Healthy Gourmet: Straighten up and fry right

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2012, 5:20pm

I can run six marathons in six days in the Arabian Desert, and cycle thousands of kilometres along the ancient Silk Road. But after one evening of cooking for my guests at home, my back is incredibly sore.

Good posture is a critical aspect of well-being. Back and neck pains can be reduced if we learn how to stand tall, sit properly in front of the computer, and go about our everyday movements with the proper posture.

Alas, bad habits coupled with weak core muscles make us arch our back subconsciously, tilt our pelvis, roll our shoulders, and hold our head too far forward.

Inevitably, we start to feel pain and get chronic muscle strain. Sadly, in the long run, the wear and tear on our joints leads to arthritis.

Thanks to running, my posture while standing is good. But it is poor when I cook. To correct it, I invited Anna Serafinas, a former professional ballerina, to instruct me in my kitchen.

Serafinas is co-director of Flex Studio, a Pilates, yoga and fitness centre in Wong Chuk Hang.

She guides her clients towards "optimum mobility and strength". It is something she calls "intelligent movement", the ability to be in control of your body, whether you are doing strengthening exercises, playing with a newborn, or cooking.

As she watches me kneading the ravioli dough, Serafinas points out that I am leaning over it.

"Gravity is pulling your belly out, stressing your back," she says. "Try to resist gravity by drawing your abdominal muscles in."

She also notices that my worktop is too low, as it is in many kitchens in Hong Kong: "If you keep your knees straight, you will arch your back, so bend your knees to avoid it."

It takes a lot of concentration to follow Serafinas' tips on posture.

"Andrea, keep your spine natural," she repeats. The upside of putting in all this effort is that good habits do become natural.

"The more you keep good posture, the more consciously aware of it you become," Serafinas says. "Eventually, you will not think about it, and you will assume a healthy posture naturally. This is called the development of subconscious competence, and it lies at the centre of Pilates' mind-body philosophy."

Serafinas notices that my shoulders look strained when I cut the tomatoes. "When you chop and stir, be mindful of keeping the upper back straight. Do not bend over, and bring the shoulder blades down by dropping the shoulder away from you ears," she instructs.

She also notes that my back arches as I put the roast in the oven. "Bend the knees," she says. "Squat in front of the oven, keep the back straight, and engage your core."

It's recommended that we work out at least three times a week. If you have no time to go to the gym, incorporate your fitness routine into your daily activities, such as cooking. Serafinas shows me a conditioning routine I can easily follow when cooking my favourite pasta dish, a simple spaghetti with tomato sauce.


Spaghetti al pomodoro
Serves 4

300 grams spaghetti
400 grams cherry tomatoes
One garlic clove
A bunch of basil leaves Olive oil Parmesan cheese


1. Boiling hot push-ups

Put a large pot full of water on the stove. While waiting for the water to boil, do push-ups against the worktop. Step away from the stove, place your hands on the worktop, and lean forward, getting into a plank position.

Do at least 10 push-ups, or, if you are strong enough, keep going until the water reaches a rolling boil.

Throw in a handful of salt, and one minute later, add the spaghetti.

2. Carved calves

While slicing the tomatoes and garlic, rise up on your toes then lower your heels. Do it 20 times. This will work your calves.

You can also stretch the calves: step back and push your heel down to the floor.

3. Stirring squats

Put the garlic and tomatoes in a casserole dish over a low heat, with minimal oil. While stirring the sauce, work your thighs. Place your feet in line with your hips, turn your feet out, and then bend your knees, keeping your back straight. Rise up, and repeat 15 times.

4. Saucy glutes

While the sauce is simmering away, work your gluteals and hamstrings by lifting one leg at a time behind the body. Bend the knee, keep your foot flexed, and push your sole to the ceiling in little pulsing movements.

Repeat this exercise at least 20 times, making sure that your core is centred and that the sauce is not burning.

Strain the spaghetti and serve with the sauce. Add basil, and finish by sprinkling some grated parmesan generously on top.

5. Barolo biceps and triceps curls

Hold two bottles of Barolo wine in your hands. Bring your right foot forward, lift the arms up in front to shoulder height, and do 15 curls. Put your other leg forward and repeat.


Healthy gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti.