How Boston’s Top Chefs Stay Fit

Here are five inside tips worth stealing.

Chef Carl Dooley runs 25 miles per week. / Photograph by Toan Trinh

Forget what you think you know about chefs. The old stereotypes—they’re overweight; they work hard and play harder; they live fast and die young—are becoming increasingly obsolete as the old guard gives way to a new generation of cooks who choose salads over steaks and unwind at the gym instead of the bar. Here’s a peek at how some of the city’s most influential chefs keep the pounds off—and avoid overindulging on the job.

Karen Akunowicz
Executive chef/partner, Myers + Chang

After taking on the culinary boys’ club, Akunowicz set her sights on another bastion of old-school masculinity: powerlifting. With a coach at Mike’s Fitness, she’s done a 290-pound dead lift, a 165-pound bench press, and a 225-pound squat. “One day I [lifted] 10,000 pounds before I went to work for a 14-hour shift,” she says. “If you do that, you really feel like there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Matt Jennings
Chef/owner, Townsman

A few years ago, Jennings tipped the scales at nearly 400 pounds. Today, after gastric sleeve surgery, he’s healthier than ever. The secret to his success? Workouts at boxing gym EverybodyFights, cycling, and avoiding sugar, alcohol, and constant nibbling at work. “There’s a difference between tasting and snacking,” he says. “In the past, those lines were blurred.”

Tiffani Faison
Chef/owner, Sweet Cheeks, Tiger Mama, and Fool’s Errand (coming soon)

Being a chef is a physical job—and for Top Chef alum Faison, that means body mechanics and efficient movement in the kitchen are key. “If I’m working the wok station at Tiger Mama,” says Faison, who hired a personal trainer at Equinox last fall, “I’m trying to remember to tighten my core the whole time. Work used to be my workout, and now I have to work out to work.”

Carl Dooley
Executive chef, the Table at Season to Taste

For Dooley, also a former top Chef contestant, exercise is a form of stress relief—a way to turn pressure “into something positive, versus drinking a bottle of wine in the bathtub.” Dooley stays fit by running 25 miles per week, playing tennis, and biking his 6-to-8-mile round-trip commute. “There is a lot of temptation around the kitchen,” he says, “and you want to be able to enjoy that.”

Louis DiBiccari
Chef/owner, Tavern Road

After spending January on the Whole30 diet—which eliminates sugar, dairy, carbs, legumes, and alcohol for 30 days—DiBiccari has a newfound respect for nutrition. As for fitness? He joins fellow chefs David Bazirgan (Bambara), Jennings, Colin Lynch (Bar Mezzana), and Nookie Postal (Commonwealth) for pickup basketball games. “We were hurting” at first, he says, “but we can now play for more than five minutes without passing out.”