Work in a fitness routine while managing professional and domestic responsibilities can feel like a Sisyphean task, let alone working in the daily hustle and bustle of a restaurant. Still, there are chefs who prioritize exercise alongside restaurant management duties. A number of Bay Area chefs incorporate activities like cycling and jiu-jitsu into their routines, adding another dimension to their work lives. The roster includes chef Chris Cosentino, a longtime cyclist, and chefs Jason Fox and David Nayfeld, both of whom practiced Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a sport.
For chefs Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions and Nicolas Delaroque of Maison Nico, fitness is part of what drives their lives, including cooking. “The words I never use are ‘work-life balance,’” says Brioza, “because I feel like my work is my life. But in order to feed my work, I have to engage other senses. It’s just my next job; it’s the work that’s important, supporting the things we’ve built.”
Brioza has always been into fitness, delivering papers by bicycle in his youth in Cupertino, working at a ski resort snowboarding for a year, and later participating in training boot camps four days a week. But when he and partner Nicole Krasinski opened State Bird Provisions in 2012, he found he couldn’t juggle an exercise routine with work, and activities like snowboarding fell by the wayside. State Bird Provisions was followed by the opening of Progress and Anchovy Bar until Brioza reached a point four years ago where he was able to “take off” and really start bringing exercise back to the fore. “When I was 45, I just hit this moment where I said, ‘I’m halfway there if I’m lucky,'” he says. “I told myself that I wanted more from life. I wanted there to be nothing that could get in my way physically and mentally.” He returned to physical training, then took up cycling, eventually cycling up to 150 miles a week during the pandemic.
In a similar vein, Delaroque says fitness has always been a part of his life. He played basketball and soccer, mountain bikes and rock climbs with his partner Andrea Delaroque. “It really affects how I feel every day,” Delaroque says. “Every day I feel good. We have jobs that put a lot of strain on the body and, if people aren’t careful, on their mobility [gets] worse.” In 2013, he tore his ACL while playing soccer and was inactive for a year after knee surgery. This motivated him to vary his fitness training outside of running. He joined CrossFit classes and competed in his first triathlon in 2019. For It was an eye-opener for Delaroque and led him to add endurance training to his weight training routine, which helped him prepare for more races like the Half Ironman and the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon.
Delaroque’s procedures are rigorous; he trains almost seven days a week in preparation for races, getting up as early as 4:30 a.m. to train before heading to work. At the peak of his Ironman training, about two weeks before the race, Delaroque estimates he runs 20 to 30 miles, bikes about 100 and swims 6,000 yards a week. And while exercise is great for physical health, it affects his life in other ways as well. “It’s a good way for me to release a certain amount of stress,” says Delaroque. “When you’re on a long run or a long bike ride or even a swim, it’s nice to meditate at the same time – you can just think about your day, the future or whatever. So when I come to work I feel a little better. It’s kind of like letting off steam.’
Brioza also finds that exercise helps prepare him for his job. These days, she tries to block off three hours each morning for activity — no meetings — before work. He often goes for a three-hour bike ride or a 90-minute workout followed by a 45-minute stretch. He even built a gym in his basement with a TRX machine, plus some bands, kettlebells, a medicine ball, stretching mats and rollers. The routine changes every 4 to 6 weeks, often before activities he loves, such as snowboarding, which he takes up again with his family. Brioza says it’s great to have an activity where his son can see his parents being active and participate in together. During the pandemic, at the peak of his cycling routine, Brioza crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, riding 30 to 50 miles a day. He found it helpful to have that alone time. “I would just go through whatever that day presented,” says Brioza. “It didn’t necessarily answer the questions, but it was definitely a helpful process to just be in your own mind and be out in nature.”
Brioza recognizes that young chefs may not have time to practice early in their careers, when they may spend a lot of time in the kitchen. But since restaurant work is extremely taxing on the body, it’s important to prioritize physical fitness and find time for passions outside of food. Even though those in the industry can’t exercise today, Brioza says everyone is three weeks away from making positive changes. “If you start working out,” says Brioza, “you’re going to focus on your sleep and maybe make some better dietary choices—you’re three weeks away from feeling pretty good about things. Then you go on for another three weeks and after six weeks you’re like, “Screw it.” It’s amazing.”
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