Normally noon is one of the busiest times in RIS chef-owner Ris Lacoste’s day as she deals with the onslaught of the lunch rush. But on a warm, sunny Wednesday in early February, she took off her toque and stepped out of the kitchen. A couple dozen people dressed in business attire, but wearing sneakers, were waiting for her in restaurant’s foyer. For the next hour, Lacoste would take a break from cooking to lead them on three-mile hike through Georgetown as part of her new RIS Walk 60 program.
As the procession heads down M Street past cupcakeries and ice cream shops, the chef talks about the personal crises that inspired this initiative. Her mother passed away in 2010 from heart disease and Lacoste could see herself heading down a similar path. “I’ve battled weight my whole life,” she says. “I lose 20 pounds, then I gain 30. I’m on the classic rollercoaster.”
Her demanding schedule at RIS left her little time in the day to devote to working out, so she began thinking about ways she could inspire herself to exercise. “We in the restaurant business give out 24 hours a day,” she says. “I have a difficult time doing things for myself.” She realized that if she involved other people in her venture, it might inspire her to stay focused on her goal of getting fitter.
Working with some friends, she designed a quintet of three-mile walks. “They’ll let me see the seasonal changes in different places around town,” she says. “Plus, I’ll be able to gauge my progress as I watch my performance going over familiar ground.”
But who’s holding down the kitchen during the midday mayhem? “Luckily, I have a great staff,” says Lacoste. “They cover for me and they’re very supportive.”
To dovetail with the heart healthy exercise routine, the restaurant is offering a $25 three-course I Heart Lunch special for the month of February. The deal includes lighter fare, such as Swiss chard and leek ravioli with peppers, goat cheese and walnut orange pesto, and mustard-crusted salmon accompanied with lentils, spinach, roasted mushrooms and a drizzle of red wine reduction.
These walks aren’t just to help Lacoste trim down. She is raising money for the George Washington Women’s Heart Center by asking her fellow walkers to donate $1 for every mile that they trek with her. The goal is to raise $25,000 by the end of the year. “This group helps me attain my personal goals and help others,” she admits as we head up 31st Street. “Pride and responsibility will make me do it every day.”
The chef-turned-coach will lead walks from the restaurant Monday through Friday starting at noon, except when there’s inclement weather. Get updates on the treks by following the restaurant’s Twitter feed, friending them on Facebook or by going to their website.