Chefs seek healthy balance between kitchen and waistlines
MESA, Ariz. -- It's 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday, and Stephen Stromberg is carefully arranging his gear _ goggles, black swim cap and running shoes. Wearing a tri suit, Stromberg sucks down a Power Gel for fuel for the 750-meter swim and 3K run that lie ahead, then trots over to the beach at Tempe Town Lake.
"Wakey, wakey _ eggs and bacon," an exuberant voice screams over the sound system before the Splash and Dash begins.
Stromberg, 33, and a slew of other triathletes tread in 81-degree water for five minutes, waiting for the starting bell to ring.
"Ask anyone who loves the sport of triathlon, and you get into the mind-set of 'I can do that again, I can do that faster, I can do that better,'" says Stromberg, who competed in 10 triathlons last year. "I'm a very competitive person. I just fell in love with it."
Seven hours later, Stromberg is in a different kind of uniform _ a chef's jacket. He's in his kitchen at Latitude 30, cooking and tasting dishes that will be served to restaurant patrons. Stromberg is part of a growing minority in the culinary world that strives for a balance between love of food and an active lifestyle.
"Overall you're seeing a greater number of chefs exhibiting a healthy attitude toward food and exercise," says Tammy Baker, a registered dietitian with the Dairy Council of Arizona. "Many chefs realize they are leaders in this field and they can use their talents to educate consumers and to show them that healthy foods can taste good."
Sampling dishes before they leave the kitchen is a must for chefs. But a nibble here and a spoonful there can add up to a lot of calories by the end of a shift.
"Chefs as a rule aren't necessarily the healthiest people in the world," says Stromberg. "They are not the fittest, and that's OK. They're constantly tasting and working on their creations or working on menus. One of the biggest challenges for me is tasting what's on my menu and being smart about it and not going overboard."
Deborah Knight, chef at Mosaic restaurant in Scottsdale, avoids overindulging by sampling ingredients _ fresh fruits and vegetables delivered daily. She also has a single sit-down meal, usually the staff meal. "I'm pretty conscious about it," says Knight, who started her culinary career at the age of 16 busing tables. "People are definitely much more aware of the side effects of bad eating habits."
People are eating smarter and demanding healthier choices. Nutritionists have long clamored for smaller portions on the plate. This overall movement toward healthier eating among chefs is showing up in some menus.
"Chefs are being forced to at least consider that," says Stromberg. "I don't know if everyone is catching on. For me, it's easy because I live that lifestyle, so I think about it more than a lot of chefs do. I think about it when I come up with my menus. I make sure there's a balance."
Controlling portion size is another healthy change, says Knight.
"What's really important is people consciously knowing what a portion should be," she says. "I think portions have grown out of control."
The extent of Knight's physical activity is relegated to her kitchen. Knight says that the hustle and bustle of the kitchen helps her burn calories.
"It's an active lifestyle," she says. "You really don't stand still. I enjoy the stress of it. My mantra is just be aware of what you are eating and live an active lifestyle."
Adding physical activity to the mix isn't a bad idea, says Baker.
"It's good for your heart," she says. "When you're on your feet all day you may burn additional calories, but it really doesn't substitute for physical activity."
But finding the time for physical activity can be difficult for a dedicated chef.
"Most of my colleagues love to eat and they spend more time relaxing when they're not working," Stromberg says. "For me it's not enough. I love being in the kitchen. I love being a chef. It's fun to be pushing myself to do things outside of that world."
Stromberg spends 55 hours a week in the kitchen and 18 hours training for triathlons. Next year he plans to compete in Arizona Ironman, which entails swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.
"I think the mentality is you have to be fat to be a good chef," says Stromberg. "I know in my heart that I'm a good chef, that I'm good at what I do and that I'm creative, and I'm as skinny as they come."
Information from: East Valley Tribune/Scottsdale Tribune, http://www.aztrib.com