Chef/Owner at Marble Restaurant
Thehoursonmybikeclearmymind. Ican getmyheadaroundnewmenus, andI’m alotcalmerinthekitchen.”
When David Higgs arrived in Joburg in mid-2010, he was a heavy guy. “I think I weighed around 92kgs,” he says. “I had just started a new job, and I wasn’t training”. But he wasn’t dwelling on his weight, or his health – he was consumed by the job, and in the kitchen that meant living from shift to shift, snacking on anything that would help keep him on his feet. By then, he had been a chef for almost two decades, starting from humble beginnings as a cook whipping up breakfasts at a hotel to working at some of the top restaurants in the country. And when you have a demanding job, getting out of bed and bashing out a morning jog or dragging yourself to the gym... it’s just too easy to say no.
His turning point took place over a glass of wine. “I was sitting around a table with a group of friends, and my friend Reinette asked me to do the Absa Cape Epic with her,” he says. “My life changed with that conversation.” For the uninformed, this is easily one of the toughest bike races in the world. Stretching over multiple days, riders must throw themselves at the untamed wildlands of the Western Cape, barrelling down rutted singletrack and brute-forcing their way up near-vertical climbs. A week after that conversation, he was on a tough training programme – and shopping for a bike. He had cycled on the road before, but the sheer number of hours in the saddle required to conquer an event such as the Epic was daunting. “Plus, mountain biking requires a completely different set of skills, especially just pure technical skill.”
On weekends, he would ride for around 12 hours, completing two six-hour sessions on Saturday and Sunday, and then working a full shift in the kitchen in the evenings. At that point he was at the helm of the Saxon Hotel restaurant: “Fortunately, I had a good team, and the support of the hotel.”
Cycling turned into an escape from the high-pressure environment in the kitchen, which has burnt out more cooks than it’s built up. “The hours on the bike clear my mind,” says Higgs. “I can get my head around new menus, and I’m a lot calmer in the kitchen.”
However, it was his time in the kitchen that ultimately helped him to excel in the saddle. “Working at restaurants taught me a lot about discipline, sticking to my guns and making sure preparation is done for service. I approach cycling the same way: I prep for my race properly, and always monitor my progress.” Higgs’ biggest challenge (both before and after his life-changing, overthe-vino conversation) was changing his eating habits. Being faced with food all day makes you ravenous; and because there’s always something to pick at, a new dish to try, or top-shelf ingredients to turn into an after-service feast, Higgs never took the time to structure his meals.
It was only when he began travelling with Team Dimension Data for the Qhubeka cycling team that he was given insight into the importance nce of a healthy diet. That’s what finally flipped the switch. To date,ate, Higgs has lost t over 20kg, and nd he’s gearing up to tackle the 201818 Epic. He’s racked up the base kilometres requiredequired to outlast the gruelling ruelling distance of the all-terrain rain event, and is now buildingg on that foundation with shorter, sharper per training during the week, which fits his s busy schedule. And that’s important, because ecause he’s running his own eatery – Marble restaurant, in Joburg – and time is a precious commodity. But he’s living proof that the “I just don’t have the time” excuse is exactly that: an excuse.
Higgs went from heavyset head chef to a lean rider capable of conquering the toughest mountainbike race in South Africa.