Glynn Purnell was piling on the pounds at his acclaimed new restaurant, says Jane Tyler, but now he’s a lean, mean fighting machine.
There is an old saying about never trusting a slim chef. But Birmingham’s Glynn Purnell is proof that old sayings are not always right.
Glynn, who owns the much-lauded Purnell’s in Cornwall Street in the city centre, has a trim athletic frame.
To use a kitchen analogy, if he were a piece of meat he would be a healthy breast of chicken rather than a pork belly.
Chefs are one of those professions – such as working in a cake shop or at Cadbury’s – where you could so easily pile on the pounds.
Yet Glynn has actually slimmed down since opening Purnell’s last summer. And the look is thanks to a little-known gym tucked away in a side street in the Jewellery Quarter.
Fighting Fit City Gym in Lionel Street has transformed the 33-year-old’s physique. He has lost a stone, dropped a clothes size and next spring will take part in a charity “white collar” boxing match.
Fighting Fit owner, Neil Perkins, opened the gym in February and already has 240 members with more expected to join after Christmas, when the impact of the festivities show on waistbands.
Neil, along with his six staff, are former or current boxers and all of the training the gym offers is centred around the sport. There is a boxing ring, a variety of punch bags and all the equipment boxers need such as free weights, swiss balls, skipping ropes, benches and mats. There are also over 20 boxing circuit classes a week which are open to non members.
Neil, aged 27, said the majority of its members were professionals from companies and organisations including the fire and police service, and city firms KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCooper, Eversheds, Wraggs and Kerrang Radio.
Surprisingly for a boxing gym, 30 per cent of its members are female – a group it is keen to increase.
Father -of-two Glynn said Fighting Fit had changed his life since he joined five months ago.
“Since opening my restaurant I’d put weight on and wasn’t happy about it,” said Glynn, who won a Michelin star when he ran the kitchen at Jessica’s in Edgbaston and is being tipped to win a star at his new venue when the guide is published in the New Year.
“But one day I was walking past Fighting Fit and thought, that looks interesting, came in and have been hooked ever since.”
He joined and was allocated a trainer Wayne Evans who twice a week puts him through his paces.
“Each session’s different – I could be in the boxing ring, on the bags, skipping or just doing a circuit,” said Glynn, whose signature dishes include the starter of poached egg yolk, smoked haddock milk foam, cornflakes and curry oil.
“I do it for about 45 minutes and try to fit it in the morning before I go to work.”
As well as fitness, staff are also trained in nutrition and had the unenviable task advising top chef Glynn on food.
“My diet wasn’t very good because I was eating the equivalent of a full tasting menu every day,” he said.
“Because I was always on the go I didn’t have time to eat a proper meal, plus I was picking at food, sampling it – a very unhealthy way of living.”
Breakfast is now porridge with water and a scoop of protein, for lunch he has oily fish with a jacket potato, in the afternoon he will have more protein scoops or fruit, and for dinner it is a lean piece of meat with pasta.
All of which is very different from the quirky modern food he serves at his restaurant and which won plaudits on the BBC2 television series The Great British Menu, in which he was one of the winners.
He eats five to six times a day, has cut down on sugar, fat and wheat and now only has one cup of tea compared to the 15 he used to have.
“I feel fantastic and am going on holiday to Portugal and for the first time won’t be conscious of my fat belly hanging over my shorts,” said Glynn, who was born and raised on Chelmsley Wood and went on to work at Simpson’s in Edgbaston and Hibiscus in Ludlow before branching out on his own.
Here’s one lean chef who breaks the rules.