Working in a fitness routine while managing professional and home responsibilities can feel like a Sisyphean task, let alone when you work in the daily grind of restaurant life. Yet, there are chefs who prioritize exercise alongside the duties of leading a restaurant. A number of Bay Area chefs are working in activities such as cycling and jiu-jitsu into their routines, adding another dimension to their work lives. The list includes chef Chris Cosentino, a longtime cyclist, and chefs Jason Fox and David Nayfeld, who have both taken on Brazilian jiu-jitsu for sport.
For chefs Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions and Nicolas Delaroque of Maison Nico, fitness is a part of what drives their lives, including cooking. “The words that I do not ever use is ‘work-life balance,’” Brioza says, “because I feel like my work is my life. But in order to fuel my work, I need to engage the other senses. It’s just my other job; it’s a job that is important, to fuel the things that we’ve built.”
Brioza has always been into fitness, delivering papers by bike in his Cupertino youth, snowboarding while he worked at a ski resort for a year, then later taking part in workout boot camps four days a week. But when he and partner Nicole Krasinski opened State Bird Provisions in 2012, he found he couldn’t sort a workout routine with work, and activities like snowboarding fell by the wayside. State Bird Provisions was followed by the opening of the Progress and the Anchovy Bar until Brioza reached a point where he was able to “come up for air” and really start bringing exercise back to the forefront four years ago. “When I turned 45, I just hit this moment where I’m like, ‘I’m at the halfway point, if I’m lucky,’” he says. “I was like, I want more out of life. I wanted there not to be anything that could stand in my way physically and mentally.” He got back into physical training, then picked up cycling, eventually logging up to 150 miles a week on his bike during the pandemic.
In a similar way, Delaroque says fitness has always been part of his life. He played basketball and soccer, rides mountain bikes, and rock climbs with his partner Andrea Delaroque. “It really impacts the way I feel every day,” Delaroque says. “I feel good every day. We have work that’s very taxing on the body, and if people don’t take care, their mobility [gets] worse.” In 2013, he tore his ACL playing soccer and was inactive for a year following knee surgery. That motivated him to vary his fitness training beyond running. He joined CrossFit classes and participated in his first triathlon in 2019. It was an eye-opener for Delaroque, leading him to add endurance training to his weight training routine, which helped him prepare for more races, such as a Half Ironman race and the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon.
Delaroque’s routines are rigorous; in preparation for races, he works out almost seven days a week, getting up as early as 4:30 a.m. to train before heading to work. At the peak of his Ironman training, about two weeks before the race, Delaroque estimates he runs 20 to 30 miles, bikes about 100, and swims 6,000 yards a week. And while working out is great for physical health, it affects his life in other ways. “It’s a good way for me to release a certain amount of stress,” Delaroque says. “When you’re on a long run or long bike ride, or even on a swim, it’s nice to just meditate at the same time — you can just think about your day, the future, or whatever. So I am a little better when I come to work. It’s a steam release kind of thing.”
Brioza also finds that working out helps prepare him for his job. These days, he tries to block three hours each morning for activity — no appointments — before work. Often, he goes on a three-hour bike ride or does a 90-minute workout followed by 45 minutes of stretching. He’s even built a basement gym with a TRX machine, plus some bands, kettlebells, a medicine ball, stretching mats, and rollers. The routine changes every 4 to 6 weeks, often in the leadup to activities he loves, like snowboarding, which he’s taken up again with his family. Brioza says it’s great to have an activity where his son can see his parents being active and that they can participate in together. During the pandemic, at the height of his bike routine, Brioza would cross the Golden Gate Bridge, riding 30 to 50 miles a day. He found it helpful to have that time alone. “I would just churn through whatever the day was presenting,” Brioza says. “It didn’t necessarily answer questions, but it certainly was a helpful process to just be in my own mind and be outside be in nature.”
Brioza recognizes that young cooks might not have time for exercise early in their careers, when they may be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. But with restaurant work being extremely taxing on the body, it’s important to prioritize physical fitness and find time for passions beyond food. Even if those in the industry can’t make it to a workout today, Brioza says everyone is three weeks away from making positive changes. “If you start working out,” Brioza says, “you focus on sleep and maybe making a few better choices in eating — you’re three weeks away from feeling pretty good about things. Then you continue another three weeks and at the six-week mark, you’re like, ‘Holy shit.’ It’s amazing.”