Power meals: Seahawks chef plays key role in team’s success
Seahawks chef Mac McNabb makes massive meals that are healthful, tasty and filling, while working in what the Bellevue native says is his dream job.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When Seahawks chef Mac McNabb says he needs eggs, he means it — 60 dozen a week, at least, “just to get by.” On a recent morning alone, he went through five gallons of whipped eggs for omelets, not counting the 15 dozen he had to crack fresh, to fill other breakfast requests.
At the Seahawks practice facility in Renton on a Friday, the chef stood by the omelet station as the players trickled in, many grabbing the local sports section to see what’s been written about them, or USA Today to see what’s been written about other teams.
The affable Russell Okung, the 6-5, 310-pound left tackle, came rumbling in for a burrito that, in his mitt, looked to be the size of an egg roll. “Gourmet, luxurious stuff,” said Okung as he headed back to the offensive-team meeting with a tortilla stuffed with organic veggies, organic sausage and free-range eggs.
Guard J.R. Sweezy ordered his usual nine egg-white omelet, this time with chicken sausage, mushroom, onion and cheddar, topped with a dollop of salsa.
Tight end Luke Willson also grabbed a man-sized burrito.
Nearby was quarterback Russell Wilson, usually the earliest player at the facility at 6 a.m. A day after losing to the Cardinals, Wilson showed up at 4:30 a.m.
Still, he wasn’t the first in. McNabb was already making breakfast by then. In fact, the Seahawks chef is in the kitchen at 4 a.m., six days a week.
On this morning, while most players were still sleeping, he smoked a 24-pound turkey, made gallons of smoothies, baked organic blueberry scones and endless trays of bacon and organic chorizo. He set up the omelet station.
Along with the endless cartons of fresh eggs, the team goes through 50 pounds of fish and 60 pounds of beef every week.
If you’re a chicken, you definitely want to be with the lot that the Seahawks bought because you eat better than other poultry. You get an organic diet and leftovers from the players’ fresh-fruit buffet. You get to roam around a farm in Olympia until you go to that raccoon-free nirvana in the sky.
McNabb, a Bellevue native, said working for the team he rooted for growing up is a dream job.
“It’s not like working in (the kitchen of) a restaurant or hotel,” he explained.
McNabb doesn’t worry about pricing a salmon entree and profit margins. It’s all organic and premium meat — grass-fed beef, free-range chicken — and few if any genetically modified foods. And he doesn’t have to worry about expiration dates: The food is consumed too quickly.
He does, however, need to memorize every player‘s allergies, diet needs and special requests. No cook wants to be the one who puts a player on the injury report with a food incident.
“I don’t know how he keeps it all in his head,” said defensive line coach Travis Jones.
A 1975 Bellevue High grad, McNabb has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 14. After high school, he hitchhiked with a buddy to California — to pick apples and do other odd jobs — before working in the kitchens at restaurants and hotels nearby and in the San Juan Islands.
Then, he landed the gig of a lifetime.
“My dad told me being a pest will help you get the job,” the Kirkland resident said. “I was a pest.”
Like a hungry free agent, McNabb hectored the top brass for a shot. For years. Then one spring, for the NFL draft, the catering company that was contracted to feed the coaches and scouts didn’t call back.
You’re up, kid.
McNabb still remembers the first words, the only words, then-head coach Chuck Knox ever said to him. “ ‘Those were the best damn eggs I ever had.’ ”
He took over the team’s catering gig after that and eventually landed his dream job in 2001 after the previous team chef left.
With the help of four other cooks including his son Stuart, McNabb on a busy day makes 150 breakfasts and 250 lunches for the team, including the equipment crew. He serves salmon teriyaki, smoked briskets and what may be the most decadent gumbo in the city, brimming with medallion-size scallops, cod, salmon, mussels, clams — all fresh or wild caught — along with andouille sausage.
“My personal favorite is the turkey burgers. Nobody does them like Mac,” said Seahawks tackle Breno Giacomini.
After the late practice, players leave, but McNabb stays to cook for head coach Pete Carroll and the rest of his coaching staff, who work well past midnight, especially during the playoffs.
If McNabb is not feeding the coaches pistachio-crusted Ono fish, he’s bringing in a sushi chef to do a spread. Or ordering from L&L Hawaiian BBQ in Renton, a favorite of the coaches.
(The favorite for many players is chicken from Popeyes, which the team gets on Friday when lunch is catered.)
The Seahawks cafeteria has a panoramic view of Lake Washington. It looks like the beverage aisle of a convenience store with rows of water, V-8 juices and yogurts.
Snacks are jerkys and granola bars stacked in plastic bins labeled “buffalo,” “turkey” and “honey sunflower seeds.”
No sodas or junk food, but there are fresh-baked cookies on Thursdays.
No deep-fried food made in the kitchen. Even French fries are baked.
But even left to their own devices, most players eat healthier now, McNabb said.
For post-practice, when McNabb puts out a pasta station, many players will shun a carb-loaded meal for something lighter.
The days of seeing players like former defensive tackle Chad Eaton eat three, 22-ounce porterhouse steaks in one sitting are few and far between.
Take safety Kam Chancellor. At a recent breakfast, sporting a red Air Jordan hoodie and headphones, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound defender strolled in at 7:30, skipping the eggs and bacon for a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar.
And quarterback Wilson had the most sensible (though maybe not the most appetizing) breakfast of the bunch. He grabbed a modest bowl of steel-cut oats, the portion size more fitting for a runway model. He then took a bowl of grapes and headed to the film room instead of mingling with teammates. He circled back later to request one fried duck egg.
“He’s really low maintenance,” said one of the line cooks. “He’s just a simple, healthy, lean eater.”
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle