This Chef Works 80 Hours a Week but Still Makes Time for Healthy Eating, Daily Exercise, and Squeezing in 18 Holes of Golf

Headshot by Danny Kim. All other photos courtesy of Mike Cordero.

Welcome to Busy Bodies, where we ask busy Washingtonians how they balance health and fitness while working crazy hours, raising a family, and meeting the demands of the daily hustle. Know someone who’s killing the fitness game while getting it done (maybe it’s you)? Email 

Mike Cordero, 59, is the executive chef and owner of nine restaurants and bars in Northern Virginia, which include the likes of Barley Mac, Don Taco, and the G.O.A.T. Sports Bar. The Rosslyn resident originally played center field for the Seattle Mariners before leaving the minor leagues due to a knee injury. But even though his professional athlete days are behind him, he still prioritizes health and fitness.

On top of working 14-to 15-hour days, Cordero makes sure he always gets a workout in, eats healthy meals, and tries to fit in 18 holes of golf several times a week.

Here’s how he gets it done.

“I usually wake up between 6:30 and 7 AM. My daily routine begins with going downstairs to my [apartment building’s] gym to do a workout. My exercise routine is 45 minutes of cardio followed by strength training, so I’m usually at the gym for about an hour and 15 minutes. [That’s] followed by breakfast. Usually it will be an egg white omelette or a protein shake consisting of fruits and vegetables.”

“From there, I get on my computer to answers emails, checking on all the restaurant accounts along with social media. I am usually at work by 9 AM, where my restaurant routine will begin. I definitely put in about over 80 hours per week [at work], usually [working] seven days a week, maybe taking Sunday night off.”

“I’m usually self-motivated and keep myself accountable. I know [because of] the amount of hours I put in [via] the restaurant business, I need to have a well-oiled machine, which is my body. For me, eating healthy is easy, as I’m constantly tasting but never eating a meal. I feel this helps with my metabolism to keep the right amount of calories it needs for the day.”

“I never set out to be a chef. I think the chef life chose me. At the age of 13, I started working in [a] pizzeria two blocks away from Yankee Stadium. I had to work, coming from a poor family. From there, as time went by, I began liking and having a passion for cooking. After [becoming] a line cook at the famous Sardi’s in [New York’s] theater district, I knew I want to pursue my passion of cooking to become a chef.”

“[Becoming a chef] was definitely a tough decision. I also had another passion, which was baseball. Growing up two blocks from Yankee Stadium, you have a [dream] that one day you could become a professional baseball player. [After playing] in high school and college, I had the opportunity to play in the minor leagues for the Seattle Mariners. It taught me to be a team player, punctuality skills, and never giving up no matter what it takes to win.”

“I feel that this country is a bit obese—there’s so much junk food anywhere you go. But I feel the restaurant industry is doing a better job. There are a lot more healthy restaurants opening up that are counting calories on the menu, which is very helpful, [as well as] smaller portions.”

“Fitness and health has always been a part of my life. [Even though I’m] turning 60 right around the corner, I definitely feel that I can compete with the younger chefs, as my stamina and strength is still there.”

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.