Watching one of Miami’s top chefs churning on a treadmill in a soaked-through gray and black T-shirt, you wonder whether he’s thinking about all those cheeseburgers.
It’s usually past 1 a.m. when Brad Kilgore, chef/owner at one of Miami’s top restaurants, Alter, trudges up the street for his first full meal of the day — a burger from The Bar Next Door. His pastry chef, wife Soraya, joins him for a plate of fries.
Kilgore knows he really shouldn’t.
But after preparing expertly crafted cuisine at Alter all day, dishes that look like art on a plate, he barely has had a chance to eat anything beyond taste testing his dishes. All he wants is a simple burger he didn’t have to cook himself.
“It’s easy to make excuses when you’re working long hours and have delicious food all around you,” Kilgore said. “It’s easy to let yourself go and not allot time for taking care of yourself.”
He’s not alone.
And that’s how the Kilgores and eight other Miami chefs would end up here, at the Orangetheory Fitness gym on South Beach, a drill instructor of a fitness coach urging them on over the gym’s speakers.
“You’re getting stronger with every step, I promise you!” coach Sandy Arellano calls out. “If you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re doing it right.”
Clearly, everyone is doing it right.
These 10 Miami chefs have committed to working out three days a week and eating meatless at least on Mondays for the 12 weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 SEED Food & Wine Festival in Wynwood, the only plant-based food event of its kind. The chef who loses the greatest percentage of weight will be honored with Miami Heat tickets and other prizes at the festival. The gift they all hope to share is a healthy lifestyle they can use to inspire others.
“We want people to take care of themselves and be conscious about what they’re eating,” said chef Nicole Votano of the clean-eating restaurant Dirt, which will offer the chefs discounted meals throughout their training.
Votano is not only here for moral support. She once lost more than 80 pounds by eating better and exercising before putting about 25 of those pounds back on. A month ago, she decided that was enough.
She contacted her friend, SEED culinary directory Julie Frans, and they quickly put together this fitness challenge. Ten chefs stepped forward to join Votano: the Kilgores, Paco Laszlo of Jugofresh, Jimmy Lebron of 27 Restaurant & Bar, Jeff Maxfield of Toscana Divino, Steve Santana of Taquiza, Venoy Rogers of Essensia at the Palms Hotel and Rose Flynn of Choices Cafe.
Last Monday, the chefs got together to weigh in at Orangetheory and work out together for the first time — and got a reality check. Those 14-hour days had caught up to them. They will post about their progress on social media with the hastag #OTFSEEDChefBurn.
“Man, I can’t work where I work and look like this,” Rogers, chef at the “natural gourmet” focused Essensia, said when he got his body fat results. Modest, he still cuts the shape of a former Oklahoma high school and college walk-on heavyweight wrestler.
Under the orange lights that are the gym’s trademark, the group sets off for its first workout — cardio training on a treadmill mixed with hand weights and resistance training such as squats and situps.
Shirts began to sweat through. After about 20 minutes, no one is smiling anymore.
Rogers’ heather gray shirt has gone almost completely black. 27 chef Lebron is pushing hard, looking down the line at his fellow chefs, wiping sweat out of his eyes. It’s no surprise that after the hourlong workout, they have burned more calories — more than 1,000 each — than any of the other chefs. The workout triggers the chefs’ natural competitive tendencies.
“I know these guys don’t give up,” Lebron would say later.
Rogers trots from the treadmill to the weight room and gives high fives to Votano and Flynn before settling in for a round of squats next to Kilgore.
“Trying to beat this guy in something,” Rogers says, nodding over to Kilgore, who was named a semifinalist for two James Beard cooking awards this year.
Kilgore somehow manages a smile through burning muscles as the chefs approach their final minute of the most intense part of the workout.
“We do not slow down, we do not stop in our final minute!” Arellano yells and the speakers crack.
After an intense hour, they look up at a flat screen displaying their workout stats, measured with a heart monitor.
Soraya Kilgore is actually smiling after her workout. She has been doing CrossFit for several months since her job as a pastry chef often requires her to eat “30 spoonfuls of sugar” in an average day. Her husband isn’t so lucky.
“Brad looked like he was going to topple over there for a minute,” Soraya Kilgore says.
So how was that? someone asks Jugofresh’s Lazslo.
“[Expletive],” he wheezes.
Only 11 more weeks to go.