Dorothy Green’s garden in Many was filled with collard greens, mustard greens, okra and sweet potatoes.
As a kid, Christian Green loved visiting Louisiana from Boston. His grandmother was the best cook he knew. His favorite dish of hers was okra and tomatoes. All the ingredients were homegrown.
“I never heard the word organic until I became a chef,” Green said. “When we used to go into the garden, we didn’t know it was organic. We thought we were just picking vegetables.”
Green, 36, attended Dillard University and has been cooking in and around New Orleans ever since. He worked for Popeyes founder Al Copeland for six years. Now, he is a private chef.
Green works with New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport. In March, he began a partnership with New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson.
Green — who is a contestant on Fox’s “MasterChef: Back to Win” — spoke to The Times-Picayune | The Advocate about his Louisiana roots, his football background and what it’s like to work with Williamson.
When you originally competed on “MasterChef” in 2014, (celebrity chef) Gordon Ramsay told you he wanted to fund your food truck. How did that turn out?
It didn’t happen. The reason why it didn’t happen on my part is because I decided to do something else. Around that time, I got busy. I got super, super busy. I started my catering business. Once I started my catering business, I did it privately. And I decided to go in a different direction.
Your grandmother, Dorothy Green, was a big influence on you. What kind of food did she make?
The food that we grew up on was soul food. Comforting food. Collard greens. Okra and tomato. Fried chicken. Baked chicken. All holidays, it was all different types of food and desserts and stuff like that. Being from the South, we love that comforting food.
You have some football in your background. Did you play in college?
No. I had an opportunity to go to the University of Houston to play after Hurricane Katrina. I decided to go back to New Orleans and attend Dillard University. I played with a minor-league team back in the day. The Louisiana Storm. We won a national championship with them. Always told myself that if sports didn’t happen professionally, I was always going to fall back into cooking.
When did you start working with Zion?
In March. I’ve been with him for five months now. They reached out to me. I’ve always had an understanding in regards to nutrition. I’ve worked with (former Pelicans center) Alexis Ajinca. I was his personal chef as well. I’ve cooked for (Saints running backs) C.J. Spiller, Alvin Kamara. I can go on and on and on. I used to be an athlete. I know what they eat. I’m not going to say it’s easy. But it’s pretty cool. I see myself in them, even though I didn’t get an opportunity to sign a big contract or play professionally.
From a dietary standpoint, what are the goals you and Zion have?
Definitely getting him in tiptop shape. My boy says he wants the league MVP this year. I see it. I believe it. I believe Zion is going to be the face of the NBA once LeBron James retires. I believe it. I see it. Just getting him in great health. He’s in great health now. But once the season starts, he’s going to be in even better health.
How do you accomplish that?
Watching everything we put into his body. Pull all sugars. Pull all carbs. Just give him all the healthy stuff. The healthy nutrition he needs — from baked foods to different grains. We are going to be working on a paleo diet. That’s a lot of grains. That’s a lot of meat. No carbs. A lot of fruit.
When you are working with professional athletes, how do you balance making a delicious meal but making it healthy?
Like I tell Zion and like I tell Davenport, ‘There are going to be some things I cook that you’re going to love. There are going to be some things I cook that you are going to hate. But the things you hate are going to be the things that help you. The things you hate are the things that are going to give you that extra push when you are on that basketball court and on that field.’ As long as we have that understanding, we’re good.
What are some meals you’ve found that hit that sweet spot of this is good for you but you find this delicious?
I do a couscous with sweet potato and shrimp. Zion loves that. He loves the shrimp. But the couscous, he doesn’t really jibe with. Me putting that sweet potato in there, little sweet potato chunks in there, it gives it a different texture and more flavor. And it’s also healthy. You’re not eating a whole bowl of mashed potatoes. We’re going a different route. Giving you something healthier.
What kind of a time commitment is being a chef for a professional athlete?
When I tell you I am busy, I am busy. From the time I get up to the time I get home. Even when I’m not in the kitchen cooking for him, I’m sitting at the table going over different recipes. Going over different ideas. Just basically keeping him engaged in regards to the goals that are in place. It’s busy. I start my day at 5 in the morning. I go on a 1-mile, 2-mile run. I get in the kitchen. Start breakfast. From breakfast roll onto a little snack. Then from a snack, roll into a healthy dinner.
How many meals do you prepare on an average week for Zion?
Six days. Eighteen meals a week. That’s three meals a day. It’s not heavy meals, though. I want people to understand that.
Breakfast is small. Very light. Oatmeal. Maybe some scrambled egg whites. Fruit. Because right now we’re on a goal. We’re trying to shed weight. We’re not trying to gain weight.
Then maybe we’ll roll into lunch. We might do a no-carb sandwich. It might just be one sandwich. It’s not going to be two, three sandwiches. It’s just that one sandwich. We might do an 8-ounce salmon. Or a 4-ounce chicken. But mostly, the protein is more than the carb. If I give my client brown rice, he’s only going to get a half a cup of brown rice. I strip as much as I can, but I also put in as much as I can because they have to keep going. They need energy.