Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is known for his "feed Zeke" theme on and off the field. We found the man who actually puts food on Zeke's table. Manwell McLean, who goes by Chef Hoppie, has had a passion for cooking since he was a kid.
"It started when I was about 12. My mom taught me how to make this 7up pound cake. So then I started baking it and taking it to football practice, school and church or whatever. People kept asking 'Could you make us cookies, can you make us pies?' So I started my baking business when I was 12," Chef Hoppie said.
The goal was never to be a full time baker, though.
"Baking was my foot in the door. A lot of people wouldn’t trust a kid with their food, but they would trust them with baking. So I used that to stay in my lane and stay in my path," Chef Hoppie said. "Then when I went to culinary school when I was about 12 or 14, that was kind of how everything molded together."
It was at that same time, he landed his first catering job, with a big name in football.
"Deion Sanders gave me my first job. I played for his football team Truth at 12. He gave me my first catering job at 13 and he has been a mentor ever since. I am his personal chef right now," Chef Hoppie said.
Truth is Deion Sanders' nonprofit football league. They aim to keep kids engaged in sports and off of the streets.
Chef Hoppie always had a clear goal.
"This is my passion. I started my brand, Chef Hoppie, when I was like 14," he said. "I knew that football wasn’t it for me. But I wanted to show people that you can live the lifestyle by just following your dream and turning it into your passion."
Dreaming big has paid off. He’s now providing personal meals for several professional athletes and entertainers.
"Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Leonard Fourtnette... comedian Desi Banks," Chef Hoppie said. "All of the Cowboys know who I am. Whenever they need a chef or something catered, they call."
While he has celebrity clients, he has other clients as well. People who just want to eat right, but just don’t have the time or the skills to make it work. Chef Hoppie gave us a few tips on eating healthy, but still making it taste good.
"A lot of people love shrimp and grits. So for instance, you can use steel cut oats. Make them savory instead of sweet. Instead of rice, you can use cauliflower rice. A lot of the food you love, you can still eat it, you just have to eat the right portions. A lot of people also think that to eat healthy, you can’t use any seasoning. You can use seasoning! Not a pound of salt or anything, but use some seasoning," Chef Hoppie explained.
Now let’s go back to why he’s called Chef Hoppie.
"When I was playing for Coach Deion, we were going to Florida for a tournament and I had fractured my ankle," he said. "That’s when I got the name Hoppie. So when they found out that I could cook, they started calling me Chef Hoppie."
The rest, in this case, is sweet and savory history.