Kitchen fit

“They say ‘never trust a skinny chef’,” says chef Daniel Abou-Chedid. “Well, I reckon you can never rely on an unhealthy one.” The New South Wales Central Coast chef recently lost 35kg and is now an advocate for better health for Aussie chefs.

“During lockdowns I took a hard look at myself and realised I needed to change things in my life,” he says. Daniel had learned a lifetime of bad eating habits causing weight and health problems. He was eating leftover chips from the bowl, eating scraps from the grill, sampling those last few strands of pasta in the pan. “It is not what you’re eating – it’s when and how are eating that’s the problem,” says Daniel. “I was eating badly under the pressure and stress in the industry.”

He cut out carbs, fruit and pulses and concentrated on eating fresh vegetables. After he lost weight, he realised he needed to build strength. “For years I was carrying heavy boxes using my belly!” says the chef with a laugh. “I wasn’t working my shoulders or core muscles.” Now fit and under 100kg, he has a new lease on life. His mental health has improved significantly and he is exercising and loving his improved relationships. “I used to sit on the couch after work trying to wind down to get to sleep,” says the chef enthusiastically. “Now I go to the gym for 45 minutes and I fall asleep when my head hits the pillow.” He adds, “Now I am breathing fresh air instead of smoke from the deep fryer.”

Up in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales is Sam Gowing, a woman who is seen as a guru in the hospitality industry. “Chefs and hospo workers spend their lives looking after other people,” she says, “but they often forget to look after themselves.” The wellness chef has spent a lifetime working in hotels and restaurants and is now an expert in food, health and education and is Club Med’s wellness ambassador. “I see a lot of people in this game with muscular-skeletal problems and pain caused by inflammation.”

She points to the work-hard/play-hard culture in the industry as being not good for health. “Booze is a big cause of inflammation,” she says. “We finish a shift and knock off with a few drinks – sometimes a bottle – even a few colas,” says Sam. “This causes inflammation in the joints and muscles and really affects the pain receptors.”

Sam knows pain. She broke her leg in four places and suffers occasionally from sciatica. “I need to keep an eye on the weight. The sciatic nerve does not like being in a body that is overweight.” To keep herself fit and healthy Sam has a diet rich in leafy greens, especially watercress. She says parsley is great, as well as nuts high in Omega 7 oils such as macadamias and seeds such as pepitas that are a good source of Omega 3 and 6. “But not kale,” she says with a laugh. “That actually causes inflammation.”

She also makes healthy protein central to her diet, such as oily fish, and uses loads of fresh seasonal veg. Eager to share her knowledge as a wellness chef with the industry she works as a mentor to other chefs and in January this year, launched a new online training program on her website

One health professional who has treated some of the best chefs in the country is Matthew Green from BodyGuide, a health professional who has treated some of the best chefs in the country. He is known around Australia for his work as a consultant for injury prevention and workers’ compensation. “I have seen thousands of injured bodies over the past 14 years,” says Matthew. “And most of that pain could have been avoided.”

He says that different roles in the hospitality industry present different problems. “Baristas have a lot of trouble with shoulders, the rotator cuff,” he says. “They are wrenching the group head (on the coffee machine) all day long. That is an unusual movement that is done repetitively and with force. The result is shoulder pain so severe it can stop our coffee makers from sleeping.” He says chefs have problems with knees and backs because of bending to lift trays out of ovens and lifting pots off stoves into cool rooms which is exacerbated by benches being one size fits all. Matthew points out that the same height bench will be used by a short person who will be using their arms at ergonomically incorrect angles – and the tall chef will have to stoop.

“The hospitality and catering industry has a culture where people soldier on and struggle to look after their bodies,” says Matthew. He says that with proper training chefs, cooks, baristas, front-of-house workers — anyone working in the industry — can avoid pain. “There are some really simple recovery and self-massage techniques people can learn to help calm aches and pains. Aside from his work with employers, Matt has an app and book available on his website to help people learn about their bodies. “No one should live in pain,” he says. “Often there is a simple solution to a problem that has been years in the making.”

As seen in autumn 2024

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