Talking Gym, Food & Life With Executive Chef Terrence Ford

We chat gym, nutrition, and why it's all right to eat junk food (sometimes).

Kirsten Curtis |

It’s been three days at Santé Wellness, and what I’ve received is so much more than a quick-fix hot rub and glass of pool-side champagne. Just above Franschhoek and surrounded by the Hottentots-Holland mountain range, Santé’s setting could easily be placed in a 19th century romance novel.

It’s here where I’ve lived the journey of health optimisation. Santé Wellness allows the mind and body to reach optimum relaxation, through eating right, along with a host of scientifically-based therapeutic treatments.

Related: This Masterclass Will Get You Cooking Quick & Easy Muscle Meals With Bertus Basson

The wellness centre is a stunner, with its countless fireplaces, lounges and vast greenery. It was refurbished and relaunched in March, with new owners Graham and Ingrid Hindle’s genius take on wellness and health optimisation.

Note, it’s unfit if you’re looking for shiny Instagram glory. Santé Wellness is a home away from home, a place where you can kick-back, relax and switch off from all forms of technological distraction.

On arrival, I was told the retreat is dairy, sugar and gluten free, and I unnervingly opted for almond milk in my room. “I feel that when we started, you take sugar, dairy away from a chef, you take fat away from a chef, you take gluten away from a chef…you are in a situation where you think, what have I been doing all this time?” jokes Santé’s Executive Chef Terrence Ford.

Terrence chats to MH from Santé’s library, calming music can be heard in the distance and everything speaks ‘relaxation’ – from the scent of the room to the large, leather chairs we sink into.

The 34-year-old, who has already had a stellar career, caught the Hindle’s eye with his masterclass culinary skills, healthy lifestyle, and take on nutrition. According to him, the days of the fat chef are over. The Cape Town born chef was working in the popular Nottingham Road in the Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal and was homesick when he got the call to head the retreat’s restaurant called Nourish, “It was the perfect fit,” Terrence tells us.

Where It Began

Terrence’s food journey started in high school. “My mom would call me when I got home from school and say, ‘I need you to make rice’, it went to roast potatoes, then chicken,” he says. “It got to the point where I could actually cook a meal just by my mother giving me instructions over the phone.”

And his folks Brenda and Arthur were more than pleased. “They’d get home late in the evening, and by the time they got home, the meal would be ready. And that was the catalyst for getting into food and becoming a chef.”

The Importance Of Nutrition

17 years later, he’s revolutionised the way food is cooked, with almost all his ingredients grown in the gardens of Santé. Santé’s principles are straightforward: no food hormones, no pesticides, and no preservatives.

“A lot of chefs don’t understand what food really is and what it means, and what nutritional value ingredients hold,” Terrence says. With the head chef’s approach curating divine gluten, sugar, and dairy-free dishes that are made to provide the utmost nutritional value to the body.

“Ultimately, if we don’t eat, we can’t live, so we need to eat food that sustains our bodies to be able to live every day. We can’t put together a dish that doesn’t mean anything, if it doesn’t have a purpose, then at Santé we can’t serve it.”

Related: The Best Mood-Boosting, Muscle-Building Foods For All-Day Energy

Terrence had to relearn everything he was taught in culinary school. “When you become a chef they literally teach you how to cut, fry and store things. It’s a very technical base, however, this journey on how we cook has forced me to relearn.”

Finding The Right Balance

In order to win in the kitchen, Terrence has to have the right support at home, with a girlfriend who stands by his side. “She’s very supportive and understanding. It’s not easy being at work six days a week with long hours. I’m very appreciative of that and her understanding,” he says.

But for Terrence, a balanced and fulfilling life takes hard work, consistency, and making the time for those you love. “Things don’t fall on your lap – you need to make the time and effort to spend time to make those people happy, and you need to want to live a healthy life.

“You need to make the time to go to gym, make the time for when you are at work, that you’re giving 110%. And that’s hard work, it’s not something you decide to do for the fun of it,” he adds.

Work Hard, Gym Hard

Terrence applies the same principles in the gym. “Gym is a very big part of my life. Once I put my earphones in, it’s myself, the weights, the mirror – that’s where you refocus, he says. “That’s the part of the day where you get your alone time, you release stress and get rid of frustration and you literally focus.”

The chef looks the part, too, with the physique of a true weight-trainer. “When I leave gym after I’ve had a good session, all those endorphins are kicking in – I feel that I need that feel good factor. It’s two hours a day that I have completely to myself.”


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Why Junk Food Is Okay (Sometimes)

‘Do you ever eat junk food?’ I ask. “I have this thing about moderation. If you’re eating McDonald’s every single day, you’ll be okay, but that’s not good for your longevity,” he says.

“I’ve been doing a lot of studying on ageing, you understand that if you can achieve 70% of a healthy lifestyle, you’re already there. You will never be able to achieve 100%. No one can stick to a diet all their life.

“If you are dieting 70%, 7 days a week, having those guilty pleasures is the 30% that is there for you to enjoy,” he adds. “But if I have a burger, I need to understand that the mince patty is the real thing.

“But everything in life is in moderation. And that is up to the individual, so when you’re getting to those old ages, you’re not struggling with aches and pains you could have dealt with 20 years ago.”


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The Head Chef’s Advice

Terrence is too humble to talk about his illustrious career. “For me it’s more the reward of the journey,” he tells me. “It’s the reward of understanding what it’s taken to get to where I am today.

“I am healthy enough to be able to work hard and stick through the long hours to deal with chefs – we’re not the kindest people in the world. Ultimately, it’s all about having a goal and doing whatever it takes to get to that goal.”

What To Look For In A Wellness Centre

‘So what is a wellness centre really?’ I ask, Terrence laughs. “You get your spas where ladies go and have their nails done and you drink champagne. But this is a wellness retreat, when you walk in you need to feel relaxed, like this is home, and that whatever it is you do here has been planned. That lots of research has gone into it, it’s there to nourish your body, and ultimately, it’s there to relax you and make you feel good.”

Our time together has come to an end, but one thing’s for sure – I’ve never felt this good.

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