Eight years ago, Darian Bryan didn't know what a pancake was, and he had never even seen bacon before.
Don't get it twisted -- the Jamaica native was a talented chef when he immigrated to Buffalo in 2012, but he was unfamiliar with many American foods, including breakfast staples. Flash-forward to 2020 and Bryan is a personal chef to Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs and cooks regularly for several other Buffalo players, all while running his own business as a pop-up restaurateur, private chef and caterer.
The 28-year-old has traveled the country catering private events for players, who fly him out for the weekend to experience his unique, Jamaican-American-fusion cuisine. He has literally come a long way from his childhood days of scaling fish in the back of his mother's kitchen in Clarendon, Jamaica.
But his journey to where he's at and the work ethic he has displayed earned him respect in his industry, and the fact that he's a young, Black professional has made him relatable to many of the players.
"He's a personal chef doing what he loves," Bills receiver Gabriel Davis said. "The way our mindsets are toward football, he's the same way toward cooking, and that's why he's successful."
'This is a pancake'
In Clarendon, Bryan would scale fish, peel potatoes and do other prep work while his mother prepared the main course and entertained guests. He spent the time longing for a more visible role -- and got one when his mother moved to southern California to live with one of his five sisters.
In her stead, Bryan took over his mother's duties and quickly became captivated by the experience.
"I was like, 'Man! I like this -- I like this a whole lot,'" he said. "I could see the joy that food brings, especially my grandparents. My grandmother, she couldn't see, but you could see the reaction in her face. I just love the way food makes people happy and food brings people together. I'm all about family and love, and food is love."
When he moved to the United States, Bryan had the option of following his mother and sister to Southern California. Instead, he decided to join his sister Sherece in Buffalo, figuring the snowy climate would be an interesting new experience. He enrolled in a culinary arts program at Erie Community College and studied hospitality and restaurant management at Buffalo State, developing and even teaching a menu at ECC.
That's where he learned the finer points of being a restaurateur. He learned the basics of American food at his first job in the States -- cooking at Denny's.
"I worked at Denny's for two years, that's where I learned food, like, 'OK, this is a pancake,'" he said. "They put me on the line to work, and it was just a struggle, with me practicing the menu every day. I was there for a year before they asked me to be a certified trainer because I knew so much about the menu -- because I practiced, night and day."
Bryan eventually earned a job at Hutch's in Buffalo, an upscale restaurant where he rose to the rank of sous chef before leaving to run the kitchen at Prima Cafe in Hamburg, New York. There, he opened the restaurant from scratch, developed the menu and hired staff.
It's also where his career began to take off.
Introduction to the Bills
A soccer and cricket player growing up, Bryan wasn't the typical Bills-crazed, Buffalo resident. So when Vontae Davis walked into Prima Cafe in 2017, Bryan approached him not because Davis was a then-cornerback for the Bills, but because it was just so rare for him to see someone who looked like him in Hamburg.
Davis returned the next day so impressed by his meal -- pan-seared salmon on a bed of spinach, drizzled with a miso-carrot dressing -- that he asked if Bryan would be his personal chef. After Davis left the Bills and moved to Miami, he flew Bryan down for events, where Bryan met several other players -- including Davis' brother, Vernon, and Ziggy Hood.
As Bryan built his reputation, he became popular among Bills players. Gabriel Davis said he heard about the chef through fellow rookie receiver Isaiah Hodgins but got his first introduction when Diggs had Bryan over to cook dinner one night.
Bryan left an impression on the rookie receiver, who hired him soon after. That's important to Bryan, who puts meticulous effort into his appearance anytime he cooks in person.
"I want to be seen -- that's just me," he said. "Some chefs, they don't want to be seen, but I want to be here interacting with these people. I want to see the smiles on their faces when they're eating my food. That's why I dress a certain way, that's why I act a certain way, because if you're going to be seen, you've got to be clean and you've got to have a little swag to you -- I'm just saying."
His uniform is carefully curated, as well. You'll rarely, if ever, see him without a fedora. His jacket is always ironed, and his clothes are tailored and spotless. The way Bryan sees it, he has a standard to uphold -- he has worked too hard to establish it.
"From the first time meeting him, he's a really good guy. Loves what he does and has a passion for cooking," Davis said. "He always tells me he sees how happy food makes people, and I'm just happy I met him."
Davis, selected by the Bills in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, entered the league knowing he'd likely hire a personal chef after picking the brains of other professionals. His first impression of Bryan was enough to convince him to make the move.
He said having Bryan takes pressure off him to find food -- although he did admit he needs to learn how to cook.
But with the food he's served on a daily basis, it's tough to imagine going without.
"The food is crazy. He's got that Jamaican vibe, you see some things and say, 'I don't even know how you thought about this,'" Davis said. "He put some pasta in a pineapple with some lobster on top, and I was like, 'This is fire!'
"I didn't really even like lobster like that, but the way he cooked it, he made me fall in love with his lobster. I don't know about that other lobster, but his lobster? That's the best."
Beyond Diggs and Davis, Bryan regularly cooks for Hodgins, center Mitch Morse and running back Taiwan Jones. He has also worked with receiver Isaiah McKenzie, offensive lineman Ty Nsekhe, cornerback Taron Johnson, running back Devin Singletary, defensive lineman Mike Love and safeties Jordan Poyer and Jaquan Johnson">Jaquan Johnson.
As you could imagine, Bryan's schedule is packed.
He goes to Diggs' house twice a week to cook and drops meals off every other day to keep the food as fresh as possible. Bryan provides meals for Davis seven days a week.
Bryan said Monday, Wednesday and Friday are his busiest days -- especially if he has a private event. But he prioritizes his NFL clients.
"I try to put them first because their health is everything," he said. "I can't afford to rush and just give them crap. If you book with me, you're getting the best quality."
The meals are centered around each player's nutritional plan.
One player eats strictly organic food -- lean chicken breasts and steaks with no fat -- while Hodgins and his wife are vegan. Jones will tell Bryan exactly what he wants, down to the side dishes, while Diggs and Davis leave meal decisions to Bryan.
"They're like, 'Just surprise us, whatever you cook is going to be good,'" he said. "I'm like, 'Say no more.'
"It's a good feeling to know that [they trust me]. Coming from a little city in Jamaica where we had no lights, no running water ... and coming to America and making such a big impact on people. It's such a wonderful feeling."
It's a feeling brought about by almost-nonstop work.
Bryan gets up at 3 a.m. every day, doesn't watch television and spends his off time with his wife and two children. Davis said it's exciting to hear how seriously Bryan takes his job, but it was the time Bryan took off that really resonated with him.
"He said this week he wouldn't be serving meals and would be spending Thanksgiving week with his family," Davis said. "That just made me feel so much better about him because, both of us coming from homes without fathers and him wanting to take the initiative to be that kind of dad for his kids, it speaks to how he is as a person.
"It made me happy to hear something like that."