Cooking on a regular basis in a commercial kitchen is a tough sport (if you want to call it that. I do!). With any sport, there is a level of preparation that needs to go into being ready when you need to be at your best. In today’s world, you cannot get away from the fact that media, advertising, education and the medical profession are all promoting a healthy lifestyle through imagery, engineered foods, new drugs, and in some cases, guilt. To work the hours in a busy kitchen and not burn out at the end of the day, you need to think about diet, staying hydrated, maintaining a specific weight and keeping up good stamina.
Other professionals outside of foodservice have a little easier time at their office unless their workplace decides to put coolers of food and snacks 20 feet from every desk. The kitchen environment is a mine field of good and bad choices when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. From the butter, foie gras, bacon and salt to the red wine and beer at the bar, you are constantly exposed to the fat and empty calories.
The pace is also tough. I know many a chef who has enjoyed a meal standing over the garbage can because he only had two minutes to spare. It is preached all the time that you need to taste the food you are cooking. The question becomes are you properly tasting or just eating the fatty end of the steak? When I started in the business, we used to eat the fatty and salty trim of the prime rib and dip it in hollandaise sauce. Baby carrots and buttermilk dressing weren’t even a thought. We snacked all day without thinking about it. The calories just kept building up.
How do you counteract being exposed to great ingredients and making dishes that our guests want to eat when they go out? They want flavor, impact and a little overindulgence, either through butter and cream or a larger portion of protein than we should be eating. This is how we make a living-by creating this luxurious food-but it is also counterproductive to our own well-being.
I wanted to rethink this lifestyle for a couple of reasons. First, I am not getting any younger, and I want to get back into the swing of things like when I was working the line night after night. Working the line is hot and very active and can be like a workout, but it is not a healthy lifestyle. So here are some things that I figured out that I can do now, and I wanted to share them with you.
These are tips that we can all use when approaching our day, whether sitting at a desk or standing at a stove for eight hours.
1. Eat smaller meals more frequently.
Try eating a small breakfast and then decide which meal is going to be the primary meal. If you have a big lunch, choose a small dinner.
2. Plan your day.
Eat when you have time to relax and enjoy it, rather than eating just before you go to bed because you are hungry and couldn’t find the time or just before your big meeting.
3. Minimize the caffeine.
I have stopped drinking coffee and caffeinated beverages after 11 AM. If you need a boost, try a piece of fruit or a smoothie.
4. Learn how to just say no. For me, it is the second beer.
We all enjoy a beverage, but just having one is hard. Think about not consuming an extra 1000 calories a week by giving up one beer a day? I can tell you that tasting for the Cicerone exam packed on the pounds.
5. Find the time to exercise.
I hate the gym but know that I need to be active and burn the extra calories I am consuming through the tasting I do in my work that I haven’t planned for.
6. Learn how to taste.
Tasting is a learned skill. You need understand what is required to evaluate a piece of food. It is not eating half the sandwich. You don’t have to eat the whole plate. Take a small sampling of each component independently and then one combined tasting to get the overall effect of the combination and textures on the palate. Three to four full forkfuls of food is eating, not tasting.
I hope this sheds some light on things, as I want all of us to have a long and prosperous life.
If you are going to have a beer with dinner or a meal on those days off the clock, enjoy a good one. Here are two that I am waiting to drink on my day off.