Getting To Abs

Skilled chef moonlights in the gym

Radical career shifts come naturally to chef and personal trainer Bryan Arce. His Mexican-born father started out as a race car driver, became an accountant, and then went to medical school, emerging as a gynecologist. His mom taught English, raised two sons, and became a lawyer. Not surprisingly, his folks have been been very supportive of their oldest son's vocational experiments.

Arce, now 34, majored in Latin American studies at the University of Michigan. Ten years ago, downsized out of a banking job, he migrated to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduation he found gigs abroad. While cooking in restaurants in Mexico City, Zurich, and Vienna, he kept working out and uncovered an aptitude for personal training. At the gym, guys approached him and asked for tips; when he referred them to the spindly trainer, he says, "They'd tell me, 'I don't wanna look like him; I wanna look like you.' " Thus he recruited his first clients.

Arce is athletically fit and well-developed, not pumped like a bodybuilder; he'd look right at home in the cast of a Fox teen drama. Returning to the States, he was an assistant chef in the corporate dining room of a huge D.C. law firm when another gym buddy asked for pointers.

Surfing a cultural trend that sees affluent New Yorkers increasingly averse to interacting in public spaces (like exercise classes and restaurants) and finds these people often cocooning, Arce decided to combine his interest in food with his talent for fitness. Back in New York, where a stint in commercial kitchen design evaporated after 9-11, he got hired as a trainer at Equinox and began cooking privately for bachelorette parties.

"I put a girl through 'bride boot camp.' I put my fiancée, Tracy, through boot camp. Her dentist told her she looked fantastic, and now the dentist's my client."

Bride boot camp (also available for grooms) starts a few months before the wedding day and requires two or three sessions a week. He assesses a client's fitness level and gets her moving: doing lunges, squats with rows, step-ups with a shoulder press—"things that work your muscles and get your heart rate up. Some people want to gain weight!" His clients exercise with light weights "to make their bodies work harder at natural movements.

"The more you do, the faster you see results. You start because you want to look better, and you definitely get visual results, but the grand prize is that you'll feel better, have more energy, and sleep better. The dentist has great muscle tone; she can lift her kids, chase after the bus, and not get winded. Everyday tasks are less challenging." He'll tailor a workout to aspiring athletes preparing for specific sports or events and is certified to work with women who are pregnant or trying to get back in shape after delivery.

Arce has an angst-free temperament that lowers the stress of party planning as he collaborates with clients on menus, cooks, and serves. Among his specialties are seafood (think sesame-seared salmon on a baked wonton chip, sided with cucumber salad) and roasted vegetables—lean and healthy dishes, controlled portions of starches, a Mediterranean cuisine influenced by Provençal, northern Spanish, and North African traditions. He understands the role of moderate amounts of carbohydrates in keeping people's energy high, but he'll adapt his cooking to clients' dietary needs. He hopes to develop a practice as a personal trainer and private chef for busy New Yorkers who have club memberships or gyms in their apartment buildings and are sick of eating out all the time.

"I taste every single dish I make, which is why I work out so much. The only thing I ask of clients is that they stay committed, concentrate on eating healthily, watch portion sizes, and don't go out drinking every night." He'll shop, plan meals, and cook in people's homes several nights a week, or prepare dinners in advance and drop them off.

His services don't come cheap. He targets busy executive types who don't want to think about planning meals and "can afford the luxury of having everything taken care of." For $400 plus the cost of materials, he'll produce dinner five nights a week for two people. Business is slow; the same folks who'll pay him $60 to $75 an hour to put them through athletic paces balk at $40 an hour for his food expertise. But he's standing firm. "I've worked hard in kitchens for a long time and taken a lot of shit in a lot of languages. I think the price is very fair."

Bryan Arce, 917.318.9144, chezfitness.com

 
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