Chef/Owner at Mar­ble Restau­rant

Men's Health (South Africa) - - RELATIONSHIPS -

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.

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