Atlanta chefs’ fitness advice and healthy recipes for the new year

Losing weight is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. And though the old saying advises, “never trust a skinny chef,” we wondered what some of Atlanta’s best chefs do to stay fit.

As it turns out, they struggle to stick to a healthy diet and get enough exercise, just like the rest of us. Plus, there’s the added burden of working long hours in busy kitchens, where delicious food is a way of life.

Matthew Basford, the executive chef at Canoe in Vinings, is a regular participant in Ironman Triathlon races, and keeps to a strict diet and exercise regimen to train for the grueling endurance competitions.

“I think it is hard for chefs to find time to keep really fit, even though you’re on your feet all day,” Basford says.“For me, personally, I need something like Ironman; otherwise, I will do nothing. I need to have something to train for and some end result.”

As far as diet, Basford eats meals with lots of vegetables and lean proteins.

“I don’t take out any one food group,” Basford says. “I believe in a balanced diet. I eat bread and pasta and other carbs. But that’s along with a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and things like turkey and chicken and salmon. And I try to eat regularly, to keep my metabolism going, which is always a hard thing.”

At home, Basford likes to make a variety of healthy soups, which he often cooks in large batches and freezes. He offered us a recipe for an easy, one-pot soup made with a whole chicken.

“You can use whatever vegetables are in season, and you can cook a chicken into the soup so you don’t have to use store-bought broth,” Basford says. “It’s one of my go-to things.”

Andreas Muller, the executive chef at Rival in Decatur, says he “eats about 90 percent vegetarian at home,” and includes lots of greens and salads in his diet.

“Portion control is key,” Muller says. “I don’t stuff myself during meals. I eat more frequent and smaller meals throughout the day. I allow myself to eat whatever I want, but keep portions smaller when it comes to fatty or unhealthy foods.”

He also drinks plenty of water throughout the day, and avoids things with added sugar.

“My goal every day is to drink a gallon of water,” he says. “I keep a water gallon jug on my work station as a reminder. I try to stay away from drinks with a lot of added sugar, like soda and energy drinks. When I do get a sweet tooth, and it happens a lot, I go for some fresh fruit like an apple or banana.”

Muller’s best advice: Don’t skip breakfast, and get some exercise every day.

“Breakfast is not doughnuts and coffee,” he says. “I eat hot cereal in the morning, or if I’m on the run, I grab a protein bar and a banana. I have two dogs, so I take two to three nice long walks every day. I ride a bicycle in my free time and try to stay active.”

Muller gets encouragement for those goals from his girlfriend, Chrysta Poulos, a pastry chef who creates the pastry programs and dessert menus for Ford Fry’s Rocket Farm Restaurants.

“At home, I keep plenty of vegetables around and I love salads,” Poulos says. “I eat at least one big salad a day. I also keep veggie proteins on hand. Gardein brand orange chicken and their chicken strips are two of my favs.”

Poulos thinks that becoming a vegetarian was the turning point that led to her recent healthy eating success.

“I have been vegetarian for a few years now, and I believe that helps keep a lot of the junk I would otherwise be eating out of my diet,” she says. “No late-night trips through fast-food drive-thrus after work.”

Jamie Lynch, the executive chef and a partner at 5Church Group, oversees the three 5Church restaurants in Charlotte, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and Midtown Atlanta, and is on the current season of “Top Chef” in Charleston.

A heavily tatted motorcycle enthusiast, Lynch says he stays healthy through moderation — or as he slyly puts it, “a little bit of everything.”

He does yoga, meditates, and “drinks light beer, when he’s being health conscious.” But he also “mixes it up and keeps it interesting with Jameson, meatball subs, and 2 a.m. double-stack cheeseburgers.”

He offered us a favorite healthy recipe for Ahi Tuna Poke With Soy Sherry Dressing, a regular item on the 5Church menu that combines lean protein and good fats with a flavorful blend of fruit and spice.

Joey Ward, the executive chef at Gunshow in Glenwood Park, is vividly candid about the challenges of working in a restaurant kitchen and staying fit.

“The truth of the matter is that most chefs do not adhere to healthy eating habits,” Ward says. “In a busy kitchen, you don’t have time to sit down for a meal, not to mention three square meals a day. Most meals are consumed standing over a trash can, rapidly shoving whatever sustenance you can into your gullet before washing your hands and heading to the next task on your prep list.”

But Ward’s way is a tried-and-true combination of exercise and diet.

“I’m pretty adamant about physical fitness,” he says. “I work out with weights three to four days a week and run 5-7 miles three days a week. I enjoy working out and the meditative experience that running provides me.

“My diet during the workweek consists of the same thing for breakfast each morning: scrambled egg whites and a whole-grain English muffin with a protein shake to drink. Lunch depends on what the staff is preparing for family meal, but I tend to stick to a high-protein, low-carb diet. Dinner is a piece of protein after service or often not eaten at all.”

He also has a secret weapon at home who contributes to his success.

“Since meeting my wife, she makes me, I mean politely suggests, I eat vegetables with every meal,” Ward says.

Ward’s healthy recipe, Coconut Creamed Corn With Jalapeno, Curry and Lime, is a deceptively skinny Gunshow side dish that uses coconut milk and coconut oil for richness, along with an array of spices.


These healthy and easy recipes from three of Atlanta’s best chefs will start you on your way to 2017 diet resolutions.

Curried Chicken and Root Vegetable Soup With Kale, Matthew Basford, Canoe

This hearty one-pot soup made with a whole chicken creates its own stock and can be frozen in batches to have on hand for a healthy meal anytime.

1 yellow onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup curry powder

1 rutabaga, peeled and 1/4-inch dice

2 medium carrots, peeled and 1/4-inch dice

2 parsnips, peeled and 1/4-inch dice

2 turnips, peeled and 1/4-inch dice

8 quarts chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium

1 whole Springer Mountain chicken

1 bunch kale, stemmed and thinly sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, gently sweat the onion and garlic with the olive oil until translucent.

Add curry powder and cook till fragrant.

Once fragrant, add the rutabaga, carrots, parsnips and turnips and coat with the curried onions.

Add stock and whole chicken. May require more liquid to cover, and you can add water.

Bring to a gentle simmer for 1 1/4 hours or until chicken is cooked.

Remove chicken once cooked and leave to cool slightly. Add kale and cook for 15 minutes.

Once chicken is cool enough to touch, shred the chicken, and discard the skin.

The chicken should pull apart easily, and shred to bite-size pieces.

Add chicken back to soup and bring back to simmer.

Season soup with salt and pepper and enjoy.

Serves: 12

Per serving: 252 calories (percent of calories from fat, 37), 42 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 34 milligrams cholesterol, 164 milligrams sodium.

Ahi Tuna Poke With Soy Sherry Dressing, Jamie Lynch, 5Church

Poke has become a regular item on restaurant menus, and this low-cal version combines lean protein and good fats with a flavorful blend of fruit and spice.

For the poke:

1 pound ahi tuna, large dice

2 tablespoons sliced scallions

2 tablespoons sliced shallots

1 serrano chile, sliced very thinly

1 cup pineapple, medium dice

1 avocado, diced

2 pink radishes, sliced very thinly

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 tablespoons soy sherry dressing

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and season to taste.

For the soy sherry dressing:

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1/4 cup mirin

1 tablespoon xanthan gum

Combine all the ingredients and agitate with an immersion blender or whisk together.

To serve, divide between four plates with extra dressing on the side.

Serves: 4

Per serving: 314 calories (percent of calories from fat, 43), 29 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 43 milligrams cholesterol, 1,080 milligrams sodium.

Coconut Creamed Corn With Jalapeno, Curry and Lime, Joey Ward, Gunshow

This recipe is a deceptively skinny side dish that uses coconut milk and coconut oil for richness and flavor, along with an array of spices.

6 ears sweet corn

1 medium onion, peeled and small diced

2 jalapenos, chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon madras curry

1 teaspoon cumin

1 can low-fat coconut milk

Salt to taste

1 lime, zest and juice

1/4 cup toasted shredded coconut

1/4 cup roasted chopped peanuts

Begin by roasting 2 ears of corn in a 350 oven on a roasting rack, with husks still on for 30-40 minutes. Set aside to cool. When cool, shuck the corn and cut kernels off the cobs. Discard cobs and husk and reserve roasted corn kernels.

Shuck the remaining 4 ears of raw corn and discard husks. In a large bowl with a box grater, grate the raw corn, making sure to extract the milky corn liquid from the cob. Discard the grated husks and reserve the corn pulp.

In a medium pot, over medium heat, sweat the onions, jalapenos, garlic and ginger in the coconut oil, until slightly translucent. Add madras curry and cumin and stir until fragrant. Add corn pulp and roasted corn and simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add coconut milk and cook another 5 minutes, or until desired thickness. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat, and stir in lime juice and zest. Serve topped with toasted coconut, and peanuts.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 120 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), 3 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 12 milligrams sodium.


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