EAGAN, Minn. -- Dalvin Cook breezed back into town after an offseason spent at home in Miami, and on the night before he and other veterans report to Minnesota Vikings training camp, the running back is starving.
Not starving for excellence or any other metaphor that can sum up his mentality heading into his third NFL season, entirely healthy from the start after left leg injuries limited him to 15 games in two years. Cook’s stomach is grumbling and he’s downright hungry.
For the next few weeks, he’ll bounce between logging long days at camp and the team hotel, so tonight’s menu features a home-cooked meal: fettuccini pasta with meat sauce and meatballs, prepared by "The Chef" himself.
On the field, the former second-round pick is known for his elusiveness and breakaway speed, qualities that help him cook up big runs into the open field. When he reaches the end zone, his touchdown dance features Cook stirring an imaginary pot formed by the outstretched arms of two teammates.
In the kitchen, Cook, 24, is a novice chef who has taken cooking lessons in the Minneapolis area.
“I can’t make no family dinner or nothing, but I can make meats and the necessities for me to survive,” Cook said. “I’m trying to get to the next level.”
The inspiration for tonight’s meal comes from somewhat of an unlikely source. As Cook plots his next move -- plopping a package of fresh noodles into a pot of cold water (he assures us the water does not need to come to a boil first) and preparing ground beef for the meat sauce with his favorite Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning -- he acknowledges teammate Mike Boone’s role in his culinary exploration.
“I’m going to give my boy credit,” Cook said of his fellow running back. “He did it.
“The funny thing about it was I was at his house and he asked us if we’re all hungry. I’m thinking he’s about to order food, (and instead) he made us shrimp pasta with Alfredo sauce. I watched him go through the process and it was actually good, for real.”
Cook admits teammate Stephen Weatherly is arguably the most equipped to throw down in the kitchen based on the variety of baked goods he brings players and front-office staff each week. But Cook once held his own in a cooking competition against Weatherly.
Two years ago, Cook earned the “Iron Viking Award” for the crab cakes he made at the Vikings’ draft party at U.S. Bank Stadium that featured a cook-off between he and Weatherly. He proudly displays the award on a shelf above the sink next to a handful of game balls he’s earned in the NFL and a statue of a chef given to him by former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo last season.
"The Chef" is not simply a moniker playing off Cook’s last name. As he establishes himself as an NFL veteran, Cook aims to use his passion for cooking to serve a greater purpose.
Earlier this summer, Cook announced he’s partnering with Second Harvest Heartland, a food bank serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He is donating all proceeds from the sale of hoodies with his "Chef Cook" logo ($33.33 each -- a price that reflects his jersey number and will provide 100 meals for a local family in need) to Second Harvest. And he will celebrate a day of raising awareness about the local hunger epidemic on Aug. 31 with a cookout and combine. Every additional dollar donated provides three meals for a family.
“Where I come from you see (childhood hunger) on a daily basis,” Cook said about growing up in Miami. “I was home this summer and I was driving in the streets in my neighborhood, seeing kids walking home ... that just reminded me of how I grew up. Me going home, mom not telling you that she’s struggling to get a meal -- or we’re getting little meals but we’re eating and she’s not eating. It’s all from me growing up and seeing things with my own eyes and wanting to change things for the kids that come from where I’m from.”
Eventually Cook wants to expand his charitable efforts back home, inspired particularly by the work former Vikings quarterback and fellow Miami native Teddy Bridgewater has done in their hometown with his annual “Christmas in July” toy giveaway. Cook is starting small by giving back locally to a community he’s grown to love.
About 30 minutes have passed and the noodles are at a soft, rolling boil. Cook’s attention is on braising the ground beef and searing the meatballs. Pretty soon, everything will go into one large pot, which he’ll stir together before plating a hearty portion of pasta complete with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
“Oh yeah,” Cook says upon sampling his creation. “Oh yeah, we good.”
Learning how to fend for himself in the kitchen has bred a new passion and patience. He tells the story of how one time he rushed the process of making pork chops and "thought I was going to burn the place down." But tonight’s dinner shows he can throw down for real, bringing "The Chef" to life in the kitchen.
“I have to remind myself -- I forget cooking is a whole process,” he said. “That’s why I think I can be really good at it. Just like playing running back. You gotta let things develop.”