A chef and a cyclist… Simon Bryant
Since the second edition of RIDE Cycling Review (published in September 1998), we have had a regular section called “Why Ride?” The theme of the piece is to profile people who have no real connection to the world of professional cycling but are enthusiastic about riding. It has included a vast range of personalities including athletes from other sports, politicians, TV personalities, an opera singer, and many more. It’s a feature that allows us to discuss topics that are not necessarily related to cycling but, inevitably, the benefits of the bike emerge.
Here is a flashback from RIDE #44 – published early in 2009 – when we spoke with chef, Simon Bryant (below) about his enthusiasm for cycling and… why he rides.
Simon Bryant: the chef and the cyclist…
One of the two hosts of the television show The Cook And The Chef – that ran for four seasons from 2006 – is also a cyclist. The man [who was] in charge of the Adelaide Hilton’s kitchen [as executive chef for 10 years] explains why riding and cooking correctly are things you can enjoy… without damaging the environment or adding to your stress levels.
– By Rob Arnold
“I had a yellow Raleigh Chopper when I was nine years old and I used to just think I was ‘the Man’ because it had that little stick-shift gear and the funny little front wheel. It weighed 10 tonnes and it was a pig to ride but I just used to love it.”
Together with Maggie Beer, Bryant presents the popular television show The Cook and The Chef. His talent for cooking is what earns him a salary and his ability to talk coherently has netted him a large following of fans. In the growing genre of celebrity chefs, his reputation is built on knowledge gained in the trade and a resolute approach to using fresh produce. He admits to being moody when he’s working and acknowledges that exercise – which, in his case, is largely the routine of cycling a short distance to and from work – is a calming influence.
“Stress is a killer,” he said after explaining that, if an injury or something else forces him off the bike, his attitude goes down a notch. “If you want to have a happy life, you’ve got to have a sense of purpose, you’ve got to have some self-respect and the whole exercise thing, it’s just critical. In primitive terms we are an animal that was running around chasing food so, when we finally ate, it was to replace the energy we’d expelled to get the meal. I’m not an anthropologist but if you’re just being fed, you’re just like a veal-fattened animal in a pen.
“I think exercise is important for your mind, your body, the whole kit and caboodle. I’m not a health freak, it’s about finding a balance; you can do bad things – I know, I drink too much coffee – but finding the right mix of exercise and nutrition is a fairly important thing.”
His job gives him contact with the cycling world, especially in January when the Hilton accommodates the Tour Down Under entourage and serves as the headquarters of the race.
“We’ve been part of the tour from day one,” said Bryant, who has been at the Hilton for over 10 years, and the executive chef since 2001. “Cyclists are the least fussy of all the athletes I’ve cooked for. They’re really easy to please. It’s very low salt, very low oil, high carb, high protein… simple flavours because you’ve got to eat a lot of food. When you need energy and have to eat a lot you generally need something quite plain. And they’re gentlemen, they never complain.”
When it comes to how people should prepare meals if they’re planning on a solid cycling workout, Bryant has his opinion on what can be good but avoids generalising. “I’ve got mixed views about diet fads,” he insists. “Everyone’s metabolism is different. You’ve got to know your body and certain cultures really understand this, like the Indian ayurvedic thing.
“Some people feel good on some things other people feel not so good on. I respond well to tonnes of really complex carbs, like brown rice. I also enjoy eating beans and lentils and soy products, so I do get protein – but a fairly low amount – as well as lot of really unrefined carbs.
“I use a bucketload of lots of oils. You need oils to carry vitamins around your body, there’s no doubt about that. Your A, D and E groups are not water soluble. If you start getting too crazy about your oil intake – whether it be animal fats and oils or just vegetable oils – you’re not doing yourself favours; you could be failing to use your nutritional deliveries.
“I think our culture is now at the tail end of the protein fad. That seems to have died down a bit where everyone was on the high protein, no carb thing. But oil paranoia still exists.”
I ask if that’s because of misconceptions about cholesterol and he responds quickly by explaining the body’s reaction to the myriad of oils and fats used in modern cooking. “There’s different fats and they break down differently. Yes, they are the last thing to be broken down… you’ll bust your carbs up first and you’re likely to store fats. But if your carb and protein intake is not excessive, you will metabolise those oils.
“I’m not a food scientist, but it is common sense. If you eat something and you feel good, that’s something to work with.”
Bryant has strong opinions on many things. His love of food is infectious and his analytical approach to cooking is the perfect counterpoint to Maggie Beer’s intuitive style. Something he feels strongly about is not abusing the earth’s limited resources. And cycling has become one way for this chef to contribute to a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Even buying a new bike was a test of his resolve to avoid consuming, despite the fact that he had found something that suited him perfectly.
“My Craftworks served me really well for 10 years,” he said of the bike he recently retired to the garden. “It was a kind of mountain bike that had been done up to be used on the road.
“I’d replaced everything about five times over because I don’t like chucking stuff out; I really believe in buying good and making it last. But there’s a limit to that,” he laughs. “When I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to cost me $1,500 this time for rims, derailleurs – the whole kit and caboodle…’ I realised what had to be done: I had to buy good again and it will last.”
This brings us to the Cannondale. Of course Simon has a yarn about the Bad Boy too. “Do you know the story?” he asked about the bike before telling an anecdote about the black commuting series from the US manufacturer. “Some guys in the offices had taken a frame and put road wheels on it and a HeadShok and rocked off to work. One of the managers said, ‘Jeez, what do we have to do to get these bad boys on the market?’ Apparently that’s the story. Someone had just made a crazy hybrid and it was cool. As soon as I saw one, I thought, ‘Yeah that’s me.’ I like the stealthy look.”
When we met, he had just finished stoking a barbecue at the final stage of the Tour Down Under. Clad in his usual black cooking garb, Bryant was about to roll home. Amidst a crowd of colour, he stood out with his Rasmussen-like aesthetic and the trusty Bad Boy by his side. With a shaved head and skinny frame which held his clothes up like thin timber coat hangers, it was easy to spot him. At the end of another week at the Hilton, where his series of shows are broadcast on a loop, I felt like I’d come to know him. I’d seen him several times in the foyer of the hotel during the course of my visits to the race over the years. Each time I lamented not telling him how much I enjoyed the show and asking about the menu he prepares for the cyclists. This January, I didn’t waste the opportunity.
To see him with a bike was an added bonus; I pondered aloud about the chance of including him in Why Ride? “That’d be fun,” he responded, “I’ve got a car, but it’s a piece of shit.
“I live really close to the city. Adelaide is flat. It’s got bike tracks. My car does move but not very much, it is used but I can get to and from work much quicker on my bike.
“I don’t understand how people can go to work and then waste an hour in the gym. You may as well do the commute and exercise at the same time. Your stress levels from driving in traffic are just ridiculous. I’m not a patient person and bikes are the best way to get around the city. There’s no doubt about it.
“My food politics are that you should think about what you buy and have the minimum impact on the planet. It’s becoming very topical now. At our hotel I’m in luck: my GM lets me run a restaurant that’s all about local food, South Australian produce. I know the food chain is incredibly complex. There’s a lot of ethical issues when we order, including the energy consumed to make food, but one thing is ‘food miles’. I think, ‘how can you run a restaurant that’s all about reducing food miles and then get in a four wheel drive to get to work?’ It doesn’t make sense.”
An admission that his car is rudimentary and doesn’t even have air conditioning prompts the chef to explain another advantage of cycling: you create your own breeze… but there’s more to it still. “We work in really hot kitchens so I get used to the heat. I do love cars: give me an Aston Martin and I’d be a happy man, but when you put someone in a box, they become isolated and have no instinct for courtesy.
“If you walk along the street and you bump into someone, you don’t shout and abuse them and beep the horn, you apologise if you were wrong. But when people get in a car they seem to turn into something else. What I do like about a bike is you don’t lose that courtesy. I do get distressed about road rage. It’s a waste of energy, it’s stress and I think town planning has got a bit to do with it. I mean, we’ve got a lot of bike tracks here. Adelaide is really quite bike friendly. I think people are fairly courteous. You still get numbskulls and you have to keep your wits about you but you’re generally okay.”
Originally from Melbourne, the chef has become a vocal ambassador for the lifestyle on offer in Adelaide. The ease that comes with being able to get around by bike is one thing going for the South Australian capital. The food, however, is the key reason for his migration. “In my opinion, it’s the food capital of Australia. I’m going to get in trouble for saying so but it’s got four definite seasons, it’s got regionality, we’ve got coast, hills and plains. There are lush market garden areas… it’s suited to growing just about everything except for tropical stuff. So you can buy local and it’s world class. Our quality of produce for a chef in this state is insane. It’s great.
“Adelaide has always had a very progressive food culture. There’s been some really influential chefs. With Ann Oliver, Cheong Liew and others, there’s been a long history of really innovative chefs. As soon as kangaroo was legalised for cooking it was in four or five restaurants straight away here.”
The accessibility to food is another appealing aspect of Adelaide and, after finding – or growing – the right ingredients, the challenge that remains is pushing your experimental limits. “You don’t really have to be a great chef to get good produce and service to customers. You’ve just got to be brave enough to keep it simple because it just tastes good,” said Bryant. “That seems to be a thing that is quite obvious in South Australia; we are less about bling and more about real food.”
I mention that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of him; aside from the hair another similarity with Rasmussen is his trim figure. Yet he eats whatever he likes. And, he admits, plenty of it: “I gorge in the kitchen.”
So is it cycling, a considered diet, or a combination of both that helps him keep his weight under control? He’s hesitant to suggest that what works for him will work for others. “We’re all different. I’m pretty much working all day. When I get the chance to eat, I do. And I kind of graze a fair bit. I’ll always be picking at almonds and pumpkin seeds, I think nuts and seeds are really, really good little energy power houses.
“You’ve got to have a little thing in your head about what your carb load-up was yesterday and what you have today, and I don’t think you can go wrong. If you want to have a curry with coconut milk, that’s okay. But think about what you had the day before and what you’re going to have afterwards. I’m not so good at cooking desserts and I’m rubbish at eating them because I always just think they’re little more than empty carbs. However I’ll be happy to eat fruit because I can see that there’s some nutritional value as well. You need to just be a little bit more aware of what the nutrient value is, not just the energy.”
Is he surprised that people insist on picking up a take-away meal even at a time when the problem of obesity is prevalent in Australia? “It’s self respect too,” he said in summary.
“I’m around food all day but when I go home I’m more than happy to cook for several reasons. I like growing food because I like a bit of ownership and pride, it gives you a whole different dimension to your dinner. But the idea of brokering out your wellbeing to someone working in the fast food culture, it’s like you’re no longer responsible for your own health. If you cook, you’re taking a bit of ownership.
“I’m not perfect; I do bad things and I work in an industry in which people eat notoriously badly, but I think it’s showing a bit of self respect if you’re prepared to cook for yourself. A lot of single people don’t do that. It’s a bit like repairing your bike: if you do it yourself, it gives you a sense of pride and ownership, you understand how it works. When you start farming every bit of your life out, including your food, it’s a little bit sad.
“I love the fact that in my restaurant, I know the suppliers. I’ve been out to their farm, I know what they go through. Once you see something in that context, you have a different concept, you become a very respectful chef.”
– Here is a summary of the profiles that appear in issues of RIDE Cycling Review that are now available in a digital format via the Zinio platform.
• RIDE #47 (volume 01, 2010): RIDE Cycling Review‘s staff…
• RIDE #48 (volume 02, 2010): The UK’s tax-assisted cycling boom… by John Deering
• RIDE #49 (volume 03, 2010): Tony Abbott, leader of the Liberal party
• RIDE #50 (volume 04, 2010): Charlie Pickering, television host
• RIDE #51 (volume 01, 2011): Gerry Ryan, owner of the Orica-GreenEdge team
• RIDE #52 (volume 02, 2011): Growth through the masses – a report on an Australian granfondo…
• RIDE #53 (volume 03, 2011): Angus Houston, former Australian defence force chief
• RIDE #55 (volume 01, 2012): William Jeng, vice president of Merida, by Jean-François Quenet
• RIDE #56 (volume 02, 2012): Graeme Pereira and Joel Harmsworth, making movies about cycling…
• RIDE #57 (volume 03, 2012): Post-Tour criteriums, by James Stoutt
• RIDE #58 (volume 04, 2012): Rob Arnold, publisher of RIDE
RIDE Media publishes RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
RIDE Cycling Review is now available in a digital format via Zinio.