It is far too apparent that we work more than we probably should here in America and that, more often than not, we need to step back and enjoy life.
In the new Red Bull short film, The Cure All, four-time James Beard Award-nominated Pittsburgh chef Justin Severino, co-owner of critically acclaimed restaurants Cure and Morcilla, does just that. Severino and three of his best friends embark on an epic bike and culinary road trip from Pittsburgh to Asheville through the Appalachian Mountains hitting the region’s best single track trails by day and enjoying each other’s company by night, feasting on cured meats, locally-sourced vegetables, micro brews and a plethora of delicacies.
In our interview with the chef, he elaborates on the mental health benefits that a trip like this affords, expanding upon how friendship, exercise and unplugging from technology while removing himself from the daily grind help him reach his potential when he is back in it.
We can all learn a thing or two from this guy, and not just in the kitchen.
Paste Health: What was your inspiration behind the trip?
Justin Severino: Three of my best friends and I mountain bike together regularly—that usually includes packing the bikes up and going somewhere epic. We’ve been trying to take it to another level. That’s a cool thing about mountain biking, all of a sudden you have a reason to have an adventure with your friends.
It all started about five years ago when we flew to San Francisco and explored all my old stomping grounds. It was so much fun that later that year we borrowed an RV and went to Asheville, because it’s a cool city with great mountain biking in a beautiful part of the country. And I just went for it. I filled the RV up with all the food that I would want to eat throughout the week and all the beers, wine and cocktails we’d want to drink. For the Red Bull trip we stopped at trailheads that were familiar and systems that we just wanted to explore and every time we’d do that we would meet new people at a new bike shop or brewery.
PH: How does mountain biking or exercise in general help you relieve stress?
JS: For me, mountain biking or cycling has always helped relieve stress. I think exercise is the best way to deal with stress. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to exercise unless it’s something that I find fun, and I really love mountain biking. It gets me into the woods, when I spend all of my life inside a restaurant, which is pretty much the opposite of being in the woods. I just think that in general it’s important for me to deal with stress because I don’t want to be the lunatic chef—you know, the stereotype. I want to sleep at night.
I also want to have as many connections with what I do as possible.
So much of what I do as a chef is from nature, whether it’s a piece of meat from an animal or dealing with farmers to get beautiful food. Mountain biking and being in the woods keeps me in tune with what is growing in the forest. It allows me to forage things.
At the same time, a big part of it is escaping that. It helps connect me with what I do and it also helps me escape what I do. I know that at the end of my ride, I’ll be a little more clear-headed and ready to go into my next stressful day.
PH: What can a trip through nature such as this do for your psyche?
JS: It’s a nice little reset. We put ourselves in a position to have no contact with the things that stress us out in life. It’s rare that I get to push myself physically as many days in a row as I did on this trip, because I have to work. I think that there is something to that … when you are focusing on what you have to do today and tonight so that you can physically achieve what you have to tomorrow. We were not in a city with restaurants. We were in the country with no lights and a fire. As soon as the RV door shut and we pulled out of the driveway and onto the freeway, I pretty much forgot the reality of my life until I got back. I think that’s probably the most healthy, mental cleansing that I’ve been able to do for myself as an adult.
PH: Is there a mental/therapeutic benefit to cooking for your friends on a trip like this, or in general?
JS: Yeah, for sure, especially because I cook for a living. I can spend a whole week at work cooking, so when I cook for them, my friends are like, “what are you doing? You don’t have to cook for us.” But it’s kind of the reward. I cook for these people that I don’t know all week but what I love to do is cook for my friends.
PH: How is unplugging from technology on a trip like this mentally beneficial? How does it help clear your mind for when you return to the real world?
JS: One of the best benefits of mountain biking is, I’ll be trying to solve a problem or answer a question and through mountain biking I will figure it out. Exercising or being in the woods or whatever works for you to help you disconnect kind of makes you forget about all of the BS and the answers just come to you.
PH: Was there an “earn your reward” element to this trip, where the intense biking/exercise component during the day allowed for indulgence in the evening?
JS: After seven, 10 or 30 miles, yes.
PH: Outside of the obvious connection between you being a cured meat connoisseur and the title of the film, The Cure All, is there any other hidden meaning behind the title that is say, health related?
JS: It is absolutely about health. You know, pump the brakes on life and get what you need … some enjoyment out of this crazy world that is full ofhard work. That’s the cure-all.
Rich Stoner is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.