Local private chef Paul Payne loves what he does, but knows cooking for professional athletes is just as much of a responsibility as it is fun.
“Their career is in my hands on how their body performs,” says Payne. “I’m going to try to do my best to get you what you need. If you follow me and do what you’ve got to do at the gym and at practice, I feel like it’s a winning situation.”
In just a few short years, Payne has gone from being a student at the Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge to the preferred chef of many local athletes and entertainers. He’s honed his skills in the kitchen cooking for “A-list” celebrities like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who’s possibly the most detail-oriented and diligent movie star around when it comes to nutrition.
“I cooked for him for about seven months while he was filming G.I. Joe down here,” says Payne. “You really have to be on your toes with him. I had to weigh and measure the food out literally.”
But it’s not just the silver screen. Payne’s local clients include local pros like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro and Pelicans stars Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans.
“When I first got to New Orleans, I didn’t really cook for myself,” says Vaccaro. “It’s really convenient to come home from practice every day and have a meal prepped, and a healthy meal at that.”
We’ve already seen the benefits, especially with Gordon. He’s averaging 19 points per game, the most since he joined the Pelicans since 2011.
“Eating right is the key,” says Gordon. “Everybody says it’s 80 percent, and it’s true. With me, it’s all about getting to a weight level and maintaining that weight level. He gives me a chance to play at a high (level of) performance.”
“I got with Eric the second half of the season after the All-Star break,” says Payne. “That was my first time cooking for him. Next thing you know, I don’t want to say it’s all me, but he finished off with a pretty damn good year.”
Payne’s learned to provide professional athletes with the proper foods to meet their strict goals while not sacrificing the flavor. His meal of lamb chops, sweet potato mash and broccoli has become a favorite.
“His lamb chops are off the chain,” says Gordon. “You can’t pass that.”
“I eat lamb lollipops every week,” says Vaccaro. “That’s what makes having a chef worth it. It’s not just eating the chicken breast and salads every day. There’s a variety of things you can eat.”
Of course, it’s not just weight loss, but also recovery and adding good weight when necessary, as well.
“I can remember one time he (Kenny) came back and dropped so much weight and was like, ‘Man, I need to get back up to 225,’” says Payne.
“I can really feel it with my energy every day,” says Vaccaro. “At practice, if I didn’t eat as good the night before, I can feel it. I think it helps with recovery when you eat well and just overall performance.”
Payne says the smallest details of nutrition can make a huge difference. Just as you’d expect with a successful team, in order to create the winning recipe for his clients, he says there has to be a high level of trust.
“I try to tell these athletes if you’re making money off your body, why not invest in a chef that knows what he’s doing and will cook you the certain things to improve your body?” says Payne.
“When you’re around 27, 28 and getting up to 30, with all of the years of pounding you put on your body, things start to change,” says Gordon. “You’ve got to start doing the little things to get your body right as far as eating and stretching and doing all of the little things that you need to help you for the long haul.”
As for Payne's long haul, he’s just living in the moment.
“I love what I’m doing,” he says. “I love all of my clients. They’re really behind me. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I’m just blessed to be where I’m at in this day.”
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