8 top chefs on how they crush their morning routines

Though we all watch food shows and often think how magical it looks to be a chef, the reality is the food industry is a tough one. Top chefs work long hours, holidays and often put their bodies to the limit. Plus, some of their job is literally putting out fires.

This is why a solid morning routine can serve as the recipe for a more productive day. To find out the secret sauce getting up with (or before) the sun, we caught up with eight Chefs — all of whom are attending and showcasing their expertise at this year’s Charleston Wine and Food Festival (March 4-8.)

Between (multiple) cups of coffee, catching up on the news, taking a walk or chugging water, each chef has their own special morning routine.

Read on to uncover how these talented individuals choose to spend their first few hours out of bed.

Nicholas “Nick” Dowling, Co-Owner & Operator/Chief Good Morning Specialist at Daps Breakfast & Imbibe in Charleston, SC

“Owning a Breakfast spot, my morning routine is different than most, as what I do is help others get their day started. I generally wake around 5 a.m., drink a full glass of water, and then quickly try to catch up with any and all news from Political to Sports to Scientific to Social so I have some idea of what’s happening in the world. I then dress for the day and take my 14-year-old German Shepherd Trucker out for his ‘morning routine’ before heading off to work. All the while, I’m trying to not wake up my wife and two little girls. Depending on the day, I either set up the shop for business or walk-in by 8 a.m. to get things going. Ironically, I am not a big morning eater so a large glass of Cold Brew, light ice, black, is all I need to fully start my mornings.”

Jeremiah Schenzel, Co-owner & Operator/Bacon & Egg Ninja at Daps Breakfast & Imbibe in Charleston, SC

“My alarm buzzes me awake around 5:40 a.m., and depending on if one of my five children has been during the night, I either pop out of bed or hit the snooze button a few times. I always am to be up by 6 a.m. so I can take my dog for a walk and get a pot of tea or coffee going for my wife and I. If I’m running on the earlier side, I will try and get some stretching and deep breathing in. By 6:30 a.m., my house is buzzing and depending on the day, I’m either walking into work or getting my oldest daughters ready for school. I will walk with them before heading into the shop for the day.”

Kristen Kish, Executive Chef & Partner at Arlo Grey in Austin, TX

“My schedule is all over the place. When I don’t have an obscenely early flight, my morning usually starts with my eyes opening between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., When I wake up, I immediately check emails from bed. I know it’s not good to do this, but it is necessary at this point in my life. I stand up begrudgingly. I drink at least a pint to three of water, preferably cold. Next up: caffeine. When I’m at home it’s Nespresso long black with a splash of oat milk, and in an hour I’ve had 2-3 pods worth. At hotels, I usually opt for a small pot of in-room dining with whole milk or oat if they have it. I guess water and coffee are my only routine in life, a necessity of sorts whether the day holds computer work from home, restaurant, gym, or an airplane. I can’t eat and have no appetite until 11 a.m. or noon.”

Joy Wilson a.k.a. Joy The Baker, at The Bake House in New Orleans, LA

“I wake up at 5:30 a.m. in the morning and make myself a turmeric ginger tea. I go to yoga at 6:30 a.m. After, I walk to Congregation Coffee and treat myself to a cafe au lait. Once back home, I listen to The Daily podcast while I shower. I have a second cup of coffee while I make my breakfast, check my emails and get into the day.”

Cheryl Day, Co-owner & Head Baker at Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, GA

“I wake up at 3 a.m., and I immediately check my phone for the closing summary from my general manager and employee updates. This is followed by a long hot shower. I arrive at the bakery just before 4 a.m. with my husband and business partner. I start making our Morning Buns and Biscuits while my husband hands me an iced coffee — which I really appreciate. I do my best thinking when I am creating beautiful and thoughtful work with my hands.  At 5:30 a.m., I turn on music: one of my Biscuit making playlists. There’s a steady pace of baking until we open at 8 am,  8:30 a.m., I do some product testing — a.k.a my breakfast break — and enjoy my second coffee. I love the mornings because everything is still possible.”

Greer Gilchrist, Chef & Baker at Harken Cafe & Bakery and The Harbinger Cafe & Bakery in Charleston, SC

“I love the morning because I’m most productive, but I’m not ever excited about waking up to an alarm and leaving my cozy bed. Once I’m up, between 5:30 a.m and 7 a.m. — depending on the days’ schedule — I bike to either The Harbinger or Harken. As soon as I get to work, I drink 32 oz of water. All-day, I know I won’t be getting enough water so I force myself to start the day with it. Once the water is done, I get to have my first cup of coffee. This is my favorite moment and honestly what gets me out of bed and through my bike ride. While I nurse the coffee, I go through my emails, check-in on the staff, write recipes, make a to-do list and just organize my day. This can take most of the morning, or, if I’m on shift: I wrap it up quickly and go bake and cook the day away with my team.”

Rodney Scott, Pitmaster at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston, SC, and Birmingham, AL

“Ever since I was a teenager, my morning routine was to finish up the smoking process — that took all night — and make sure the pigs at my family’s restaurant, Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, SC, we’re ready to be served. Now that I live in Charleston and have my own restaurant, I still do a lot of that but also have a talented staff that helps me do the work. Now my mornings typically start with me catching the morning news and taking a long walk around the small lake that is in my neighborhood. Not only does the exercise help me limber up for a day of work at the restaurant and the traveling that I do for the company, but it helps me really focus. Even though I love music and have it playing in my truck and in the restaurant constantly, I walk with no music — only me and nature and the sounds of the neighborhood. It helps me collect myself and prepare for the world. Some mornings I drive my son to school, and then I like to eat breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast before heading to my restaurant to work the rest of the day.”

Amy Mills, Owner of 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro, IL

I hit the snooze button a few times before rolling out of bed at 6:30 a.m. I took email off my phone, so my morning is very peaceful. I make a huge Bulletproof coffee with unsalted butter, Brain Octane Oil, and a bit of protein powder. Three days a week, I leave the house at 7 a.m. and pick up my best friend, with whom I share a training session at a local gym. After the gym, I have more coffee and write in my Five-Minute Journal. That’s been a game-changer for me. I’m always listening to a podcast while getting ready and while driving. Current favorites are Akimbo, Boston Public Radio, Are You For Real, and Coaching for Leaders. It’s brain food! After a quick shower and make-up routine, I head to the restaurant.”