Eat & Drink

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The New Legion of Super Fit Chefs

Chefs are getting into cycling in record numbers. Will that change the decadent fare we've come to love and expect when we dine out?

Allan Ng, area director for Shake Shack, rides in the 2015 Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, from New York City to Washington DC. (Bhushan Thakkar/No Kid Hungry)
Photo: Bhushan Thakkar/No Kid Hungry

Chefs are getting into cycling in record numbers. Will that change the decadent fare we've come to love and expect when we dine out?

It is no secret that many chefs struggle with addiction. One study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, found that as many as 63 percent of bar and restaurant employees had dangerous drinking habits. But a new generation of chefs is instead opting to get high off of endorphins. The result is, well, a legion of skinny chefs that still cook delicious food you’d never expect to see on a fitness menu.

“Twenty years ago the chef image—you know, the white jacketed big-bellied, triple-chin, red-eyed guy—certainly wouldn’t be the draw for the skinny-ass cyclists that I see all over Napa Valley,” says celebrity chef Michael Chiarello. “This decade is about eating right, eating local, and of course blowing up that thought that a chef has to be as big as an NFL linebacker.”

Jeff Mahin at the 2015 Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. (Bhushan Thakkar/No Kid Hungry)

Chiarello is the organizer of the hugely popular Bottega Gran Fondo, which brings in a bigger and bigger contingent of cycling chefs each year. In fact, Chiarello is even adding a “fastest chef” category to next year’s race. He says that a decade ago, something like the Bottega Gran Fondo probably wouldn’t have been possible, since getting renowned chefs to show up for an all-weekend bike event would have been quite a task. Now it's becoming a regular occurence.

Last week, for example, 50 chefs rode 300 miles as a fundraiser for the hunger alleviation group No Kid Hungry. The peloton looked just like any other pack: cut legs, slim figures in spandex, and an overabundance of helmet hair. And as the chefs rode they talked about things like the importance of gut health, foods that reduce inflammation, and ways to cook kale—all things you’re likely to hear on your next ride.

In the end, a cycling addiction is going to be far less destructive than other common chef vices. Alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine abuse are all documented afflictions among career chefs in the U.S. and are damaging to a person’s sense of smell and taste (not to mention they wreak havoc on a person’s family and overall wellbeing). So if chefs are swapping their post-service shot of whiskey for a shot of gel and a 50-mile spin, it’s probably a good thing. And if they’re saddling up and riding for charities like No Kid Hungry and the Davis Phinney Foundation (the benefactor of this year’s Bottega Gran Fondo), that’s even better.

Filed To: Culinary / Events