A Runner’s Dream Job: Interview With Brooks Corporate Chef

Chef

What’s even bet­ter than being a run­ner? Being a run­ner who knows how to cook. Now, take that up a notch and con­sid­er being a marathon­er and trained chef who cre­ates menus and cooks for a major run­ning shoe com­pa­ny. Dreamy, eh? That’s exact­ly what Con­ni Zuck-Brownell, Cor­po­rate Chef at Brooks, gets to do.

Audra Run­dle:Let’s start with run­ning. What is your sto­ry?
How did you get start­ed as a run­ner?
Con­ni Zuck-Brownell: My very first race was the Port­land Marathon 2008 with Team in Train­ing. I ran in hon­or of Amber­ly Tag­gertt who was diag­nosed with Leukemia at age 2 ½. After a long fight that includ­ed hav­ing to go through a sec­ond round of treat­ment at age 7, she sur­vived and is now 19 and doing well.

AR: What a phe­nom­e­nal rea­son to start run­ning! So what came first then—chefing or run­ning? Can you tell me a bit about your culi­nary back­ground?
CZB: I have always loved to cook but didn’t real­ly know how, so in 2001 I enrolled in the Culi­nary Arts Pro­gram at the Art Insti­tute of Seat­tle. While in the pro­gram I got the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work at Rover’s [A high-end French restau­rant in Seat­tle that closed in 2013]. It was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence, I learned a ton. After I grad­u­at­ed (with hon­ors) I start­ed my own busi­ness, The Charmed Radish Per­son­al Chef Ser­vice. I loved work­ing for myself and again learned a ton but there are draw­backs to being your own boss.

AR: Most peo­ple don’t asso­ciate chefs with run­ning (remem­ber the adage, “nev­er trust a skin­ny chef!”) — How did you end up at Brooks?
CZB: I run so I can eat! I also think run­ning and eat­ing must go hand in hand, if you aren’t fueled prop­er­ly you can’t per­form at your best. I end­ed up at Brooks by sim­ply answer­ing a Craigslist ad. I was also lucky to have two good friends who worked for here at the time and both put a good word in for me.Lasagna

AR: What is the size of the staff you cook for, and which meals do you offer (break­fast, lunch, and din­ner, snacks, etc.)?
CZB: I serve about 60 peo­ple lunch 5 days a week. Lunch offer­ings include a sal­ad bar, soup, sand­wich fix­ings and a lunch spe­cial that can be any­thing from grilled chick­en spinach sal­ad to chick­en enchi­ladas or veg­gie lasagna. I also make a huge pot of oat­meal in the morn­ings and serve along with lots of top­pings. They love it!

AR: What is it like cook­ing for a staff of run­ners? I’m assum­ing the options are on the health­i­er side of life, but let’s face it, we’re talk­ing Seat­tle where alter­na­tive diets (veg­e­tar­i­an, vegan,pescetarian, gluten-free, paleo, etc.) are prevalent—how do you accom­mo­date all that?
CZB: I think run­ners are easy to please; they like healthy but they also know they ran that day, or will run that day, so they have no guilt about lov­ing a slop­py joe once in a while. I always try and have gluten free and a veg­e­tar­i­an offer­ing; yes, it takes a lit­tle extra time but those with dietary restric­tions are always super grateful.

AR: One of the biggest chal­lenge busi­ness pro­fes­sion­als face in their run­ning is find­ing the time to fit train­ing in—how do you fit your train­ing into your sched­ule?
CZB: I like to put on my run­ning stuff before I leave the office, then I have one less excuse when I get home. At Brooks you don’t have to wor­ry about look­ing unpro­fes­sion­al while walk­ing around in run­ning shorts or even sweaty—you fit right in.

AR: Would you say chef­ing has made you a bet­ter run­ner, or run­ning has made you a bet­ter chef?
CZB: Being a chef came before the run­ning, so I have to say run­ning helped me be a bet­ter chef. I have come to think of food as fuel, I still want it to taste good and be great qual­i­ty but now I’m more aware of what I’m eat­ing and when I’m eating.

AR: In your opin­ion, what is the most per­fect food for run­ning?
CZB: Gra­nola and bananas a few hours before a long run and an orange right before any run.

AR: Deli­cious! Man, I love run­ning and the foods it encour­ages us to eat. Okay, one last ques­tion: What is your pre­ferred run­ning shoe—am I bold to assume it’s a Brooks?
CZB: I’m an [Brooks] Adren­a­line girl but I’m dig­ging the new [Brooks] Tran­scends.

AR: Nice! I must admit, I’m a Brooks Adren­a­line girl myself. Well, thank you so much for tak­ing the time to chat with me Con­ni. It’s encour­ag­ing to know the per­son feed­ing those respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing our next run­ning shoe is a run­ner herself.

By Audra Run­dle