "It just becomes one drink, instead of three, and vodka instead of beer."

As a food writer, I've personally struggled with my weight for many years, and only within the past few have I realized that I don’t need to clean my plate, don't need to try everything, and that prioritizing cooking at home, working out and moderating alcohol is the key, for me, to staying fit. There is no magic pill to weight loss, just consistency, moderation and prioritizing changes that help both pros and amateurs find a healthy balance.

Tips From The Pros

  • When dining out, substitute vegetables or salad for calorie-laden foods like fries, or order sandwiches without the bread
  • Bring pre-prepared food to work so you know exactly what you’re eating and that it fits your goals
  • Prioritize exercise. Figure out where in the day you can fit it in. Before work? After work? At your meal break? Many gyms are 24/7
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you’re not a pro. Find a trainer, a coach or a nutritionist who can help you figure out how to find balance in your life