My Journey to SoCal: 10 Miles of Tough Mudder and the L.A. Food Scene

There has always been a west coast/east coast beef whether it’s among rappers or rival sports teams. “Our loud, closed-minded edgy New England rapport is better than your hemp growing, generic tree hugger lifestyle!” Growing up, I was always flaunting how proud I was of my heritage and my Bostonian Scotch/Irish roots, and with that naïve pride, by default, was not receptive to any other culture.

Personally, I think placing stereotypes on anyone is just a cop out for shortsighted people. It is only from breaking free of the mindset I was brought up around that I have been able to grow and ultimately welcome life on life’s terms as it unfolds in its many forms.

Last week I went out to the west coast for the first time. I took on one of the biggest physical challenges of my life while there, Tough Mudder So Cal, a 10 mile military style obstacle course in Snow Valley Peak Ski Resort, Running Springs, CA. It was a friend of a friend that organized a team of 10 coming from as far as Australia., rightfully named East Coast Fury. Together we climbed up and down double diamond peaks, plunged into icy waters and ran and crawled through 10,000 volts of electric shock to the head and body for 5 straight hours while screaming “ECF! EAST COAST!”

I trained long and hard for this event running and doing Crossfit but my real reason for going out there was to scope out the food scene in and around Los Angeles that I have heard so much about. I stayed in downtown for just 3 short days but traveled through the burrows of L.A. to Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

My first thought when I got to West Hollywood was, “damn this city is spread out and pretty dirty,” compared to my well kept little neighborhood on South Beach where I can bike everywhere I need to go. I guess I wanted to see an abundance of beautiful California produce lining the sidewalks while some free spirited, hallucinating hippies danced around chanting Greenpeace.

Luckily I was not swarmed with the smell of pot smoke, patchouli and dirty dread locks like I had expected but what I did find were concepts I have been envisioning, creating and sharing with clients and all of those around me. Healthy fast food everywhere! Freshii, Tender Greens, Greens Up and Real Food Daily are just a few chain restaurants I got to experience that are spread throughout L.A. County putting raw, organic, fresh nutrient dense foods conveniently at your fingertips.

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Jinky’s in Santa Monica, known for its breakfast and many chilis (6 different daily options) and also Caffe Primo in downtown had the whole grains, raw options and superfoods as, not just an afterthought, but a substantial part of their menus. Jinky’s served up a massive bowl of Kelp noodles, sprouts, greens, raw veggies and seared tuna for $14. I can hardly find kelp noodles, which are low calorie and packed with 70 minerals and 21 amino acids, at a one of the few raw vegan concepts in South Florida, never mind at just a regular cafe known for chili.

Primo’s also had a brown rice bowl full of raw veggies with your option of tofu, chicken or fish for $10-$12. Big portions of whole grains and vegetables, endless healthy options no matter where you go all well within reasonable prices sets L.A. aside from anywhere I have been here on the east coast.

My last night there, a friend brought us to Chateau Marmont, a historical landmark hotel with a small French restaurant next to, Bar Marmont. My friend was entertaining a few Columbian models he had met at the hotel so I figured I would take one for the team and eat some unhealthy calorie dense French food for one night. Well even here, at a see and be scene destination, I find kale, raw, in a salad along with lentils and brussel sprouts to remind me that I am still in California. Nutrient density at all levels of cuisine, not that hard is it.

This experience has motivated me even further to develop nutrient dense dishes, educate those around me on simplifying healthy cooking and conceptualize my “progressive modern” approach to the food scene here on the east coast. Without a doubt I thought about, still thinking about, moving to L.A. to surround myself with this progressive lifestyle but feel like the east coast can benefit from my “progressive modern” concept much more than the west coast.

I say, “Get Humble East Coast!” The way we are eating sucks and we need to open up to what California is doing. I am confident that it will only be a matter of time before areas on the east coast, especially South Florida, will have more convenient healthy options eliminating the need to grab the fast food crap so readily available that is detrimental to our health.

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How Long Can You Go Without That Morning Cup? Here’s A Real Energy Packed Alternative (recipe follows)

Who doesn’t like that first cup of coffee in the morning? Even the act of stopping to get it before work everyday is just part of the routine for many. The smell, the conversations that take place around coffee, it is more than a drink but a pleasurable icon in socializing enjoyed worldwide.

Discovered in Ethiopa by a goat herder around 850 AD, coffee, aka the “American lubricant,” is the second most valuable commodity in the world next to oil and also one of the fastest acting drugs known to man absorbing into every cell in the body and brain within minutes. Since as far back as a 14 year old freshmen in high school I have been dependent on this liquid stimulant to function daily. 50% of Americans drink 3-4 cups a day (330 million total cups a day) and then you add in caffeinated tea and soft drinks and its 80% of the adult nation also depends on this caffeine fix everyday.

God willing, to this day I have overcome many devitalizing vices in my life. From cigarettes in 2009 after 14 years, alcohol and its accompaniments a couple years before that and of course indulged in healthy eating habits to replace the drug-like toxins found in the crap food I was eating for so long. Although there are studies showing coffee to have higher antioxidant properties than any other food or drink, the idea of needing it was starting to weigh on me as a crutch.

So for the past 28 days until today I have refrained from the fuel I drank straight up and all caffeine for the first time in my life. I was fortunate enough to have a friend on the same path at this time to lend me his vegan approach to combating what was to soon come mentally and physically. Some plant trace minerals, DHA, B complex and some purified water to help curb the initial withdrawals and attempt to keep my caffeine-dependent sluggish mind alert. I knew the feeling of letting go of other habitually damaging yet accepted foods like refined sugar and white flour. Luckily the symptoms were brief in my gradual shift of eliminating those things. But, letting go of caffeine was the unthinkable for me for a long time. I needed direction and am always open to organic solutions.

I did not ever plan on giving up coffee completely. I was looking to get some clarity on how “addicted” I was to caffeine and without it assess ten general physical skills, adopted from Crossfit; cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. All of these skills could be questionable without a stimulant at some point during the day right? Would I fall on my face while running or crumble and break my back trying to do power snatches without that false sense of energy I was used to from caffeine?

What is my conclusion at the end of 28 days?(FYI: I did get laid of from my job of 3 ½ years on the 8th day of no caffeine so my sleep schedule and effect of not working 50 hours a week may have contributed to my results.)

First of all, one of the things I started saying around day 5 was how delusional I was all this time about how I “needed” coffee to wake up, go to work, go to the gym, have the energy to step up my conditioning and exercise routine to train for Tough Mudder, etc. I continued to eat the superfoods I had regularly been eating like bee pollen, chia seeds, spirulina, raw plant proteins, raw chocolate, goji berries, nuts and seeds to maintain that energy I thought I might be lacking.

The Bad:

The free time I suddenly had off of my feet 5 days a week when losing my job, left way too much time for my heart rate to slow and to feel unmotivated during the day. I was now letting myself get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, which was more like 5-6 in the past, in hopes of enough sleep replacing the morning jump start. This wasn’t always in my favor. Whether I went to the gym or not, my mind would not fully wake up until later in the day. Unless I was doing something physical, my heedless mind would drift and I would find myself taking a nap instead of giving in to the temptation. Out of frustration I would lay down in hopes of it just passing only to wake up an hour later but feeling better. For me, without the coffee, a good 8-9 hours sleep is a must at this point in the game.

The Good:

I not only maintained my 4-5 day a week Crossfit regimen and running 15+ total miles a week but I actually increased it just to prove a point to myself; nine days straight of Crossfit at one point including yoga, Crossfit/5Krun/Crossfit within 24 hour period on a couple separate occasions. Not even in the beginning of no caffeine did I feel any less energized than before to do my workouts. My strict eating habits of mostly whole grains, eggs, fruits and vegetables with little animal protein stayed the same this whole time as well. I am sure I did not get any worse, nor did I improve in any of the physical skill areas I mentioned based only on the elimination of caffeine.

From here on out, I now know I don’t need caffeine as I thought and will never drink it on a daily basis again. No longer do I have to feel lost in my own brain without ingesting a certain liquid everyday. Like today, when I used it to get my day started after having a restless (but enjoyable) night, it will be playing second string to my Good Morning America smoothie.

Good Morning America

  • 1 Banana
  • ½ cup Blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cups Almond Milk (any milk you want I guess)
  • 1 T Ground Flaxseed
  • 1T Bee Pollen
  • 1T Maca Powder
  • 1T Peanut Butter(all natural, no hydrogenated oil! Don’t cheat!)
  • 1/8th Raw chocolate bar (raw cacao, not hersheys)
  • Couple of ice cubes

  • Blend it all together until smooth and get the engine running in that big noggin of yours without caffeine.

You Can Reap the Benefits of Kale and Still Be True to Your Roots

From the moment I first consider a positive change in my life until the time I begin to act on it could be months, even years.  For some, they can go a lifetime without ever having taken the action necessary to better their well being.  Whether it’s quitting smoking, working out, eating healthy or spreading a message through this blog I first had to get over the fear of change and be receptive to what my natural born intuition was telling me.

I recently visited back home in Boston and took my mother to this nice family-run Italian seafood spot tucked away in Ball Square, Somerville. The conversation was good, I seemed to take the long awaited discussion down the healthy road and fill her ears with words like “nutrient dense” “raw” “bee pollen” “juicing.” “This way of eating not only prevents cancer but studies show can stop cells from growing.” “Watch Forks over Knives!” Most of these words my mother has never heard from anyone but myself. That’s because where we are from the only diets we hear about are Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem or alterations in a diet to refrain from certain foods by doctor’s orders.

Like many of my relatives, my mother’s brother and father both died of colon cancer at the same age of 51 and she herself has diverticulosis. When I am presented the opportunity I attempt to chisel away at my family members and friends one by one to deconstruct the eating habits that so many of us grew up knowing.

Now after having a delicious dinner and some of the best meaningful conversation we have had in a while, I see an old employer of mine. He is a pretty overweight guy, middle aged, and Italian background. He runs his family’s deli and restaurant right there in the same square we are in. “Hey Mike, How are you doing?” He says he’s good, little bigger than the last time I saw him, always smiling; his grandiose mannerisms remind me of a politician in election season walking door to door, kissing babies. I only worked for him for two months during Christmas in 2004 for extra money so we didn’t really know each other that well.

I remind him that I am in Miami now and tell him it is good to see the pics of his new breakfast spot on Facebook. With a distant look in his eyes he says, “Yeah, I saw you post something not too long ago too… It wasn’t very Boston.”

It wasn’t very Boston? Hmm…. I was speechless for a second. Was it the pic I put up of kale wrapped around California watercress saying “love at first sight, juicing has never been so sexy?” The organic veggies I was about to juice one morning and had to share the beauty of first? I don’t really post often and when I do it is along those lines.

I am not surprised that he would look at kale like a foreign entity from outer space. This is the mindset in this neighborhood and unfortunately the way you eat represents who you are as a person, as a Bostonian. Had I been in the right situation I would have loved to drill (I mean educate) him on why I eat the way I do and how it has an impact on those around me and my menus. Give him some input on why he will not be seeing much below his waste without a mirror much longer if his belly gets any bigger from eating all the sugary waffles and crap he posts pictures of online.

Many men and women work their whole lives in the restaurant business and never consider that a change in their lifestyle could benefit all of those around them. The thought to eat better and get to an ideal body weight, without a doubt, crosses their mind but is a mere attempt with the fear of change and, in this biz, lack of organization and time management.

The only way I was able to get on the path and stay there was to realize that at the end of the day all I have is my life. I am not the face of the restaurant I work in, or the money in my bank, or a newspaper article or even the name printed on the bottom of a menu. If I am constantly looking for the time I have lost, repairing and amending arrangements I have missed and letting my health go, who am I living for?

Chefs, waitresses, F+B Directors, none of them, put their own well being before their job. For me that includes my meals, my exercise, my state of mind and my well being come first. Before I put myself out there to offer my opinion, articulate my culinary talent or serve a meal to a hungry guest, I will have taken care of me first.

It feels almost disloyal for a chef to think of himself first or take a few minutes out to prepare himself something of sustenance. Well, let’s just say I am over that feeling. That was my delusional perception of how available I needed to be to prove myself and my work ethic to my employer. With a little organization and planning, I am able to maintain a plant based diet, get my Crossfit on and train for Tough Mudder in July, a challenging 12 mile military style obstacle course; seeking organic stress relief through ancient remedies such as sauna therapy, yoga and meditation are rituals I will not live without today.

Many people are living to eat, when they should be EATING TO LIVE! Life is short. Our bodies are the only vessel we have to carry us through this journey. My next visit back home I will be sure to walk my old stomping ground, green juice in hand, with pride. Maybe even pass out some healthy info on how to prevent losing sight of your family jewels.