Running In The Kitchen - Jeremy Emmerson talks to chef Michel Roux Jr
The relationship of fitness and professional cooking has been an inverse one for many-a-year. But these days, it seems that the old adage of “never trust a skinny chef” has run its course and diners have no problem eating the cuisine of a healthy looking chef.
With this in mind, it made me wonder, beyond looking good, what are the other benefits of being a chef in shape? So who better to put my questions to than; Michel Roux Jr. - distance runner and chef of the London restaurant, Le Gavroche? With seventeen marathons under his belt and two Michelin stars to his name I thought I would be in for some good advice!
Michel has always liked running, even enjoying cross-country at school. But when he started working in restaurants he found jogging to be the great stress reliever. In later years, after giving up smoking he gained around 12 kilos. And it was at that point, he decided to get serious about fitness and started marathon running.
Is it only marathons that he runs? How does he fit his training in? Is there another chef that can beat him and are there any other benefits besides being healthy? The chef explains...
G.C. - Do you focus only running on marathons or do you challenge yourself at
other distances too?
My big passion is marathons and I’ve taken part in 17 to date (including Paris, New York, Monaco and Bordeaux) but I also enjoy running shorter distances. This year, after I broke my Cuboid bone whilst training, I had to pull out of the Flora London Marathon, so a couple of months later when it had healed I decided to take part in the Bupa 10K run. I’ve done it once before and really enjoy it.
G.C. - How many days a week do you run?
Even when I'm not training I run two or three times a week for 45 minutes. When I'm preparing for a marathon it’s a lot more.
G.C. - Do you train with or race against any other chefs? If so, who's winning the races?
Yes, I sometimes bump into Gordon Ramsay whilst training in the park – he’s also a keen marathon runner and lives nearby. Of course, there’s always a bit of healthy competition when we’re running in the same marathon, but I usually comfortably beat his time.
G.C. - Many chefs would say that they do not have time to exercise. How do you
work it into your schedule?
I make time for training because it’s important to me. I usually fit it in during the afternoon, between lunch and dinner services.
G.C. - Has your personal health and fitness proved to be a good PR asset? Were you surprised when you got your first piece of press for being in shape?
The media are definitely aware of my fitness regime and marathon running, and this has obviously heightened since my book ‘The marathon chef’ was published. Although at first I may have been surprised at the interest shown, I do think it’s a good thing as it shows we’re becoming more aware of the importance of keeping in shape.
G.C. - Are you as focused on eating healthily as you are on exercise? If so
can you describe what would be a typical breakfast, lunch and dinner?
If I’m going to run in the afternoon, I have a late breakfast of cereal, juice and fruit with perhaps some bread and butter, as it’s bad to run on an empty stomach. After a run I might treat myself to a delicious salad dish, for example an endive and poached egg salad with some bread, which I’ll follow with a little chocolate. For dinner, I’ll have vegetables with pasta or rice, which I sometimes follow with some fruit.
I like to stock up on carbs the week before the race and stick to lighter foods for the last couple of days. The morning of a race I’ll probably have a few slices of bread and butter with jam and perhaps some cereal.
G.C. - Has your healthy eating influenced any of the dishes at Le Gavroche?
There are dishes on the Le Gavroche menu that would benefit a runner’s diet, but Le Gavroche is loved for having held onto the core values of French gastronomy - so what I eat personally and what my customers enjoy are two totally different things.
G.C. - Does staying in shape help with the way you run your kitchen?
Being fit and working out regularly helps keep my energy levels up, which means I’m on top form for running my kitchen. As you know, life in the kitchen is hard going, so it’s hugely important to keep yourself in shape.
G.C. - Do you think the next generation of chefs is being suitably educated towards healthy eating?
I think everyone is more aware of the importance of staying healthy, and I don’t think it is any different for the next generation of chefs – so yes, I think they’re well informed.
G.C. - What would your advice be to the chefs out there that are thinking about getting in better shape?
I would tell them to go for it - running gives me such a buzz and being in shape has really transformed my life. It’s tough at the beginning, especially with our working hours being so unsociable, but once you get going you will see that the positives really outweigh any negatives.