Herschel Walker, who burned up the football field as a running back and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia, can heat up the kitchen as well.
Earlier this week, Walker won “Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off” on the Food Network. As a result, he took home $50,000 for his charity of choice, Patriot Support, which provides mental health services to troops and their families.
His Southern-oriented dishes won over the judges. He beat the other finalists magician Penn Jillette, “Brady Bunch” actress Florence Henderson and singer Tiffany.
“I knew I could compete, but I didn’t know if I could compete cooking and I did,” Walker said after the win. “Sort of like when I won the Heisman Trophy, a big smile comes over your face. That is awesome!”
His victory is not surprising. The judges liked his food consistently throughout the six episodes. His biggest challenger going into the final appeared to be Tiffany, who was equally well liked for her cooking. Both Penn and Florence (hampered by a bad foot) had hiccups along the way.
“Tiffany may have been the best cook,” Walker acknowledged in a follow-up interview by phone from Dallas. “She tried some very difficult dishes.”
Walker was part of Guy Fieri’s team. His final challenge meal consisted of shrimp and grits, southern-style chicken and peach cobbler. (The peaches were in honor of Georgia, he said.) “This is restaurant quality food,” said one of the judges restaurateur Michael Psilakis. Rachael Ray loved the way he mixed the flavors and ingredients. They also gave him a break for using canned peaches.
Fieri told him to stay true to his roots and also spend more time tasting his food while he’s cooking, something he said he wasn’t wont to do prior to the competition. “I don’t really eat that much,’ he said. But at the same time, he said he is very particular and detail oriented so that simple piece of advice helped him.
Curiously, Walker said he has generally avoided watching any of the episodes because he tends to hone in on things he does wrong. But he is glad to hear that he came off well.
His success has inspired him to possibly pitch a future Food Network show focused on Southern cooking and starring him, of course. “Everyone loves Southern food,” he said.
Walker said he’d love to add competitor Vanilla Ice’s tofu wings on the menu though I said I doubted anyone would order it. “I thought tofu tasted like a sponge but Ice made it so tasty!” (Vanilla Ice is vegetarian.)
I also asked him a couple of football-related questions:
On the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl: “Seattle played an incredible game. I’m so proud of [QB]] Russell Wilson. The Broncos never got on track. I think if they had simply gone for the field goal before halftime instead of the fourth down, they’d at least go into the locker room with something on the board.”
On Michael Sam revealing he’s gay before the NFL draft: “I was crucified when I revealed I had dissociative personality disorder. I understand keeping something inside can tear you up. It will be difficult for him for awhile. He’s very brave to come out. People will disagree with him. It’s a man’s man of a sport. At the same time, I’m proud of him. I looked at tapes of him playing before he came out to his teammates. He wasn’t playing as loose or as quick as he was afterwards.”