Food chat: gridiron edition

Apr. 22, 2014 @ 12:30 PM

When I was in high school, there was a story about one of the coaches, Coach P.  Another coach took a honey bun off his desk and ate it.
When Coach P found out what had happened, he picked up the thief by his shirt, held him against the wall of the office, and growled a warning.
“You can mess with my wife, you can mess with my kids, but don’t you ever touch my honey bun!”
Locally, there’s a coach who has a similar love for a particular food. I’d never mess with his family, or his team, but unless I acquired a sudden hankering for bodily harm, there is no way in the world I would ever pilfer Coach Cutcliffe’s ice cream.
The man really, really loves his ice cream.
Recently I was lucky enough to have a food chat with David Cutcliffe, the 2013 ACC Coach of the Year.
In 2005, very soon after accepting a position as an assistant at Notre Dame, Coach had a triple bypass, with a lengthy and complicated recovery.  Not only did this completely change his career trajectory, it transformed his eating habits.
We started our talk with the most important meal of the day — breakfast. In my research, I had discovered that the coach, like me, is a big oatmeal fan.
I asked how he dresses it. Turns out he’ll take it any way he can get it. Everything from unadorned rolled oats, to steel-cut with brown sugar or stevia, blueberries and nuts. 
He’s a mindful eater; he thinks about what he puts in his mouth. His favorite comfort food is spaghetti with turkey meat sauce. And as a Southern boy, he loves veggies, only now he eschews fried and pork-seasoned for healthier cooking methods.
Johnny Vaught was a coach and athletic director at Ole Miss, where Coach C was head coach from 1999-2004. Coach Vaught taught him a few things about eating. When dining at a buffet, instead of piling his plate to the rafters, Vaught made sure the amount was reasonable by leaving enough room between each item so that plate was still visible.
He was also an ice cream lover. He told Coach Cutcliffe that he ate some every night before turning in, “so I always go to bed happy”.
He was on to something; Johnny Vaught lived to the impressive age of 97.
I was curious about the diet of the Duke football players. The night before a game, the guys load up on carbs and protein; lasagna is a popular dish. On game day the menu is lighter, with proteins like chicken, and nothing that may upset tummies. During games Coach Cutcliffe makes sure his kids stay hydrated, and at halftime they’re offered power bars to keep up their strength, and minimize fatigue. 
The best cook that Coach knows is his wife, Karen. When he told me this, I laughed and told him that most of the men I’ve spoken to say the same. I wondered if it was true for them all, or just enlightened self-preservation. He had a wiser explanation. After years of eating one person’s grub, their cooking becomes your favorite. His wife also spikes each meal with love, which the coach relishes. 
When the Cutcliffes dine out in Durham, Mexican and Italian are favorite choices. He especially enjoys Los Portales (6905 Fayetteville Road) and Bocci Italian Trattoria (5850 Fayetteville Road). But even then, he puts thought into what he orders.
His guilty pleasures are chips and salsa, chocolate, and not surprisingly, ice cream (he told me he loves the fact that scientists have declared dark chocolate is good for you). His best bite ever is a chocolate pie from a restaurant in his hometown of Birmingham, a barbecue joint named Johnny Ray’s. The owner was actually his little league coach and rewards for playing well were slices of the pie. Now that is some genius motivation.
During our very enjoyable chat I learned a few things; that David Cutcliffe is an extremely nice man, that he couldn’t be any more delighted about his tenure with the Blue Devils, and to never get between him and a bowl of ice cream.
Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is