In the past 20 years, the lives of professional chefs have been documented and glamorized through books, reality tv shows, movies, and more. Daily temper tantrums, copious consumption of drugs and alcohol, big bellies, pale skin, and a generally stressed out disposition - this is what we've come to expect of the professionals who cook our food.
So when people meet me at the gym that I own, often they seem to balk when I tell them I'm a chef. I just don't seem to fit the mold.
But ever since I began working in professional kitchens 13 years ago, I've never viewed the degradation of my health and wellness to be an inevitable result of working in the restaurant industry. In fact, I've often viewed cooking as a way to improve my vitality.
Working with food day-in and day-out exposes me to countless different ingredients and cuisines. I've developed a keen awareness of how flavor is cultivated through various culinary techniques. Some cuisines rely heavily upon rouxs, butter, cream, MSG, deep frying, and sugar to build flavor through richness. But to be honest, making food delicious through those methods never really appealed to me - in a way, it feels like cheating.
What I really gravitate towards are dishes that build flavors through unique spice combinations, careful time and temperature modulation, controlled fermentation, scrupulous ingredient sourcing, extended marinating, and peak freshness of product.
I'm also drawn towards culinary balance: rather than making dishes that are one dimensionally sweet or savory, I focus on dishes that incorporate elements of sweetness, acidity, umami, bitterness, heat, and salinity. This balance, it turns out, tends to go hand in hand with much greater micronutrient content in foods, as well as a more appropriate distribution of macronutrients, helping people stay healthy and feel great while enjoying complex and satisfying flavors.
Pictured: Chef Julian's Banh Mi Noodle Salad - brown rice noodles with Vietnamese-marinated shrimp, pickled daikon and carrot, sprouts, fresh herbs, and a sesame-miso vinaigrette
As a competitive athlete, I was never all that concerned with physical aesthetics of my body. Instead, I just wanted to feel as good as possible in my training and in competition. Eating processed food or excessive amounts of sugar, over-drinking alcohol, not sleeping well, being pissed off all the time - all of these things negatively affected my performance. So I didn't do those things.
In addition to being Quokka's Executive Chef, Julian is a competitive CrossFit athlete and co-owner of CrossFit Santa Barbara
Instead, I focused on eating the foods that nourished me and tasted great, I dedicated time for relaxation and self-reflection, I committed to getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night (even amidst the chaotic times of opening a restaurant), and I vowed to not take my anger out on others.
In this quest to feel as good as possible, I have conveniently also developed a low body fat and defined musculature typically seen in body builders, which is a nice perk!
So in some ways, I am a contradiction; I am a chef but I am also an uncommonly healthy person-both physically and psychologically. I don't fit the mold of what people expect of me.
But I believe that with hard work and mindfulness, we can all build lives that give us the best of both worlds: delicious, complex, flavorful meals that increase vitality and promote our health and well-being.
About the author
A former collegiate distance runner, Julian ran cross-country at a national level before finding a passion for CrossFit. Shortly after he began competing, Julian qualified for the California Regionals competition. As an experienced chef, Julian has opened multiple restaurants in Santa Barbara, including Barbareño and Cubaneo.
As Quokka's Executive Chef, Julian leverages his professional experience and his ISSA certification in sports nutrition to regularly develop new Quokka recipes and help Quokka members reach their health, wellness, and performance goals.