Alex Mack: #AthleteAnd Chef
At first glance, anyone would be crazy to label Alex Mack as a picky eater – after all, he’s a 6-foot-4, 311-pound offensive lineman.
But during his rookie year in 2009 with the Cleveland Browns, Mack struggled to find food to his liking.
So he did what any millennial would do – he turned to the Internet.
“I started cooking my own meals by looking at YouTube and Googling what was good and bad,” Mack recalled. “I thought about getting a chef, but I think a part of me wanted to learn. And since I’m picky, I wanted control over what I eat. So, by cooking myself, I got the whole package. And I figured, if I screwed up one night, I could always do some Top Ramen."
To keep things healthy and varied, Mack signed up for vegetable box and farmers produce deliveries. Also, “Good Eats” quickly became must-see TV, as he picked up tips on what goes into cooking beyond simply following a recipe book.
Although the California native finds himself back around familiar cuisine as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, there’s no way that he’ll be retiring his chef’s hat. From turning a 50-pound bag of flour into an array of breads to periodically posting “Cooking With Alex” clips on Instagram, the six-time Pro Bowler is just as comfortable in front of the hot stove as he is with a defender barreling toward him.
What were some of your first experiences like with cooking on your own?
Like with anything when you’re first learning, there were some good moments and bad moments. Some of my first meals were things like roasted cauliflower, barbecue chicken, steak on the grill. Mostly healthy foods where I could control the portion size. Then there was the time I did beef stroganoff, and that was a two-day cook. You had to prep the roast beef beforehand. Then the next day, I took three pounds of mushrooms, cooked and blended it all together. It ended up being a lot of work, the meat was dry, and although it was good in some senses, it was not worth the effort.
What’s your go-to or signature dish?
My favorite and signature dish is rack of lamb. It seems daunting because it’s this fancy item that costs a lot of money at restaurants, so you would think it’s hard to cook. But it was actually pretty easy. My wife and I also like cooking pizza and making the dough, and we’ll do pizza nights with our friends sometimes.
How did your “Cooking With Alex” Instagram shows get started?
I find that cooking relaxes me and it’s a way for me and my wife to hang out together most nights of the week and do something fun. After a while, we figured, why not share it on social media? It’s low pressure and generally spontaneous. I’m much better at cooking than filming, so I’m glad I have her there to handle that part of it.
Have your teammates been able to taste your cooking over the years?
I had the whole offensive line over for a barbecue cookout with potato salad, and that was a fun time. We also had a pizza night for the guys in San Francisco. Then, there was one time in Cleveland when [quarterback] Colt McCoy got us green eggs and we cooked a huge pork roast that took about 20 hours to do, but it turned out well. It’s a good way to bond and connect, and of course, we all like to eat.
What’s your long-term goal or dream with cooking? Will we ever see you on MasterChef or a show like that?
[laughs] No noooo. I’m not in it for anything like that -- although I do love watching those shows. A lot of them are dessert-based, which takes so much skill and effort, and I’m more into savory foods. I don’t need to know how to make delicious donuts because that’s probably not the best thing for my football self [laughs].
I think, down the line, I’d love to be involved in the restaurant business, but I also think I know enough to know that it’s a very hard industry. I would need a lot of help to guide myself through that.
We’re not made to play football forever, so now is the time to pursue that passion of yours, do the research and branch out to see what clicks with you while you have this platform.
As someone who has clearly found his passion off the football field, why do you think it’s important for all athletes to discover those other gifts they have, even while they’re still playing professional sports?
We’re not made to play football forever, so now is the time to pursue that passion of yours, do the research and branch out to see what clicks with you while you have this platform. Cooking isn’t daunting or risky, but it has the potential to open doors for me down the line if I choose to do so while still being involved with something that I love to do. So, I’m a big proponent of not just sticking to sports and instead, always making sure you’re tapping into your whole self.