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How to Party Like Calvin Pace

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“Food brings every family together whether they know it or not. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a holiday or a simple Sunday dinner,” says No. 97, Jets linebacker and aspiring foodie, Calvin Pace. You can add the Super Bowl to that list, though that will be a bittersweet day for Pace and his teammates after Peyton Manning and the Colts offense dashed their dreams by filleting an injury-depleted New York defense in the AFC Championship game.

While it’s got to be hard watching a game you could have been playing in, Super Bowl Sunday for Pace will still be about football, friends, and food, especially food. Pace’s interest in food started at about the same time he began playing football, at the age of 10. He loves everything from barbecue to haute cuisine, and downloaded the Zagat app to his iPhone so that, “I’ll always know the best places to eat.”

His favorite meal ever was at Per Se in New York City. Owned by Thomas Keller, whose French Laundry in the Napa Valley often tops the country’s lists of best restaurants, Per Se is one of only six New York restaurants to have earned four stars from The New York Times. Its legendary multi-course prix fix meals, usually savored with several bottles of wine, can last for four hours and costs $275 per person. “By far the best meal I ever had in my life. So many different courses. It was crazy. The cheese selection, the wine... I had an opportunity to go back into kitchen. It was great. I couldn’t believe it. Oh, man, I just like thinking about it.”

Pace says he’ll probably drop by a Super Bowl party or two. And as a guy who loves to cook both for himself and his teammates, he knows something about the care and feeding of large men who like sports.

“First, cold beer makes the party. You need appetizers like wings, but try something different like lemon pepper or teriyaki, not necessarily hot wings.” Keep the food simple, he says, so you can spend time with guests - chili, dips, shrimp. Since most parties start hours before the game, have an abundance of food, space it out accordingly, and have good desserts. Most importantly, “You can never have enough cold beers.”

What makes Super Bowl parties great is that die-hard-jersey-wearing-face-painting-enthusiasts pair easily with fair-weather fans, and neither group irritates the other. The day is as much as about football and good times as it is about chowing down; it’s second only to Thanksgiving in food consumption. Fox News reported that last Super Bowl Sunday, Americans consumed 156 billion calories. It’s like compressing our collective caloric intake between Thanksgiving and Christmas into one day.

On February 7th, the Snack Food Association expects that we’ll crunch through about 33 million pounds of snacks, and the Avocado Producer and Exporting Packers Association of Mexico (60% of our avocados come from Mexico) estimates that we’ll eat 60 million pounds of avocados, mostly in the form of guacamole. And Domino’s, the world’s largest pizza delivery company, expects to send out more than nine million slices. “Super Bowl Sunday is great for us, great for our delivery guys,” says Tim McIntyre, Domino’s VP of Communications. “People are in a party mood so they tip well, if their team’s winning they tip even better and there’s no traffic. A win-win-win.”

Every year there's a new must have item, and one of 2009’s biggest hits was the “Bacon Explosion,” seasoned sausage meat topped with crisp, cooked bacon strips drizzled with barbecue sauce, formed into a log, then rolled in a “blanket” woven from raw bacon strips. You smoke it for a few hours in a “constant cloud of hickory,” slather with barbecue sauce and serve. Pre-cooked “Explosions” are available this year at “bbqaddicts.com.” Co-creator Jason Day is branching into jalapeno and cheese versions and envisions a day when sports stadiums nation-wide boast “Bacon Explosion” vendor carts. Go, Jason.

You wouldn’t imagine this bacon torpedo’s 5000 calories and 500 grams of fat would make a professional athlete blink (think of Michael Phelps 12,000 daily calories), but Pace is a quality-over-quantity kind of guy. “I’m adventurous. I’ll try bone marrow, beef tongue, sweet breads if they’re done right, but I avoid greasy, oily things. I like to eat healthy,” he says. That’s partly by design, partly by position. He’s a 6’ 5” 265-pound defensive lineman, and they’re usually a tad smaller than their offensive counterparts.

Pace grew up in the South on a typical southern diet: mac and cheese, ham, fried turkey. Influenced by the cooking shows he began watching as a child, he started cooking for the family as a teenager. His mom often worked late, his father was an Atlanta police officer and “I got tired of heating up food,” he says. His family supported him and his Mom “gave me a lot of leeway in the kitchen.” He continued cooking “healthy stuff like baked chicken or turkey” all through college and into the NFL.

He credits college, and a girl, for broadening his food horizons. “I met this girl from Miami and she loved sushi, Indian, lots of ethnic foods. She’d drag me along. At first I was like, ‘I don’t know about this.’ I’d steel myself mentally to try it and I got hooked.”

Pace talks food with teammates center Nick Mangold and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, and occasionally cooks for them. His favorite dish is tandori lamb. “So easy. You marinate it and put it on the grill or in the oven.“ He enjoys cooking so much and does it so well that his family expects him to do it for the holidays. “I like thinking outside the box. This year I did a Thai red snapper, grilled lobster and cauliflower with blue cheese.”

This Super Bowl Sunday he’ll probably make a spicy chicken chili culled from one of his favorite cookbooks - he has so many he doesn’t remember from which. Afterwards, he’ll keep cooking for those he loves, especially his daughter.

Whatever you cook for your kids, Pace says, they always end up coming to your plate to taste, but most days, “she’s strictly mac and cheese” (the kind in the box, he despairs) and chicken. She can eat that every day. She’s in heaven when she gets that. So that’s what I make her.”

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