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Healthy Meals Fuel Marathoning Chefs

By Clara Silverstein - Boston Herald

Joanne Chang's mornings are fueled by lemon lust tart and triple chocolate mousse cake, her afternoons by bananas and Power Bars.

Chang, chef-owner of Flour Bakery and Cafe in the South End, recently ran her 12th Boston Marathon. As a chef, her extensive knowledge of food gives her a bit of an edge in the 26.2-mile race, in which every calorie can affect performance.

But she and other chefs who have competed in the Boston Marathon said dedication is more important than a special diet.

"The lifestyle gives you a disadvantage," said Rich Vellante, executive chef of Legal Sea Foods, who ran his second Boston Marathon. "You have late nights and erratic eating patterns. You always have desserts and fatty foods in front of you. Then again, you also have healthy foods. You have to be disciplined."

Vellante, who also competes in triathlons, said he follows no special diet, but he does try to maintain balance as he trains.

"I like foie gras and pasta with cream sauces, but not all the time. Seafood as a protein is great for your health. It's a natural with what we do on a regular basis at Legal Sea Foods."

Even though Chang has unlimited access to ScharffenBerger chocolate and candied hazelnuts, she eats like most other runners. The night before the marathon, she carbo-loads on bread and pasta. The morning of the race, the regimen is bread, bananas, water and coffee.

"Because I'm around food so much, it becomes what it should be: An enjoyable pleasure, and a form of nutrition, not a special treat," she said.

Kevin Crawley, chef-owner of Coriander Bistro, ran the Boston Marathon in 2001 and 2002. He is sitting this year out but already thinking about how to improve his performance in the future.

"Those two marathons were testosterone-and ego-driven. I'm going back to the books next time, taking the next one more seriously diet-wise. I've been known to go up to the McDonald's drive-through more than once."

Running helps the chefs manage the physical part of the job.

"It perks you up so you can be running around like a maniac in this business. It has a psychological effect on the people around you," said Crawley, who trains with some of his staff. His pastry chef, Todd Weldon, has completed several marathons.

"We eat giant piles of food at the staff meals," Crawley joked.

Above all, running helps the chefs deal with the stress and excess calories of long hours in the kitchen.

"Something outdoorsy can help you calm down when things are so frenetic," Chang said.

Below are recipes Chang and Vellante recommend for runners in training.

JOANNE CHANG'S GRANOLA BARS

3 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 c. oats
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 1/3 c. coconut
1 1/2 c. toasted walnuts
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. honey
3/4 lbs. (1 1/2 c.) butter, softened
1 3/4 c. dried apples
1 3/4 c. dried cranberries
1 3/4 c. dried apricots
3 1/2 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. toasted sunflower seeds

Pulse the flour, oats, brown sugar, coconut, walnuts and cinnamon in a food processor in small batches until coarsely chopped.

Place in a large bowl. By hand, work the honey and butter into the mixture until crumbly.

Press about 2/3 of the mixture on the bottom of a cookie tray lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 350-degree oven until medium brown, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the dried fruits, water and sugar in a pot. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and let sit for several hours to reconstitute the fruit. Pulse the fruit in a food processor until chunky. Spread the fruit mix on top of the baked granola. Add the sunflower seeds to reserved granola mixture and sprinkle on top of the fruit.

Bake at 350 degrees until brown, about 20 minutes. Cool, cut into bars, and serve. Makes about a dozen large bars (they can be cut into whatever size you like). Store in a tightly covered container.

RICH VELLANTE'S SOBA NOODLES IN VEGETABLE-SOY HOT BROTH

For the soy-mirin base (to be made in advance):
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. mirin (sweet rice wine)
3/4 t. sugar
For the noodles:
2 T. vegetable oil, preferably grapeseed
1 T. finely chopped fresh ginger
1 t. chopped fresh garlic
1 1/2 c. sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 c. broccoli florets
1/2 c. carrots, cut on the bias
1 c. snap peas
1/2 c. quartered tomatoes
2 T. soy-mirin base
5 c. vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 c. tofu, diced into 1/2-inch pieces (can substitute shrimp or chicken)
2 T. sliced scallions
1 lb. soba noodles, blanched in boiling, salted water (do not overcook)

To make the sauce: Place the soy sauce and mirin in a small saucepan. Slowly heat (do not boil). Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool and reserve.

To make the noodles: In a saute pan, heat the oil, ginger and garlic. Saute until the garlic begins to soften. Add the mushrooms, broccoli and carrots. Cook on medium heat for 1 minute. Add the snap peas, tomatoes, soy-mirin base and vegetable or chicken stock.

Once warm, add the tofu and soba noodles. Heat through, add the scallions and place in a pot. Cover and serve. Makes 2-4 servings.

Note: This was designed as a vegetarian dish. You may substitute chicken or shrimp for the tofu, if desired.

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