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A Different Kind of Iron Chef

Professional Pastry Arts student Ann Marie Cariaga on the culinary school workout.


When first accepted into the Professional Pastry Arts program here at International Culinary Center, many thoughts crossed my mind. The top three thoughts were:
1. AHHH!
2. YES!!!
3. …I’m going to get SO fat.

I was ecstatic. However, being somewhat of a fitness junkie and gym rat, I was a bit weary of the toll it would have on my physique. From dancing to martial arts, to yoga and weightlifting, I always managed to keep my body in motion. I was so sure that the freshman fifteen that I dodged in college would seek vengeance upon me.

As the first unit progressed, however, I found that I was wrong. I knew that working in the kitchen would keep me moving at all times, but I was never aware of the toll it would take on my muscles. Even though I still attempted to go to the gym on my days off, I came to the realization that the pastry kitchen was not only my classroom…it was my personal gym. Let this be an amateur guide to whomever would like to maximize their time and energy in the kitchen in order to start or meet their fitness goals.

Tool: THE WHISK
Used for: Whipping heavy cream
Level of difficulty: Easy
Target: Arms (forearms)
Tips: Keep your arms in, shoulders down and whisk in a back and forth motion.
If you have never whisked heavy cream into whipped cream by hand, you will in the pastry arts program. Your forearm WILL want to fall off your body and run away. Do not fret…you still have the other arm. This was the first time in my life when I experienced a cramp in my forearm. It was not pleasant, but I knew it was worth it when I looked down at the soft, supple peaks that were now crème fouettée.

Tool: THE WHISK…again
Used for: Whisking pastry cream into a smooth mixture
Level of difficulty: Medium
Target: Arms (biceps)
Tips: When carrying over your heavy saucepan for the pastry cream, be careful…it’s HEAVY. With the additional weight of the cream you will make in it, be certain you have a good grip on the handle, and your sheetpan with plastic handy for transferring. Also, DO NOT LOOK AT THE CLOCK EVERY TEN SECONDS. This is somewhat of a difficult feat, as you are required to whisk the pastry cream for two whole minutes—so watching the clock is actually an important step in this recipe. This will be the longest two minutes of your life. That is a guarantee.

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Tool: THE ROLLING PIN
Used for: Rolling out dough
Level of difficulty: Easy-medium
Target: Shoulders and back
Tips: Assouplir. Soften your dough first by smacking it gently with the pin. If your dough does not roll out right away, let it sit and relax for a few minutes, and continue rolling. Your shoulders WILL feel sore the next day. If you are like me and vertically challenged, this would be a good time to work your calves as you stand on tiptoe and struggle to place your weight onto the pin and dough.

These are only a few of the many exercises performed in the pastry kitchen. Once you have rolled brioche dough into submission, you will never take bread for granted again.

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If the elevator breaks and you are in charge of returning food items, be prepared to carry pounds of ingredients up the stairs (I was never aware of how heavy chocolate was until this unfortunate day). When you are hungry and there is a mad dash for dinner, stairs will never have looked so evil. Having to climb three flights to get to our meal, I noticed a trend with the students: Flight number 1: students climb with fervor fueled by hunger, heads down and looking at their phones. Flight number 2: students begin to slow down, and use the hand railing for support. Flight 3: students either use the railing as their main tool for getting up the last few steps, or they go hard and make a sprint towards the top. Either way, quads will burn. Hours on the Stairmaster could not prepare one for this trek. I am convinced that the kitchen may have been placed on the fifth floor in order to throw in a workout for us students.

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Once you are aware of all the physical demands culinary school places on your body, you can be sure to also notice how strong you are (hopefully) becoming in the kitchen. Mixers don’t seem as heavy to carry, and you have a better grip on those heavy bottomed saucepans, especially pans with the weight of boiling water. Carrying multiple ingredients in your hand has become second nature, as has balancing sheet pans in both hands. Whisking away has become less painful, and you learn to breathe as you do so, and build stamina for rolling out dough. As for the stairs…well, you may have an easier time climbing them, but that sudden shooting pain in your quads as you reach the last step never seems to go away. It’s just another sign that you are getting your workout in at school.

While fitness in the kitchen may not be a typical topic in the culinary industry, it is certainly one that affects our health and bodies. Hopefully some of you have gained a little bit more insight on the physical requirements that the kitchen demands of you. This way, you can track your progress and come to the realization that you are getting stronger on your way to becoming a chef.

Learn more about Professional Pastry Arts