Boston Herald, March 2018

Chefs share their eating, fitness regimens for tackling marathon

By Scott Kearnan

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Boston Herald

 

Three years ago, George Mendes could barely run a mile. In a few weeks, he’ll run the Boston Marathon.

If he can do it, he said, anyone can.

Mendes, a Connecticut native, is the executive chef of New York’s Michelin-starred restaurant Aldea. For chefs like him, the intense kitchen grind is seemingly incompatible with a health-conscious lifestyle: 16-hour days on the line, little sleep and irregular diets are punishing on the body, say many toques, leading to aches, pains, weight gain and irritability.

After an “eye opening” moment huffing and puffing his way through a one-mile run in Central Park, Mendes committed himself to making fitness and smart eating a priority. Now he’s up at 5:30 a.m. most days for 20-mile training runs for the Boston Marathon. He said it’s made him a healthier, happier, more centered chef.

“It’s a chance for me to be alone in my thoughts, and listen to nothing but my breath and the sound of my sneakers on the pavement,” said Mendes. “It’s generated a whole new feeling of accomplishment.”

So does running for a great cause: Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a Boston-based food rescue organization, redistributes unused perishable foods (more than 60,000 pounds weekly) to area nonprofits like homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Its mission resonates with Mendes, whose parents, Portuguese immigrants, grew up poor and appreciated every bite, treating their garden-grown produce “like gold,” he said.

On Monday, Mendes will team with Cambridge restaurant Bisq and its chef, Alex Saenz, to prepare a five-course fundraising dinner that will include signature Aldea dishes such as shrimp “alinho” with garlic, paprika and coriander.

A taste of the race is all it takes to get hooked, said fitness buff Rich Vellante, executive chef of the Legal Sea Foods restaurant group. He’s run 12 marathons — including eight consecutive Boston Marathons — over a career that has been a “lifelong balance” between practicing healthy habits and navigating the demands of a grueling industry that can easily sabotage the best attempts.

“I see it all the time with chefs: You get caught in a cycle of late nights and early mornings, standing all day, not sleeping, stress eating and not exercising,” said Vellante. “As you get older you say, ‘Where did the time go, and how did this happen to me?’”

Now in his mid-50s, Vellante, a former college football player, has adopted a varied workout regimen, kicked off at 5:30 a.m. daily, that mixes running with yoga, cycling, lifting and Tabata training. His diet preferences are large doses of greens (including a rejuvenating juice, recipe below) and, of course, fish. And he stays motivated by making his workouts social outings, too.

“Some of the best friendships I’ve made are from running groups,” said Vellante. “They make you accountable, and it builds good camaraderie.”

Sociability will also power James Beard award-winning chef Tony Maws through his upcoming endurance challenge: Chefs Cycle, a three-day, 300-mile bike ride in Santa Rosa, Calif., that is expected to raise $2.4 million for No Kid Hungry, a childhood hunger-fighting campaign from the nonprofit Share Our Strength. Maws, the man behind Cambridge’s esteemed Craigie on Main and its more casual Somerville sibling the Kirkland Tap & Trotter, is being motivated by his participating team of fellow local chefs, including Townsman toque Matthew Jennings and Select Oyster Bar’s big fish, Michael Serpa.

Maws has a 10-year-old son, and said fatherhood has made him that much more impassioned about the issue of childhood hunger. But parenting has also reinforced his desire to live a long, healthy life that models healthy habits.

“Once I turned 40, every—thing felt different,” said Maws, who follows a mostly Paleo diet (and shared a recipe for an energizing breakfast or lunch bowl below). “I’ve been working 16-hour days since I was 21, and I was a fist-pounding chef on the line for a really long time. Eventually my body said, ‘You’ve been killing me!’”

Hard workers in any industry, he said, should heed their bodies’ call to care for the future starting now.

Tony Maws’ power breakfast bowl

3 oz. leeks

4 oz. shiitake

6 oz. daikon

4 oz. kimchi

1 T. garlic, minced

1/2 T. ginger, minced

2 oz. cashews

Heat up oil or bacon fat in a saute pan. Add leeks and stir. Season with kosher salt.

Add daikon and shiitakes and stir. Season with salt.

Add garlic and ginger. Add cashews and stir. Add kimchi and remove from heat. Serve with avocado, bacon and a fried egg.

Rich Vellante’s green juice

2 apples (use green for less natural sugar)

1 knob of ginger

1 whole organic lemon

2 c. kale

Use juicer to combine ingredients.

Five get-fit tips from chefs:

Get off on the right foot: Morning workouts are ideal, said Vellante. You’ll set a tone for the day and get in exercise before a runaway day throws obstacles (and excuses) at you.

Set a schedule: A consistent routine is preferred, but be flexible by planning ahead, said Mendes, and plot workouts for a busy, erratic week with the same commitment as any job meeting or other important appointment. There are 168 hours in a week: Use them.

Eat well, smart and simple: Vellante said the more fulfilling flavors of high-quality ingredients, such as farm-fresh veggies or a fishmonger’s daily catch, will sate appetites without needing the diet-busting adornments needed to disguise lower-quality product.

Build your own diet: One size doesn’t fit all, so find what makes you feel best. For Maws, that means a mostly gluten-free, Paleo-style diet that emphasizes veggies. (He’ll still split a steak.)

Treat yourself: When you hit a big goal, celebrate within reason. Mendes may be a fine dining chef, but his go-to post-marathon meal is a “fat burger” with fries and a Coke.

Read the original story here.