Chef running club the Foodrunners changing kitchen culture

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Photo: Joel Terron

The culture of working in kitchens rarely lends itself well to a healthy lifestyle, but a new running group in Toronto is looking to change the routine associated with working as a chef. The Foodrunners are a a group of influential chefs from around Toronto who have joined with Nike and Acquired Taste magazine to get started running.

“As a chef, their lifestyle is very demanding,” says Acquired Taste editor-in-chief Chuck Ortiz about his new run group. “As a result, their health takes a backseat. The idea was to put together a run club that would introduce them to a healthier, balanced lifestyle and, in turn, allow them to take that and be more active with their peers.”

The group, which for the first eight weeks was limited to a set group of chefs, met each Monday and Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m., usually at juice bars around Toronto, for runs. Starting and finishing at juice bars also gave the chefs the chance to do what they do best and experiment with fun ingredients afterwards, mixing drinks to refuel.

“We found chefs that expressed an interest in getting in shape and have a platform and a following to be influential because, at the end of the day, we want other chefs around Toronto and the world to see this as something that they want to be a part of,” explains Ortiz.

One of the tougher aspects of making the group work was finding a time that would work to meet up. Notorious for holding long, fickle hours in their kitchens, getting a group of chefs together for a run in the evenings was off the table. Monday and Wednesday morning, although not perfect for everyone, seemed like a time that would work best. Ortiz also notes some of the ideas behind the group came from Toronto’s Parkdale Roadrunners, a group in the city that meets later in the evenings each Tuesday to better accommodate the schedules of their members.

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Photo courtesy: Stefania Yarhi

One of the runners is The Drake Hotel’s chef de cuisine, Alexandra Feswick, who notes she was hesitant to join the group at first, but came around quickly.

“How can you deny an eight-week program to get in shape? They’re giving us every tool possible. There’s really no reason to not do it.” notes Feswick, who also says the sparked interest is also slowly making inroads on her menu at the Queen West hotel.

“The idea of a healthier lifestyle is definitely more present in the kitchen because I’m talking about the running group every day and I think that changes everybody’s outlook. For me, just running makes me want to eat healthier and I think the new menu reflects that a bit more than the previous menu,” says Feswick. “I’ve always believed that the better the ingredients, the less sort of ‘cooking’ you have to do and good ingredients speak for themselves. This menu reflects that and it certainly has to do with some of the choices I’ve been making at home.”

After the eight weeks of running, which concluded Monday morning, the group plans to open up to others in the industry who are interested in joining with a running group that better suits their schedule.

“Once you incorporate a healthier lifestyle, in the very beginning it can be tough but in the end you end up getting more energy,” notes Shontelle Pinch, a food truck owner running with the group. Pinch sometimes starts working at 10 a.m. and doesn’t get home until 2 a.m. the following day but has made getting her morning runs in a priority.

Pinch jokes that some of her younger staff don’t see benefits of following a healthy lifestyle and, with a culture of late-night beers after a day of cooking, the food industry can be a tough one to change, but for now at least a few in Toronto are looking to try and take swerve the kitchen culture.