Chef Dan Churchill uses food as a way to inspire people to live the best life possible. He has a Masters in Exercise Science and was a strength and conditioning coach before switching his focus to nutrition. His recipe for success, whether he’s training for an ultramarathon or developing an actual recipe for his new cookbook, Eat Like a Legend or his Brooklyn restaurant, The Osprey, is simple: “Get the reps in.”

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That may just sound like advice for strength training, but, Dan says, “I think there’s athletic principles you can apply to everything you do.  Cooking is something that a lot of people are intimidated by. And more often than not, we’ve done one recipe and we’ve screwed it up and so therefore they never want to do it again. But if you’ve run a 5K before, you probably had to run a kilometer first. And that wasn’t the best kilometer you ran the first time around. Same with if you’re trying to run a marathon, if you are trying to run an ultra, did you run up to race day and be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to run 42 kilometers’? No, you put the reps in, you did the work, you trained, you recovered, you had feedback both mentally and physically.

“And so when I translate that to the kitchen with my team, or to principles in this book, it’s you set the task of working towards a goal. That’s what running does. So in this sense, if you’re going to improve your health and put yourself first, you can’t just give up the first time you do something because you’re never going to get forward. You didn’t learn from the mistakes.”

He believes that making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process. “A lot of my principles in coaching and teaching in the kitchen is to throw them into the fire. So I give them a task. I give them a decent brief, but I don’t show them a lot of the time. I just expect them to have a go. And the reason why is, I don’t expect them to get it done correctly. I expect them to fail so that they can learn from their mistakes and become even greater than if I was to coach them through that first bit. 

“If I jump in and try to take control of the situation, they’re not gonna learn. And cooking is a very visual field. It’s not in any way intellectually written down. You have to do it. You have to get the reps in. And so if I can be there to help them get the reps in, and just oversee them, make sure they don’t chop their fingers off, then hey, I’m doing my job.”

With Eat Like a Legend, Dan wants to teach people that you don’t have to be a pro athlete yourself to eat like one. “I’m trying to make sure people realize to eat specifically for themselves within the recipes of this book. We’ve got recipes around gut health. We’ve got recipes around plant-based eating, around omnivorous eating, but more pertaining to the time. It’s more about timing than anything. I want people to eat like their best selves and realize their true performance through food. So I came up with the idea of eating like a legend.”

He knows that many people struggle with doing what it takes to be their best self. “But if you look at your life, and if you look back on what you may regret, do you wanna regret not being at your fullest energy for the prime years of your life because you held back on putting the personal investment in? I always say the biggest issue is that their head space is, ‘I’m not willing to put myself first.’ 

“So when people don’t eat properly, it generally means they don’t work out to their absolute best because they’re not eating the right foods to look after themselves. And then in turn, they’re not able to show up for their loved ones, for their friends. They’re not sleeping properly, which in turn means they’re not working properly, which means they’re not looking after themselves, because they’re not getting that promotion they want. It’s a cycle thing. 

“It’s all well and good for me to sit here and say all this stuff, because everybody’s got their own different intrinsic motivator. And I think it’s so important for us to specifically look at each other bio-individually and find what it is that intrinsically motivates us. And from that, that’s where we can start. Be okay with failing, welcome the opportunity with it, but the biggest principle is put yourself first. It’s not a selfish thing; it’s a selfless thing.”

Last year, Dan experienced a failure himself, when he was forced to drop out of the Leadville 100, a race that was going exceptionally well until he tore a ligament. But as he advises others, he’s learned from it. “I really did feel like this was something that I was destined to accomplish and still am. It’s something that I envisioned, I can feel, I can see. And it’s really easy for me to say that it was just bad luck and the injury took place. I was like, ‘I am two hours ahead of the time I wanted to be. I got my mates around me. I’m feeling like one of the seven dwarves, singing Heigh-Ho. I’m in good spirits; I’m feeling great.”

As he ascended Hope Pass, the hardest part of the course, he got to a flat section and decided to pick up the pace. “And unfortunately for me, I put my foot on the only rock on the entire flat part of that track, roll my ankle, and do a grade two ATFL tear of that ligament. Now, you can say this is bad luck, you know, you rolled your ankle. But if you actually think about it, there were a lot of things that I could have avoided for that to happen. Yet what was it that didn’t make me avoid it?  I can only think of it as mental fatigue. I was not cognitively alert enough to avoid the one rock on this path. That’s so important for me to recognize that despite feeling great, I was mentally fatigued. And so I’ve got to be more aware of that next time.”

There definitely will be a next time at Leadville for Dan. Three months after his injury, he ran the New York City Marathon. “As soon as I got back,” he says, “it was just rehab, recovery, day in and day out. I was back running in six weeks and that is unheard of with a grade two ATFL tear. The guy who looked over my MRI was like, ‘What the f***?’  And he’s like, ‘Do it; keep going.’ It showed me what dedication does. And I’ve always known that. If I put my mind to something, I’m able to achieve. I’m gonna tackle Leadville with even more direction this year, which is really exciting.”


Dan’s website

Dan’s Instagram

Dan’s TikTok

Dan’s podcast, The Epic Table

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