Eddie Jackson's body is a temple, one he once used to crush opponents on the NFL gridiron. These days, he hits the gym in preparation for a very different kind of battle: "I have to do this because I love food so much!" he said.
As chef, host, and all-around star for the Food Network, Jackson tackles (sorry) his role as food judge just like an NFL coach ("The Bolognese was very flavorful, but we think you missed the mark with the nachos").
Correspondent Luke Burbank asked, "Is it hard for you sometimes, because you gotta like some of these contestants, but you gotta tell 'em it's time to go home?"
"Yeah, you know what? That doesn't bother me at all, because at some point in time, you're gonna fail," Jackson said. "But a lotta times, when you send these people home, they get better for it. And I feel like that's just, you know, for me being a athlete, I've realized that."
At home near Houston, Jackson owns Rosehill Beer Garden, where the food trucks must also get past his palette: "I have to taste the food, and if I don't like the food, you can't be at Rosehill!" he said.
Jackson got his love for cooking from his grandmother, Geraldine. But growing up in the 1980s, he said, a culinary career didn't feel like a real option.
Burbank asked, "What were the jobs that you saw other young Black men going into?"
"Athlete, you know, a basketball player, a football player, or things like that," he replied.
So, that's what he did – pursuing athletics and defying the odds, by making the NFL as an undrafted free agent. The odds, however, did catch up with him, as they typically do, in the form of injuries, and he was out of the league after four seasons.
For his post-NFL life, at age 28 Jackson took a chance with his own catering business, and a food truck appropriately called The Fit Chef.
"You went in a totally different direction," said Burbank.
"Yeah. If you're doing what you love, you're not working," Jackson said. "And granted, I tried, you know, thought about coaching and all those different things I did. But I never felt that that would give me the fulfillment that I truly wanted."
Then, in 2012 his girlfriend (now fiancé) Melissa Morris submitted Jackson for the TV show "MasterChef," but she didn't tell him. "About three weeks later Eddie gets a phone call," she recalled. "And he calls me right after and he says, 'Why am I getting a phone call from "MasterChef"?' And I said, 'Oh, yeah, about that. …' And it all went from there."
Eddie Jackson was BACK in the spotlight …
… at least temporarily.
With the tenacity of a one-time pro athlete he set his sights on another TV cooking competition, "Food Network Star," which he won!
Eddie Jackson is known for meaty and spicy bites, which he now showcases on the streaming service Discovery+. One of his favorites? Cajun sticky wings, perfect for watching the Super Bowl.
He demonstrated for Burbank: "I always make my own rubs. This particular rub here is called Texas Heat. We like things a little spicy!"
"How much of this stuff was taught to you by your grandma?" asked Burbank.
"Well for me, a lot of this was trial-and-error and traveling a lot. I picked up a lot new flavor combinations. …
"So, we have our wings. The key to any wing is you want to make sure that the wings are extra dry. I just patted these with a paper towel. …
"They are nice and breaded right now, got the seasoning on them, set them in the fryer."
"Are you immune to oil burns at this point?"
"Yeah, I mean, seriously, look at my hands. I actually have a fresh one right there!" Jackson said.
"Would you get more injured from football or frying wings?"
"Oh, football. People are like, 'Oh, do you miss playing football?' I'm like, 'No. I don't miss playing football. You think I've missed tearing my ACL?"
When today's Super Bowl kicks off, Eddie Jackson won't be anywhere near the field, but he will be right where he wants to be.
Burbank asked, "Do you think it's arguable that you're a better chef than you were a football player?"
"I don't know, because I was a pretty good football player! The difference between being a chef and being a football player, you get to a point as an athlete to where you just can't get any better because of age."
"So, you'll have ultimately more time in this game."
"You've seen a 70-year-old chef, right? Have you ever seen a 70-year-old football player?"
"Not a good one!"
Jackson laughed: "That's what I'm saying!"
For more info:
- "Game-Day Eats: 100 Recipes for Homegating Like a Pro" by Eddie Jackson (Harper Design), in Hardcover and eBook formats, available via Amazon and Indiebound
- Eddie Jackson on Food Network
- Follow Chef Eddie Jackson on Twitter and Instagram
- Rosehill Beer Garden, Cypress, Texas
Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Editor: Ed Givnish.