You think it’s tough for you to get a workout in and eat well now? Imagine trying to stick with
your healthy habits while spending all day, every day around amazing food and exceptional
Sounds rough, right? Well, that’s exactly the type of temptations faced down by some of the top
chefs, restaurateurs and mixologists around town, each and every day. Anyone who works in
the restaurant industry knows that stressful conditions and grueling hours are challenges in and
of themselves. Add staying healthy to that list and it’s nearly impossible to have it all.
Even still, despite the constant taste testing and long workdays, some of Pittsburgh’s best chefs,
restaurant owners and bartenders manage to stay active and fit. Not only are these guys (and
lady) part of the reason why Pittsburgh’s food scene is gaining acclaim all around, they’re also
great examples of individuals who maintain a healthy lifestyle, despite a hectic schedule. From
running and martial arts to cycling and CrossFit, these folks are living the Fittsburgh mission.
When he’s not trying to keep up with his three kids or a busy dinner service in the kitchen of one of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants, you’ll find Executive Chef Derek Stevens running along one of his favorite trails at Raccoon Creek State Park. He’s not just a runner, Stevens is an ultramarathoner. After a friend introduced him to the sport in 2012, he was hooked. “I knew it was something I wanted to do. so I made it a priority to train” Stevens said. Given his work hours, sometimes he had to get up at five or six o’clock in the morning to run. Other times he’d head out for a run after the night shift, at 11 o’clock! Stevens pointed out that, although there’s a lot of time and planning that goes into training, it’s not all about fitness for him. “It’s about personal reward and accomplishing a goal,” he said. And we couldn’t agree more! When he’s not out blazing a new trail, Derek practices Krav Magra at Wright’s Gym in Crafton and Brazilian JuJitsu at Steel City Martial Arts.
From the outside looking in, all we really know about Justin Severino is that he crushes it the
kitchen and serves incredible eats hence evergrowing list of awards. But what you may not
know about him is that he is equally passionate about the outdoors. Justin is big into camping,
hiking and especially mountain biking. “So many chefs don’t make time for hobbies,” he said.
“They think they need to be in the kitchen all the time.” Justin doesn’t see it that way. He’ll bike
to work and even set out for a short ride to clear his mind. He credits his team and kitchen staff
for making it possible. Justin also knows his working up a sweat keeps him sane, or as he puts
it, “My bike is my therapist and my antianxiety pill.” Some of Justin’s favorite places to bike
around Pittsburgh include Frick Park, Hartwood Acres and Boyce Park.
Like so many of us, Suzanne Hrach, owner of Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room, loves food, wine and craft beers. Even still, she manages to stay fit regardless of these vices and an unpredictable schedule. Her trick is straightforward enough,”Like any other priority, it involves scheduling a time and committing to it”, Suzanne explains. The real challenge, as Suzanne sees it, isn’t exercising (she enjoys that) or constantly be surrounded by fabulous food, it’s finding time to eat at all. “I’ve found that most of the time I’m way too busy to sit down and have an actual meal…I’m usually just scarfing down a piece (or four!) of pizza in my office at 11:00 at
night.” To maintain balance and break a sweat, Suzanne heads to North Park for a run around the lake. Now that the weather has improved, she plans to take to the lake to do some kayaking.
Thinking back to the time he spend behind the bar at the Butterjoint, Will Groves, a bar consultant, recalls how difficult it was to manage weight while surrounded by great (and often really rich) food and drinks. You can just imagine how challenging that must of been! But that wasn’t even the worst of it. The schedule was the real trouble maker. As Groves describes it, “you’re eating late, you’re getting out of work late, and your sleep schedule becomes really off- kilter.” In an attempt to combat the challenges presented by a nontraditional schedule, Groves, a cyclists, would get up and get a ride in before work. Of course this meant sacrificing some sleep, but he did it anyway because, as he puts it, “getting a bike ride or workout in before work was always really important to me.” When he does ride, Will favors the trails at Frick Park and Boyce Park.
If it’s tempting to taste everything when working in a restaurant, imagine what it’s like to work with decadent chocolate treats every day. Talk about willpower! Well, Chris Weck must have
willpower for days, because that’s exactly what he has to deal with. When he first started Sinful
Sweets, Weck worked two jobs and didn’t have a whole lot of extra cash for a gym membership.
But that didn’t stop him from staying fit. Weck would do bodyweight exercises, like pushups, and
situps at home, then walk from his house in North Side to his shop in Lawrenceville (where it
was previously located). These days Chris weight trains or bikes at places like North Park, the
Montour Trail and Ohiopyle. He also is a big fan of obstacle races like the Tough Mudder and
Spartan Race. “They are not only a great workout but give you a chance to act like a kid again
and get a little dirty and have some fun.”
From starting a business in the basement of a church in Downtown Pittsburgh, to overcoming a
patent lawsuit and relocating the business to Lawrenceville, Tim Tobisch is no stranger to facing
challenges. “It was definitely hardest in the beginning,” Tim recalls. “The stress of a start up
combined with some health problems really took a toll on me.” Tim’s escape from this kind of
stress is hockey. Having grown up in New Jersey, watching hockey with his dad, Tim always
had a passion for the sport. Now, he doesn’t just watch the sport, he participates, playing in a
league with friends at the RMU Island Sports Complex. When the weather permits, he’ll take to
the pond at Frick Park. During the warmer months, biking takes over for hockey. And, the
Franktuary staff is treated to yoga on Monday nights.
After holding down gigs as a personal chef for some Pittsburgh Steelers and area executives,
and working at establishments like the Ritz Carlton, Kevin Watson was recruited to be the
Executive Chef of Savoy. When he’s working in the kitchen, Watson points out one ever present
challenge, “making sure to eat regularly.” Since he does a lot of tasting to make sure every
morsel is on point, he doesn’t have a huge appetite. As a result, Watson says he doesn’t eat as
much or as often as he should. “I know it sounds crazy but its true,” he remarks. When it comes
to exercise, Kevin has found that working out first thing in the morning works out best for him.
Currently he’s doing yoga at home, CrossFit or heading to Panthro Fitness in the morning or just
We’ll keep you up to date on all things health, fitness and local food in Pittsburgh.