Workout Secrets From 6 Hot Philly Chefs

Some of our best chefs are in tip-top shape. How do they do it, and can the rest of us benefit from their wisdom?
June 25, 2014
by Danya Henninger

If you work in a restaurant, or just love going out to eat, it’s not easy to stay fit. However, some of our best chefs are in tip-top shape. How do they do it, and can the rest of us benefit from their wisdom? We asked six hot Philly chefs to divulge their workout secrets.

Here are a few tips that came up multiple times:

• Make time to fit in your workout early in the day, or else it probably won’t happen.
• Try not to eat late at night. (Bonus: it’ll be easier to wake up early.)
• Find a workout partner or team to motivate you.
• Cut out that extra drink at the end of the night.
• Don’t feel you need to eat a feast every time you go out, or finish everything on your plate.

Flip through to find out the toughest things about staying shape while working in a kitchen, and what works to make it happen.

Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Federal Donuts, Percy Street Barbecue)

How you find time to exercise: I drop my son off at daycare and work out at least three days a week before work (if I get to work before exercising, usually I don't get out). It’s not good for your knees and back to be standing for 12 hours, so exercise keeps you from hurting.

Hardest thing about being a chef, fitness-wise: Constantly tasting and eating, and I have a huge sweet tooth, so it’s just counterproductive to staying fit. If I don’t work out, there are also mental consequences for me — you definitely notice.

Favorite workout: Boxing at Joe Hand Gym in the city with my trusty coach, Wade Hinnant. I also like to go surfing in Jersey, even in the winter. 

If you miss your workout: Five-minute planks with the entire Zahav management team, for real. (See photo.)

Best tip on how to stay fit: It's just discipline. You perform better at your job when you are fit. (When I'm stressed out and not working out, I'm gonna eat candy bars and be an asshole!) Exercise is the best mood stabilizer ever, and being able to surpass goals and do things you thought you couldn't do is addictive.

Nicholas Elmi (Laurel, Top Chef New Orleans Winner)

How you find time to exercise: You never really find time, but you have to force it. Working out gives me energy and clears my head.

Hardest thing about being a chef, fitness-wise: Not eating caramelized white-chocolate pudding. It's always stuck to the spoon just begging to be licked.

Favorite workout: I like to lift free weights. I generally work out with Lee Styer from Fond, and we go very quickly. Usually 45 minutes for eight or so workouts, then burpees.

If you miss your workout: Cooking is enough of a workout. Especially in a small kitchen. Just make sure to get back out there tomorrow.

Best tip on how to stay fit: Don't drink. It sounds easy, but it's not. The hardest is cutting out the one glass of wine or one beer at the end of a night.

Natalie Maronski (Volvér)

How you find time to exercise: If something's important to you, you'll make the time to do it. Days that I work, I try to make it to the gym beforehand. 

Hardest thing about being a chef, fitness-wise: Finding time and energy to do a dedicated workout. This job can be very physically demanding with long (and odd) hours on your feet, lifting stocks/sauces, carrying cases of grocery items, etc. Schedules aren't always consistent either, so setting up a rhythm can be difficult.

Favorite workout: Usually a little bit of cardio (typically running) and a rotating weight routine for either upper body or lower. And lots of stretching.

If you miss your workout: Exercises at home: pull-ups, push-ups, lunges and anything I can do with light weights, even if it's just for 20 minutes. I also prefer stairs over elevators and ride my bike or walk almost everywhere I go in the city. Also, working out doesn't necessarily mean a gym or weights...sometimes I have extra playtime running around with my dogs.

Best tip on how to stay fit: Do a little every day, and do things throughout the day (taking the stairs, biking on a longer route). If you’re craving something, usually it’s better to go ahead and eat it — that way you’re not snacking on things constantly until you’re satisfied. Even though it’s hard, try to avoid late-night eating (eat at least two hours before you go to bed).

Chip Roman (Blackfish, Mica, The Treemont, Tradestone Cafe, Ela)

How you find time to exercise: Waking up early. I try and get in my workouts before I make the rounds and visit all of the restaurants or on my days off.

Hardest thing about being a chef, fitness-wise: After a long day of work, it can be difficult to convince yourself to eat the healthier option and just go for the grease-bomb because you want something comforting. But if you eat healthier, you'll be more inclined to wake up early and work out.

Favorite workout: Fishing! Kidding, well sort of. Fishing can be a workout in its own way. I really like bike riding, and in the gym I tend to stick to the elliptical. I also do a lot of stretching and Pilates, which really helps with all of the standing you do in the kitchen.

If you miss your workout: I have four kids, so running after them is exercise!

Best tip on how to stay fit: Moderation. Everyone in the industry likes eating and drinking, but you don't need to eat a feast every night, and try to limit your post-work wind-down to one beer or drink. You'll feel much better in the morning, I promise.

Jeffrey Michaud (Osteria, Pizzeria Vetri, Alla Spina, Osteria Moorestown)

How you find time to exercise: I get up pretty early to go to the gym — I'm usually there at 6 AM.  You really have to make time, otherwise it's never going to happen because of the crazy hours we work.

Hardest thing about being a chef, fitness-wise: All the tasting you have to do on a daily basis. You try to watch what you eat, but it gets difficult when you nibble all day.

Favorite workout: Jiu-jitsu.

If you miss your workout: I try not to miss it, but if I do I usually make it up by doing two classes back-to-back.

Best tip on how to stay fit: There are no secrets. Just be consistent with it. Also, it's nice to do it as a team-building exercise — our restaurant group encourages employees to work out with us.  We have a few cooks that do jiu-jitsu and a few that go boxing.

Michael Schulson (Sampan, The Saint James, Izakaya)

How you find time to exercise: The key is making sure you get it out of the way bright and early. When I say I’ll get to it later, it never happens because things come up throughout the day.

Hardest thing about being a chef, fitness-wise: The fact that you are constantly tasting food — whether it’s healthy or not so healthy, being around food all day long makes it difficult to eat properly. The late hours also don't help.

Favorite workout: I work out at Unite Fitness: 30 minutes of cardio and 25 minutes of weight training. It works well because it is one hour out of my day where I show up and listen to someone tell me what to do. I find it therapeutic, because in my restaurants, I'm usually the one directing and leading.

If you miss your workout: I try to get a few sit-ups and push-ups in, as well as use the TRX I have at home. Chasing my two boys around gets a little cardio in as well.

Best tip on how to stay fit:
1) When going out, try to make healthy decisions. No reason to go for the big steak and fried food every time.
2) No need to eat everything on your plate. (Some portions at restaurants are just ridiculously big.)
3) If you know you're going to have a big meal later, start with a good workout, fresh green juice and a salad for lunch — keep it light throughout the day.
4) Find someone you love to work out with, whether it be your friend, coworker, wife or girlfriend.
5) Drink plenty of water, and every so often, replace your coffee with a green tea.

michael solomonov
nicholas elmi
chip roman
jeffrey michaud
natalie maronski
chef tips