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.
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.